Good branding makes a school stand apart


Dr SA Nirmala
Correspondent, Coimbatore Public School, Coimbatore

Making a school standout amid competitive counterparts is indeed a herculean task. In this, appropriate branding helps; and this article enlists some of the major challenges and requirements it takes to make a school unique among all.

What are the challenges in developing the brand of a school in a competitive environment?

Running a school is more akin to running a corporate—it has its product, processes, huge investment, stretched resources, limited market, cutthroat competition, marketing, brand building, quality control, internal and external customers, employee motivation and retention, customer satisfaction and what have you …and the commonality could be endless. Therefore, brand building for a school would be quite similar to the struggle experienced in corporate governance.

Despite all similarities, a sharp difference between a corporate model and a school is that education is not business for profit, but a noble venture. Therefore, profit motive is not the driving force. Having said that, aim would certainly be to break even, riding high on the reputation and glory of its brand image.

Brand image is the general impression of a product, held by its real or potential customers. It has an emotional connect with its customers. In such a scenario, branding has to make a school stand apart from competitive players. The logo plays a vital role in branding, as the first thing to impress on the minds, hence developing the logo that reflects the ideology of the school is a herculean task. Some of the major challenges to developing the brand of a school are listed as follows:

  • Stiff competition: Competition is stiff in the market place, with each school competing for a share of the same pie. Therefore, your brand has to be better than the competition, at no extra cost, to be attractive. This is perhaps the biggest challenge to a school brand.
  • Employment and retention of qualified, experienced and dedicated teachers: Quality and continuity are the watchwords here. It has become acutely difficult to attract talent, and more difficult to retain such talent. Poaching has become the norm in this fiercely competitive scenario. Culture and brand image can be cultivated successfully, only if the school is blessed with continuity of its main resource—the teaching staff.
  • Supportive and responsible sub-staff: This is one of the undervalued areas, for their potential as brand ambassadors. Mature drivers would contribute through defensive driving, while responsible nannies would enhance the brand image through sheer display of care and concern.
  • Smart classrooms, science, math and language labs: Inadequacy of these facilities is one of the major challenges faced by many schools. And non-utilisation and of the resources forces a major threat. Laboratories help in application-based learning, while smart classrooms facilitate learning as fun, due to their immense potential for flexibility, built on a digital platform. However, many schools scrounge on these essential requirements and cut corners to save money.
  • Sanitation and safe drinking water: Non-availability of facilities for health and hygiene is particularly a serious challenge for children, especially for girl children. Creating these facilities is a challenge in itself and maintaining them at all times is even more formidable, though mandatory.
  • Scope for extracurricular activities: Learning becomes possible only when teaching is application-based. School environment is one where children grow and transform into responsible adults, imbibed with morals and social values. To set up facilities conducive for its growth and sustaining it is a big challenge.
  • Proximity to residential localities: With high cost of real estate, this becomes an economic challenge, more so when education is not looked at as a profit centre and with the fee structure regulated by the government. Getting space for games field inside the town is an uphill task and, hence, it has to be situated on the outskirts. Therefore, to make the brand attractive, adequate number of school buses is essential to pick up and drop the children, as well as teaching/non-teaching staff.
  • Transparency: One of the main traits of a good brand is transparency in all dealings. Clarity, consistency and constancy are mandatory, yet formidable, challenges.
  • Publicity and word of mouth: Who can deny the fact that ‘word of mouth’ is the best marketing tool to build brand image? It could be any word of mouth from satisfied parents, students, teachers, support staff and general public. It takes painstaking efforts to build that image; yet, one slip is all it takes to spoil it, since negative image spreads much faster.
  • Learning without stress: No doubt, a school’s reputation builds up on the percentage passes in the board examinations. Notwithstanding the above, an equally important challenge is to do it through application—oriented learning, instead of relying on rote method. A congenial atmosphere encourages learning as fun, while a stressed environment is a severe deterrent to effective learning.

What are the key factors that lead to parental satisfaction in a school?

Students and their parents are the customers for and the real reason behind the existence of a school. Therefore, customer satisfaction is paramount. It is an established fact that a satisfied customer will bring in ten more, while a dissatisfied customer will take away twenty!

In addition to the tangible infrastructure and facilities mentioned earlier, some of the important qualitative, non-tangible factors affecting parental satisfaction are:

  • Good teaching/learning environment, conducive to effective, stress free learning.
  • Discipline.
  • Moral education, to inculcate values in life and to develop aesthetic skill.
  • Opportunities for participation in extracurricular activities, based on student’s interest, such as debates, cultural programmes, music, dance, quizzes, art, craft, etc.
  • Growth of the child as an individual and as a team player.
  • Development of physical and mental health.
  • Atmosphere for development of analytical thinking, logical reasoning, politeness and respect for others.
  • Scope for overall development of the child to face life’s challenges.
  • Scope for creation of awareness of civic and social responsibilities.
  • Special attention to children whose parents are both working.
  • Provision for expert counseling for students/parents, when the need arises.
  • Career guidance.
  • Provision for competitive exam training.

What initiatives should a school management take to bring better rapport to the interpersonal relationships in the school environment?

Many of the misunderstandings that arise in daily life are due to communication-gap and lack of empathy. These issues get sorted out automatically in an environment full of care and compassion, humour and wit. Such a scenario is possible only when there is healthy interpersonal relationship.

Healthy interpersonal relationship is critical component in the brand building exercise. It helps build ‘bonhomie’ among all stakeholders – management, parents, students, teaching and non-teaching staff, as well as general public. School management has a major role to play in this Key Result Area (KRA).

Some of the important initiatives that a school management must focus on, to foster an atmosphere of rapport through interpersonal relationship are:

  • Broad minded and forward thinking.
  • Adequate compensation for all staff, in tune with stipulated norms, with potential for growth.
  • Genuine care for teaching and non-teaching staff, students and their parents
  • Commitment to make a difference.
  • Transparent dealings.
  • Empathy and feedback, to encourage development.
  • Strictness and discipline, with compassion, fairness and impartiality.
  • Involvement of teachers and students in all activities of the school with a view to bring about a sense of ownership.
  • Setting up facility for counseling for the benefit of students and parents.
  • Deputation of teachers to participate in workshops, to upgrade themselves.
  • Field trips for students.
  • Performance-based incentives to motivate the teaching and non-teaching staff.
  • Provide a forum for parents to voice their grievances or to give feedback.
  • Flexibility to adapt to changing times.
  • Creating group activities for participation by the whole population of the school.
  • Stress-free environment for students and staff.’

Here a conclusive note is that brand should reflect the personality and culture of the institution and it should be consistent with the mission and vision of the organisation. The brand is reflected in every level. Parents are connected with their school on an emotional level and the brand is where the relationship starts.

Happy branding! Successive schooling!

Dr SA Nirmala, an engineer by profession with masters in engineering and doctorate in the field of bio-medical instrumentation, hails from a business family full of experts in the field of publishing and selling books for institutions. The passion towards teaching and education motivated her to be a successful professor in reputed engineering colleges and propelled her to establish a school that focuses on value-based education. She is also a certified IB co-ordinator and winner of numerous awards for teaching. Her aim is to develop holistic learning among young children, who will be the country’s brand ambassadors, through good schooling.