Branding: Foundational vs. Aspirational

Ingrid Tripple
Strategy & Branding

The uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic has brought about major transitions and reflection for many independent schools. Knowing who you are as an institution and identifying your foundational strengths is more important now than ever.

A common pitfall when organizations undergo a branding process is to lean too heavily on aspirations rather than authentic attributes. Here are three reasons why aspirational marketing isn’t sustainable.

1.  House of Cards Effect
When a school relies on overly aspirational language to describe its brand, a House of Cards effect will ensue. The school's branding, just like a House of Cards, will have a structure that is shaky and in constant danger of collapse. The stakeholders, whether leadership or current families, won't have concrete examples or stories to share as evidence to support the aspirational statements.  

2.  Attracting the Wrong Fit
Many times schools promise too much in hopes of drawing as many students as possible into the applicant pool. When promises aren’t firmly based in reality the school won’t attract the right-fit student or family. No school can be the best at everything, so it’s critical to figure out what rises to the top and makes the learning experience unique.

3.  Revolving Door Admissions
Aspirational language about what a school wants to be or where it hopes to go belongs in the mission and vision statement, not the brand. The brand is about who the school is right now. Aspirational brand language won't fool anyone because once students and families set foot in the door, they are going to immediately know what is real and what is not. If what they were told and what they experience don’t match, unfortunately they won’t stay and admissions will be a revolving door. With foundational strengths-based marketing, what people hear and what they experience are aligned, creating growth in enrollment and retention of student “lifers” through graduation and beyond.

Be bold, but be real. When a school focuses on its authentic strengths as they exist today, it sets a path for them to grow and expand upon what they do well.