35. Branding to Make an Impact for Your Independent School with Brad Entwhistle

In this episode, we chat with Brad Entwhistle, the Founding Partner of imageseven in Australia. For the past 32 years, Brad has helped schools align to their vision, ensuring that they fulfill and stay true to their promise to families and students, teaching that branding is far more than just a logo.

About Brad Entwhistle:

Brad Entwistle is the Founding Partner of imageseven in Australia. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness.

Find Brad Entwhistle:

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Show Transcript

Aubrey: Welcome to Mindful School Marketing. I’m Aubrey Bursch.

Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today. We’re joined by Brad Entwistle. Brad is the founding partner of imageseven in Australia. Since 1990 he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school heads, tailoring solutions to maximize their communication and marketing effectiveness. Welcome Brad, we’re glad to have you here. 

Brad: Thank you. It’s great to join ya. 

Aubrey: Yes, Brad, we’re super excited you’re here. And I can’t wait to hear you share all your branding tips with us, but I, before we get started, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and maybe your journey? 

Brad: I think my journey is distinctly not memorable. It’s from my perspective, it’s just been a journey of putting one step in front of the, one, one foot in front of the other and moving forward. But I started working in- always had this love for audio radio and marketing communications. Did a couple of sales jobs straight out of school. And then worked with an audio firm. And while I was doing that, I started doing communications consulting. And so I’m now talking 1986 and I went out, hung up my shingle with the full intention of being the one man communications consultant primarily then was intended to be business to business. And I found very quickly what the clients would say, you, you know, hand them the report. This is what we suggested. Even here’s the professionals in the field to help you to do it. And invariably they’d say to me, that’s great. Can you just do it for us? Can you make it happen? And so I really quickly realized that imageseven, wasn’t going to be just me. It was going to be a team who, and while we’re still very much strategy first, that’s the, that’s our starting point for everything. The bulk of it is still around execution- making things happen. And the transition into education happened really quickly. In fact our very first client ended up being an education client because my wife is an educator. She’s been a principal teacher, early childhood and you do what good husbands do, and I got pulled into the pulled into, we need your help over here, come and help us do this. And while it wasn’t initially the intention, word spreads and one, one school refers you to the next school. And we built an expertise in schools and it’s- oh, for a long time, it was fairing away the bulk of the firm’s work and probably about seven years ago now, we just said, let’s just be purely education. So we prob- primarily now work in the K to 12 schools, a little bit of tertiary and a little bit of education based associations. But primarily in that marketing and communications space. So the firm’s growning over the years. So 36 odd years now the team is 33 people working in all sorts of schools. From the, what would in Australia gets called the elite schools, the high fee big name, prestige schools, right down to the local community Christian school. And we have a lot of fun. It’s varied. 

Tara: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I love the transition that you made and how you just fell into the education space. And I have a similar experience as well in terms of learning that’s where I found my passion. So image seven, the name image seven, would make you think that image you’re thinking. About identity and branding. Is that what your company specializes in is branding, is that correct? 

Brad: We do a lot of branding. Yeah. Yeah. We do a lot of branding. The name the, if you like the backstory on the name is absolutely what I would not recommend any client do now in terms of naming a business. So remember this is back in ’86, I happened to be- mentioned radio. I was doing a regular program on a community station at the time, which was contemporary Christian music as it was then called, it’s not even a category, I don’t think anymore. It’s just Christian music, but contemporary Christian music. And this was vinyl, we’re talking flat pieces of vinyl and you get really good at reading the track titles as the record’s going around. So you’re doing this with your head and reading the track. But this one record label was called image seven. And I was just thinking why did they name that image seven? And in the Bible the number seven is the picture of perfection. And so it was like, oh the image of perfection, they’re trying to do things the best that can be done. And so I just adopted that for image seven. And I, I later ended up knowing by email knowing the chap in Canada who had actually formed that record label. So it was it was nice. 

Tara: That’s really interesting. 

Brad: As I say not, not a path to doing good branding. 

Tara: Yeah. When you have to explain it, that sometimes takes away from the-

Brad: Exactly yeah.

Tara: Immediate impression that you get. But I know that that you do branding and we’re gonna talk to you a bit about your expertise in that area today. And so I wanted to start out by having you define for us what branding is and what makes school branding unique. 

Brad: Sure. As anybody in this field would know, Google definition of branding and there’s a gazillion different definitions of branding. But one that we have settled on which works really well for schools is it’s who you are, what’s your promise, and your ability and intention to keep that promise. While many people from branding is about logos, colors, type faces, that sort of stuff. They’re all just the symbols the thing, the way we get to interpret the brand but the most important part of the brand is who you are. Understanding who you are, what’s important to you, what your values are as a school- that’s critical and then understanding what’s your promise, because that’s how parents choose you. They determine what your promise is as, and can I trust my child to this school? Will they deliver on what they promise and therefore the rest of it. So branding is big. So it can include everything from the pick and drop off line at the school. Is it traffic, chaos to how teachers interact with parents and students and the architecture of the school, all of that is your branding. But the, probably the easiest way to think about it is the brand is if your school was a person, what would people, how would they describe you? And that’s a really good definition of branding. It’s intrinsically tied up with that- what you promise, because if you think about it at the end of the day, if you make a brand that makes a promise and then fails to deliver on it. Ultimately it’s a lie and no, nobody would wants to be thought of as a liar, but we all know brands that don’t deliver on what they promise. And it’s ultimately a, not a very fulfilling experience. So schools really have to- school marketers, in particular, have to be very sure about what we’re promising and can we follow through on that? And, often we’re we dealing with 13 years of a child’s life. And if we’re talking about a family, there’s a few more years potential in that. These are long-term promises. They’re not things to be made lightly. So what we do is we uncover parts of the school that would, firstly, what we look for are the things that resonate with the audience, differentiate you, and then things that can substantiate your promise and your ability to deliver on that promise. And once we’ve found that it’s about amplifying it- trying to find the right way to, to turn that up. And that’s a, it’s a really good formula. It’s a really good framework. 

Aubrey: I love the idea of thinking of branding as a person, how would you describe that person? And I think you hit on something really important is that like parents are entrusting their most precious thing, their child to a school. And they are doing that with the understanding that the school’s delivering on a promise, right? And I think that is such an important aspect of what you were saying that really resonates with me as both a mom and a marketer. So thank you for sharing that. I’m curious, you’ve been in this field for 30 plus years, what are some common mistakes with schools when it comes to branding?

Brad: I think. If I condensed it down to just one thing, I think that too many people try and think of school marketing just as though it was business-to-consumer marketing. It’s not, it’s different. It’s got these unique characteristics, which as I said I started off in business to business. And it’s actually got more, it’s got more alignment with business to business than it has with business to consumer marketing. And you’ve probably gotta be a bit of a geek to get into that level, but there’s there’s a bunch of things which make it unique. One of, one of the things that we always start off with is school marketing starts on the inside, so by that, we mean, if you are, if you’ve got in a school, you’ve got this wider range, array of people, different personalities, doing different jobs. And if they’re not in alignment, then as soon as somebody comes from the outside, they come on a school tour, do a visit. They’re going to notice that dissonance that it’s not right. It’s not matching. We’ll often say to clients don’t worry about your media spend is or what the media plan’s gonna be just yet. Get alignment on the inside because it’s the best dollar you can spend on your marketing is actually getting your service right, first- struck a chord there. But yeah it begins on the inside. The brand is important essentially, as we said, because about who can I trust. And if we’re not answering that trust question- all the branding in the world is for nothing. What else? Education products what you’re selling they’re actually complex products and services. It’s not like my team will love it because I always get Pepsi into the conversation somehow. But it is just a really great brand example, but that’s, that is not a complex product. Your school is an incredibly complex product. Dealing with every child is a complex equation of their own- every teacher. So that brings in all of these different variables that somehow rather a market has gotta encapsulate, keep the message simple, but still remain truthful. So that’s really different. The purchase cycles along. I think from what I know in the states, it’s very much similar, but the higher fee schools, the purchase consideration times are much longer. For some of, from some of our schools in Australia the joke is, but it’s not a joke that families come in with an ultrasound and they go, it’s a boy, I want to enroll him, and they do. At the, even at the low, lower fee end in Australia, the, that purchase consideration cycle can easily be six months, 12 months. The long nurture cycles are involved. There’s of course, fewer education buyers as opposed to a can of Pepsi. So that has an impact on how you choose your media purchases your channel decisions. So that’s another thing that makes it not business to consumer. You’ve gotta be particularly tight. And of course the world of digital has made that just so much easier. And the I think one of the things is that education purchases, while they look like incredibly logical and rational decisions that parents are making, and they’re trying to make out that they are being really, they’re researching this and they’re doing a spreadsheet of the pros and cons, they’re emotional decisions at the end of the day, everything is just to justify an emotional decision. So if you get that. That first meeting that the look of the school the architecture, all of those things do, that’s why they’re part of marketing. That’s why they’re part of the brand. So that’s yeah, that’s just some of my, I mean, I can go on and on.

Tara: No, that’s great. It’s fascinating. The holistic approach to marketing I think is somewhat unique and it’s something that, that marketers don’t often think about. And I think even heads of school, right? Administration, you think that’s the marketing team’s job? That’s the marketing person’s job. It’s really not just their job, cuz what you’re describing- it has to come from the top and it has to be the whole entire fabric of the school is part of this brand. And as someone who also does branding, I think, we think like you were saying very much about logo and color palette and style guides and those are certainly important because that’s absolutely what people will see first before they, before they even know anything about your school, they’re going to see your logo, right? And so your logo is a representation of your school. And it’s very important that it match, right? If you have a very formal, absolutely logo and a very casual school, that’s not a good fit. Some schools go through a process of rebranding- redesign, rebrand. So, you know, thinking maybe specifically about visually, because I think when a school thinks about doing a rebrand, they’re not thinking about a holistic view of let’s redo the fabric of our school, they’re thinking a rebrand. Let’s rebrand our logo and our website and our brochures and all of that. Yeah. So it’s a big undertaking. It’s a big financial undertaking and it’s a process. And knowing your strategic approach to this, what advice would you give to a school who’s considering a rebrand? 

Brad: Don’t. No, I’ll need to add context now. Don’t jump at it really quickly. Take a very considered approach because when it all boils down the only reason the only to consider doing a rebrand is to say to the marketplace, please look at us again. Please reconsider what you, the opinions that you have formed about us now, of course, that’s to the marketplace who might already know you exist. They’ve already looked at you and formed an opinion. So you are saying please reconsider. Okay, but we’ve find that there’s really three categories where people in schools will consider a rebrand. And the first one is what we think of is window dressing. And that’s we’ve got brand problems. We know it, and we’ve gotta, we’ve just gotta, if we can present a new look we can fix that. Okay. So that’s the first one. The second one is a fresh face on a good place. And that’s where we find lots of schools is the product is good. It’s solid stable, but they look like they came from 1980. And that’s really the space that you’re talking about there, Tara, the they really need a facelift. Otherwise people will be rejecting them. For the wrong reasons. That’s just, that’s criminal when that happens. And the last one is the total brand overhaul and by the total brand overhaul that’s when everybody recognizes that things are fundamentally wrong. And if nothing changes it could be fatal for the school. And that’s where you actually, it is a true, what I call brand refresh brand in the holistic sense you are going back and saying let’s reimagine- Who are we? What is our educational offering? What are our values now? Normally they’re things that stay fixed and solid and rightly so for schools for many years. So that opportunity doesn’t come along very often. In fact, just the opportunity to do a refresh, doesn’t come along very often. Back to my original comment was, don’t do it. Don’t be too hasty is but do it in a very considered manner. It’s not something to just jump out at. You wake up one morning and you think I’m really tired of this. Let’s do a refresh. It needs more, more thought and consideration. 

Aubrey: I really appreciate your take on branding, because I think a lot of times schools do go in with the window dressing approach. Like, all we need is a new logo and it’s gonna solve all our problems. But no, but that’s not the truth, as you mentioned. 

Brad: Yeah. If you change and what’s behind the brand, hasn’t changed. You’ve asked people to look at your refresh and they do. And you are the same and they’ll go, no, it’s it’s fake. It’s not honest. 

Aubrey: Yeah I really appreciate you diving deep into that because I think a lot of people think when they think of branding, they think, oh, just the new logo and that will just yeah bring in the floods of enrollees. Like prospective families are just gonna come through the doors. So thank you for that.

Brad: I wish it worked like that. 

Aubrey: No. Yeah, me too. So switching gears- through the lens of our podcast, we talk about mindfulness and how it applies to school admissions professionals. How do you define mindfulness? And how would you apply it to school branding project? 

Brad: Mm, I find it hard. I really do. In everything that’s going on, it’s a busy world, marketing communications in a school is you. Well, you, you, you know it, it’s hundred percent on all the time and people firing requests at you and you are trying to slow everything down for a moment to actually make good decisions, considered decisions. So for me, mindfulness is actually being able to be in that moment or even not even so much the moment being in that moment of communication and being able to make good decisions, mindful decisions, sort of being grounded. But I’m a Christian I have those faith values that I bring into the equation as well. So it’s certainly not unusual for me when I’m at that point of course we work across lots of schools trying to actually go. What is the impact that this will have? What I’m talking to an audience and really trying to connect with that. And it’s not unusual for me to do that with prayer. I mean, you just stop for a moment and pray about what you’re actually gonna do because it’s so- frankly it’s scary sometimes. We are delivering a strategic report and recommendations to a client for instance, and that can change the course of a school. It’s important stuff. Yeah, for me that’s how I’d practice mindfulness, but still come back to- it’s hard. Yeah, I, I find it hard. 

Tara: I think it is, I think it’s a challenge to, to slow down and take that pause and what you’re describing, even though this process, this holistic process to branding, which I love, just that concept in and of itself is mindful because you’re talking about not just focusing and running into, we need to change our logo or branding is, just our color palette or something- that holistic approach, I think encompasses this mindfulness idea as well. So I think that we’re on the same page there.

Brad: Yeah. And something else that I just thought of it’s I often try to put it into the place of it. It’s not about me. It’s about others. So often as marketers, we’ve got our key messages, we’ve got our brand values and we are just trying to shoehorn those into which, whatever message we’re working on at the time, stepping back and going, this is not about what I want to achieve, it’s about what can this school do, offer, communicate, to the audience, to the prospective parent or the parent? 

Tara: Yeah, I love that. 

Brad: So that’s about others. 

Tara: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And this is a good transition to, to start asking a few of the questions we ask all of our guests. We do always talk about mindfulness, but we also ask what are the most important things that you do to grow professionally and personally? So that might be a good segue from this other topic. 

Brad: Read. And- and by read these days is for me, is it’s as much about listening as reading. But books, magazines, audiobooks. It’s just the more ideas that I can consume. And always just figure if I read a book or listen to a book and I can come away from that with one idea, just one idea that I can try, I can implement or modifies what I’m thinking or just grows me. It’s been a great investment. 

Aubrey: I love that you’re among fellow book lovers and podcasts lovers. , we’re right there with you. So I would love to segue into our rapid-fire questions. Are you ready? 

Brad: That sounds dangerous. It sounds dangerous. 

Aubrey: It’s gonna be fun. Okay. If you could put one book as mandatory reading in the high school curriculum, what would it be? 

Brad: This is gonna sound corny, but it would be the New Testament of the Bible. Not for anything necessarily deeply spiritual, but that it’s the foundation of a lot of Western society and Western values, even down to our systems of governance and things like that. So I think it’s foundational in so many ways.

Tara: Okay, thanks. The next question is what is one app that you couldn’t live without? 

Brad: Having just said about audiobooks that it’d have to be Audible I think. 

Aubrey: I do love audible. yeah. It’s a dangerous addiction though. 

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. I, when I go for my run in the morning, or in fact just yesterday, Came back from an eight hour road trip, visiting a couple of clients. You get a whole book into that. 

Aubrey: You can, that’s my favorite way to do a road trip is like, get the, I mean, without kids, cuz sometimes kids just doesn’t work so well, but they listen Audible books. So I am curious, what are you reading right now? 

Brad: Right now, in fact it’s right here. There we go. The Brand Gap. Yep. It’s a book by, Marty Meumeier. In fact I really would reco- I’m only three quarters of the way through it, but I really would recommend it because it’s it’s a great book that school marketers could give to their head and say, learn about brand. 

Tara: I love that. And I’m not familiar with it. I’m gonna look it up. We do have a mindful school marketing, Goodreads list. I don’t know if you use Goodreads, but all of the recommendations that we get from our guests we’ve put into a Goodreads list. So you can check that out. We’ll add that book to that Goodreads list. And the last question is what is one great piece of advice that you can leave us with?

Brad: Okay, that marketing school marketing is actually like asking somebody on a date. So branding is what gets them to say yes to the date. But customer experience is what gets them to stay in the relationship. 

Aubrey: Okay. I love that. I’m gonna put that on my wall. That was a good one. 

Brad: It’s not really original. It’s not an original. 

Aubrey: But it’s great! 

Brad: I’m not sure where I lifted it from, but I- 

Aubrey: Just own it. It’s yours now. So Brad, I’d love to know, thank you so much for being on with us. Where can people find you online? 

Brad: The website is the best- imageseven.com. So image and then the word seven. So S E V E N.com, dot AU you’ve for all of you wonderful people in the states. You’ve gotta remember the dot AU for Australia. 

Tara: Great. Thank you so much. We really appreciated this conversation. Can’t wait to share it. Have a great day. 

Brad: You too. Thank you. 

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