More Than a Mascot: Why School Branding Is Important

They say never to judge a book by its cover. This is a lovely sentiment, but the fact of the matter is that humans are hardwired to create a first impression and stick with it. According to Healthline, a person starts to form impressions of another person after seeing their face for less than one-tenth of a second. Now imagine how quickly they can do the same with just a logo! A great brand can be a powerful thing. It can tie culture and art together to unify a district through a common look and feel. It can provide those it represents with pride in their school or organization. And, it can create a lasting impression for the community. 

Unfortunately, developing a strong brand identity often requires a great deal of time and energy, a luxury most school districts, in particular, don’t have. It’s been our experience that many school districts find themselves using various logos and colors that fail to uniformly represent their district. Additionally, many existing brands are outdated and, in some instances, are considered racially insensitive (like the former Washington Redskins, for example). Schools may also find themselves “borrowing” logos or brand components from already established brands, such as professional sports teams and major universities, which can put the district at legal risk concerning copyright issues.  

Those reasons—and a desire to go above and beyond for our clients—are why SHP offers a unique rebranding service for our clients. We jump through all the hoops necessary to help our clients create one true brand for the district and to unify the district’s look and feel.

One of SHP’s early rebranding projects took place in Deer Park, Ohio. When we signed on to work with Deer Park Community City Schools, school district administrators, staff and the community-at-large expressed a need for consistent messaging after realizing they had been using approximately 17 wildcat images, seven Deer Park logos, and three paw prints in its branding. This overabundance caused confusion and inaccuracies in conveying what the Deer Park community and school were known for. The rebranding process helped the district establish one true brand and an accompanying brand guideline that provides an overview of the elements and demonstrates how they combine to communicate a consistent identity that represents Deer Park Schools.

Other school districts we have led through a rebranding process include Winton Woods City Schools, Miami Trace Local Schools, Preble Shawnee Local Schools, Milford Exempted Village Schools and Liberty-Benton Local Schools.

What does the process entail? Knowing every client is unique, we tailor the service to address their specific needs. Because a rebranding process can result in significant change that impacts many people, SHP has been creative in using different engagement techniques to incorporate the input of key stakeholders. We don’t think it makes a ton of sense to walk into a school that we know little about and change their logo or introduce a new brand based on what we think looks good. So instead, we typically perform a community-wide survey at the beginning of the process to learn about the community and set the direction for designing the new brand.

In some instances, we have put together a Brand Advisory Team (or a BAT). The BAT is a group of 10-15 stakeholders, including parents, teachers, coaches, administration, board members, students and community members, that is charged with assisting the district in developing a unified brand identity. Since this is often their first experience thinking critically about brand messaging and meaning, we include “Branding 101” lessons during which we explore colors, typefaces, and printability, among other design aspects. The groups bring a diverse range of perspectives, backgrounds, and ideas to represent the community and provide us with tons of great information that we will use to make a meaningful brand overhaul.

Because we desire to gather a wide breadth of logo samples in the most economical way possible, we turn to an online creative process where the artistic community can submit ideas and the BAT can vote for their favorites. As a result, our clients have dozens of logos to interpret, think about and choose from.  

We’ve provided our rebranding service to a handful of existing clients that were completing facility upgrades at the time. Designing new school facilities comes with hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions about the look and feel of the buildings. For a district with a less consistent brand identity, this can be an opportunity to establish one true brand to ensure a successful transition into the new facilities. The brand guideline serves as an instruction manual for the many design decisions that come with applying the brand to new facilities, such as signage, gymnasium floor decals and more.

MaKayla Reichert, a member of our marketing team, recalled when we introduced a new logo at her alma mater, Milford High School. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that looks really good!’ Then when I started working here, I found out Fil actually designed it!” She was referring to Fil Anastasio, a long-time member of our marketing team who has undertaken several of our rebranding efforts on behalf of clients. 

The need for a cohesive look and feel doesn’t just extend to schools, of course. Cooper Creek Event Center, Tadpole Products and even SHP’s own SHAPE Environments have all tapped our rebranding services. 

As for Deer Park, the district is selling more merchandise, school spirit is on the rise, and the revitalized image is helping the community share its story—and pride—throughout the greater Cincinnati area.  The brand is now a clear representation of Deer Park’s bright future while honoring its storied past.