The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Build a Brand

Earlier this year, while standing in line to checkout at a store, I spotted an issue of Entrepreneur magazine with the headline “Secrets of the Most Trusted Brands” written boldly on the cover. As I waited for my turn in line, I flipped through the article and ended up purchasing the magazine. When I finally sat down to read it, I found the article to be a fascinating list of practical moves schools can make to build their brand with their community. In the spirit of the work of Jim Collins, the author, Paula Andruss, focuses on companies that have a track record of success over a long period and seeks key lessons from their success.

Before I write about what I read, a few statements about my own bias that shapes how I viewed this piece as well as a way I think educators need to be thinking. I see schools as a service business. We have consumers (students and parents) as well as investors (taxpayers). While we do not exist to make a profit, we are in place to provide a critical service.

I have written about the need for collaboration, and my view is that schools should exist in a “nonzero” environment. However, our legislators at the state and federal level are encouraging competition and increasing the options parents have for their children. These policies are the product of a gap between schools and their communities, a key reason that we need to build a brand locally.

The article focused on several companies, the list of lessons I noted as I read included:

  1. Get Personal: Amazon focuses on the individual, making recommendations based on personal preferences.
  2. Sell Happiness: The key question at Coca-Cola is “how do we promote, develop, and create happiness?”
  3. Live up to your promises: Fed-Ex makes bold statements, then lives up to them.
  4. Keep it cool: Apple works to inspire and foster creativity through all of its products. While their hardware is standard, it is easily individualized to fit the needs of the consumer.
  5. Design an experience: Target, a discount store, is easy to navigate and offers quality merchandise and a friendly atmosphere to shop.
  6. Stay Consistent: Ford established a relationship, a product, and remains consistent. The logo hasn’t changed in generations, nor has the operating principles of the company.
  7. Can-do attitude: Through their “Just Do It” slogan, Nike has fostered a sense of self-empowerment.
  8. Forge connections: Starbucks creates an environment where regular customers feel a connection to the staff and environment of their local stores, many calling it “my Starbucks.”
  9. Serve up the quirky: Singing the safety procedures or doing something different to make the flight more entertaining is a major characteristic of Southwest Airlines.
  10. Focus on the Customer: Nordstrom’s employees are trained to focus on the consumer, from sending a thank you card after a purchase to e-mailing regular customers about products that will interest them or an open return policy is all about being attentive to the needs of the shopper.

I think that schools can learn from these businesses. Building a brand that will resonate with our customers and communities will require us to focus on individuals, develop relationships, provide exemplary customer service, do what we say we will do, have some fun and be different. These companies all have a sense of optimism about them, even when economic times are tough. As educators in times of tight budgets, the need to innovate with our current limitations is vital.

When thinking about schools who have a strong brand, they do the items listed above very well. There are many lessons from the private sector that educators can learn to create better, more effective schools.


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6 thoughts on “Build a Brand

  1. Great post John!
    Only we can build our schools brand and we must follow these excellent examples to do it.

  2. Thank you for this terrific and important post! I am so glad to hear these words coming from a public school administrator. I am former public school educator who now works in an independent school and have long been frustrated by the fact that so many public schools allow everyone to define their “brand” but themselves. Politicians, disgruntled taxpayers, and journalists searching for scandal are NOT interested in promoting the great work that happens in our schools every day! It is up to school administrators to take control of their “brand.” Social media can be a great way to do this, as can a good school website. You don’t need to have a marketing department to start building a positive reputation in your local community.

    Great ideas and resources can be found at sites geared towards marketing for independent schools such as, and by following the #ismarketing hashtag on twitter. Independent schools think a LOT about branding because they do have to compete for students and I think this is one area where public school administrators can learn from their independent school colleagues.

    • Hi Susan,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Part of what got me thinking about this was reading about the work of independent schools and charter academies that are going the long mile to build a brand and seeing success because of the community relationships they are able to foster.

      Recently, I passed along an article about the power of Pintrest and Twitter for businesses. This summer, one of my projects is a rollout of a school Twitter feed as well as a Pintrest profile that our parents can follow. If our goal as a school is to communicate electronically, we must go where the people are, which is on social networks, not e-mail.

      I appreciate the time you took to read my post and comment,

  3. Great article John – you are on the right track. Look forward to more insights from the trenches – that’s what makes Brendan’s work so exciting to so many people ( – it’s written from someone on the “inside.” Look forward to connecting (thanks Susan for the shout-out and the tweet about this article – I’ll RT this one for sure!)

  4. Randy and Susan — thank you for mentioning my blog.

    John — Great post and I really appreciate your position and advice with this article. I look forward to reading more of your work!


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