Brands in the News

Rebranding a School

26 Jul , 2016  

Government leaders in Chicago are considering rebranding some public schools to increase their appeal. The idea is interesting, but it isn’t likely to work on its own. Rebranding is more difficult than it seems.

Some public schools in Chicago have very negative perceptions. People associate them with poor teaching and disappointing academic achievement. There is a clear branding problem. As a result, parents look for other options and the schools aren’t full. This means that funding falls, since it is driven by the student population. Less financial support leads to spending cuts, low morale and fewer programs. It is a cycle of doom that further weakens the brand. Manniere Elementary is an example of this dynamic.

Some government leaders have decided the way to fix these struggling schools is to simply change the name and rebrand them. Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett, for example, proposed changing the name of Manniere Elementary to Franklin II, capitalizing on the strength of a well-regarded nearby school. As Burnett observed, “Make it Franklin II, and I guarantee you we’ll fill up the school. Everybody benefits. It’s a no-brainer to me.” You can read more about the idea here.

There is no question branding matters for schools. An institution with a great brand will attract strong students and committed teachers. People will be motivated to achieve, parents might donate money to support programs, and outcomes will be good. This furthers the cycle.

So changing the brand of a struggling school seems like a smart idea. A new name, a new brand, a fresh start with no negative baggage. Tapping into a strong brand, like Burnett proposed, is even more promising.

Unfortunately, it won’t work. A rebranding effort will only succeed if the product itself changes. A strong brand can attract customers for a while, but the experience has to then live up to the promise. If people are disappointed, perceptions will quickly become negative again. After spending a lot of money on a rebranding, there will be no long-term change in the situation.

Cable giant Comcast illustrates the problem. The company recently introduced a new brand, Xfinity. The issue is that this move has created confusion while not changing perceptions. People who didn’t like Comcast don’t like Xfinity.

A successful rebranding involves much more than a new name. The entire customer experience needs to change to reflect the desired new identity. In the case of a school, teachers, administrators and students all have to change. The entire culture has to shift. It can be done, but it takes investment and commitment.

Building a great brand isn’t easy. While changing a name seems simple, it is just the first step in a long and complex journey.

The next session of Kellogg on Branding is October 23 to 28. Join brand leaders from around the world. Learn how to manage and build a great brand. You can sign up and learn more here.

One Response

  1. davetuchler says:

    Interesting. An additional consideration is that it takes $$ to make any new brand known. And even with attention, people will often still refer to the old name. Sears Tower might be an example. I can imagine people referring to ‘the old Manniere school’.

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