Branding is Powerful: Proven Strategies

Your mission statement counts, but only if it can be readily known and interpreted.

A prominent Canadian School for boys has a “tagline” that is also its mission: “Men of Character from Boys of Promise.” That resonates with the entire School community from a five year old child to alumni. That tagline is omnipresent on the website and reflected in the pictures of daily school life. What I like so much about this School, for which my Firm did board governance and strategic planning work among other assignments, is that the tagline drives the discussions and the benchmarking and differentiates it from the competition, a cross-town behemoth. A tagline, when it is used properly and often and when it permeates the school’s leadership initiatives and faculty conversations, becomes the driving force which successfully separates a school from its competitors AND embodies its mission.

Branding starts with mission. Branding should result in a unique and powerful tag line emblazoned across the home page of the School’s website and visible in all forms of social media. Our Firm reviews thousands of websites for branding and benchmarking purposes, and “Men of Character from Boys of Promise” is one of the very few where the tag line just STAYS THERE. The words themselves, the boldness and the constancy together make a strong statement: “This is who we are. This is true. We act on this.”

There is an historic School for girls that had a wonderfully effective tag line: “We will find a way OR we will make one.” The School still uses it, but in this Consultant’s opinion, it is unfortunate that it is no longer displayed as prominently. Think about it. Fifty years ago, how many occupational choices did women have in the workplace? Teacher? Nurse? Secretary?

Another School for girls has a simple but compelling tagline that does drive programs: “Girls Can Do Anything”. Because it appears in small script in the corner of the home page of the website, the message is somewhat lost and its impact weaker.

An international boarding school in Europe situated in the mountains and surrounded by incredible views, had a successful capital campaign a few years ago based upon the slogan, “Reaching New Heights.” In this Consultant’s opinion, THAT would be an ongoing, eye-catching tagline for this School with wonderful opportunities for skiing, mountaineering and outdoor expeditions; a strong track record for college placement; and a tight-knit network of alums worldwide.

This Consultant worked with a School in China to develop carefully a tagline that would resonate equally well in both the Mandarin and English languages and would convey what local Chinese and international families seek for their children: challenge with a “softer” side. Their website now says: “Empowering and Inspiring through Challenge and Compassion”. The tagline needs to be displayed more prominently, in this Consultant’s opinion, but the message does please both Chinese and non-Chinese cultures, and this is not an easy task.

Many schools talk about the same deliverables: excellence, inspiration, integrity, respect, responsibility, passion, empathy, etc. These are not inherently weak words, but when used in a tagline, they need to be put together in a unique, succinct and powerful way. A successful tagline will have these four qualities:

  1. Memorable: Once one hears it, just once, one remembers it.
  2. Genuine: It is true, or evolving as a truth.
  3. It differentiates the school from the local competition.
  4. It sends an emotional “chill” down the spine.

And most important, it must drive board policy and administrative actions and decisions. The head should be like a clergyman speaking from the pulpit where he or she takes every occasion in front of students, parents, alumni, faculty and the larger community to talk about these core words and how they translate into empowering children to be able to lead successful, healthy lives.

The process of choosing a tagline has to be undertaken carefully. Commercial branding and advertising firms may not be sensitive to the politics and history of school cultures and how to position a school successfully within its main peer competitive group. In choosing a marketing consultant, knowing the competitive grouping is crucial; knowing faculty cultures is imperative; and knowing how to work with heads and boards is essential.

John C. Littleford
Senior Partner