Showing versus telling in school marketing

A powerful brand positioning provides a solid foundation from which to build a strong brand for your school.  Yet strategy alone is not enough.

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Your school’s positioning and messaging may get prospective families in the pipeline, but it’s interactions with families as they move through the pipeline
that will make or break their school decision.


Especially in highly competitive markets, it’s the “little” things that will set the school apart.  If what your school shows prospective families doesn’t match what you told them in your admissions materials, prospective families will doubt the authenticity of your brand.

As they move through the admissions pipeline, families closely observe

  • Communications – Are interactions truly personalized, thus demonstrating the extra effort to get to know each child?
  • Students – Do they look happy or stressed?
  • Student tour guides – Are they articulate, polite, confident, and able to form a warm connection with their charges?

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It’s the “little” things that either support or degrade the actual experience
prospective families and students have with the school
that will have a big impact on admissions.


Case in Point – Phillips Exeter Academy

After developing a brand strategy for Phillips Exeter Academy, EdwardsCo created a series of inquiry response letters for the Admissions Office.

These letters broke with the traditional parameters of inquiry response correspondence – they were four- or five- pages long.  They were emotional and they spoke to Exeter’s values.

The anecdotal feedback from families was, in the words of Tom Hassan, director of admissions, “extraordinary.” At on-campus yield events, he told us, more than 20 families approached him and thanked him for his letters.

The communications had a measurable impact on the Academy’s yield: it jumped from 59% to 63% in one year, a record for the school.

Success came from a solid understanding of the Academy’s values and marketplace, as well as from an approach to communications that demonstrated the thoughtfulness of Exeter’s staff and leadership.

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Case in Point – Actions Speak Louder Than Words

A pre-K through 8 independent school located in a small, very wealthy town in Massachusetts wanted to draw in more families from surrounding communities that were more economically-diverse, but was having little success.  The school asked EdwardsCo for help.

Our research revealed that prospective families outside the top income brackets in the school’s hometown, as well as target families in the surrounding communities, held strong misperceptions of the school as snobby and unwelcoming. In fact, one of the school’s defining characteristics was a warm, nurturing, and very welcoming culture.

Its physical location in a pocket of extreme wealth, however, drove the impression that the school reflected its elite surroundings.

To shift these almost-ingrained attitudes held by target families, EdwardsCo explained, the school needed to show the community how caring, open, and unpretentious it really was.  One recommendation, for example, was to bring students wearing school insignia sweatshirts to highly-visible community service projects to provide assistance two or three times a year.

By actively participating in service projects such as cleaning up the town green, the school demonstrated its commitment to serving as an active, helpful, and humble member of the community. The local news weekly wrote an article about this project, perceptions began to change, and inquiries and applications from surrounding communities began to increase.

Success came from using unconventional “communications” that demonstrated the authentic characteristics that not only differentiated the school but also resonated in a meaningful and emotional way with the target audiences.

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Learn More

Read our case studies to learn how other schools demonstrated their brand positioning to achieve enrollment goals and more of our Branding Insight in Brief series…


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