When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied” “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Mt 16: 13-17

Positioning and Branding are two key marketing concepts that businesses, organizations and now, individuals, grapple with on an ongoing basis.  Branding is more familiar, since we’re exposed to brands everyday.  Take facial tissue, for instance, and three of the largest “brands,” namely, Kleenex, Puffs and Scotties.  Of course there are “off-brands,” and generic facial tissue.  As with all brands, there is something special and differentiating about them.  If there were no perceived difference between brands, the product or service becomes a commodity, and, when a consumer needs to choose, the product or service with the lowest price usually “wins” the sales decision of the consumer.

Positioning is a little more difficult to understand, as it refers to the “position” the brand holds in the consumer’s mind.  For instance, Kleenex might hold the position of the market leader, while Puffs holds the position of the softest tissue.  You can see from the branding that Puffs tries to capitalize on this position through its brand, since a “puff” is definitely softer than a “kleenex” – whatever that would be.  If your mind just thought, “Oh, a kleenex is a single tissue,” that’s the power of positioning and branding on the mind of the consumer.  Because of that power, companies attempt to rebrand themselves and determine the position they hold in the marketplace.  Perhaps your school has a logo that it considers its brand, and may hold the position of “the only faith-based school in the community,” or “The school with the really good basketball team.”

But your school’s brand is more that your logo.  It is everything about your school that makes your school a unique and special educational environment – the complete set of thoughts about your school, so to speak.  The logo you’ve chosen for your school is not your school’s brand, but an encapsulation of the school’s “brand.”  With that in mind, then, where does the “brand” come from?  What you think your school is?  What your board thinks your school is?  Or is it what you and/or your board thinks your school should be?  Perhaps you’re thinking of hiring a company to determine this, since, after all, companies that produce products or offer services have marketing teams or hire marketing agencies (or both) to determine their brand.

Contrary to popular belief, your school (board, administration, or principal as the leader of the school) doesn’t determine the school’s brand nor its position.  Sure, you can develop a logo to promote what symbolizes your school, but the market (or community) in which your school is situated which determines its position and brand.

The questions Jesus asked His disciples about Himself can help us to understand these concepts.   In the passage from Scripture above, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?”  Other Gospel writers phrase it, “Who do the people say I am?”  It is a branding question.  It’s the complete set of thoughts people think of when they think of Jesus.

When Jesus asks Peter, “But who do you say I am,” and Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” that’s a positioning question.  When Peter thinks “Jesus,” he thinks, “Messiah, the son of the living God.”  It’s the place that Jesus holds in his mind.

As for your school, people may think of your school as the only faith-based school in the community, the school with the highest academic achievement scores, the blue-ribbon of excellence winner, and the school with the best basketball team.  All these things together comprise your school’s brand.  Notice how you didn’t determine any of these, even though you may contend a school can determine these attributes.  I would counter that you didn’t necessarily set out to build a powerhouse basketball team, but because of consistently performing at high levels, your school’s basketball teams have created an expectation that your school will have a great basketball time year after year.

The market also determines your school’s position, since it occupies a space in the collective mindset of the market.   You can certainly attempt to hold a position that’s different from the one your marketplace already has about your school.  However, creating such a position requires a lot of work to change minds and bring them to the point where you want to bring them.  Choosing a new position means you must live up to the position that you desire to hold.  For instance, if you want to own the position of the school with cutting-edge technology, but have a computer lab that has laptop computers loaded with Windows 7, you won’t be holding that position for long, and any work that you did to create it will amount to nothing.  Same with other attributes that are expectations.  If your school promotes a safe and caring environment, but then needs to start an anti-bullying program to deal with recent circumstances that may have occurred in your school, that may send parents conflicting messages about what to expect from the educational environment in which they’re considering enrolling their children.

Still need a little more clarity?  How about song titles.  Branding = “All the Things You Are;”  Positioning = “You Are Always On My Mind.”

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2014-2019 (Original Publication Date: 20140217)