47. Storytelling and a Brand Vision Process for Schools with Michelle Mercurio
In this episode, we are joined by Michelle Mercurio, a brand catalyst and authenticist who empowers big-picture thinkers to be true to themselves, find their unique brands, and execute their goals in a way that aligns with their vision. Showing her clients how to showcase their unique stories to build connections, Michelle shares with us the power of storytelling and how schools can benefit from this meaningful and effective approach.
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About Michelle Mercurio:
Michelle is a brand catalyst and authenticist (auth-thentic-ist) who helps visionaries clarify their purpose, voice big visions, & vault marketing hurdles through story & self-trust. She believes that marketing should be transparent and easy.
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Tara: Welcome to Mindful School Marketing. I’m Tara Claeys.
Aubrey: And I’m Aubrey Bursch. Today we’re joined by Michelle Mercurio. Michelle is a brand catalyst and authenticist who helps visionaries clarify their purpose, voice, big visions and vault marketing hurdles through story and self-trust, she believes that marketing should be transparent and easy. Welcome, Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you so much for having me here today.
Tara: I’m really excited to have you join us today, Michelle. And I’ve enjoyed working with you, so I’m really excited to share you with our audience. Can you tell them more about yourself?
Michelle: Sure. Yes, Aubrey said I am a brand catalyst and authenticist. And authenticist is a word that I made up to basically say that I think that we all need to be a little bit more of who we really are, rather than who we think the world expects us to be. I’m very interested in helping people do better marketing. I think a lot of times when we’re thinking a lot, when we’re thinking about websites and content and marketing, especially as small business owners, we’re thinking about what do the people want? And I think that better marketing actually starts with us. And so that’s really my purpose for starting my own business, and I know both of you feel that way about your business, and I know your clients do too, because they’re of the purpose led businesses that they are in.
Aubrey: Absolutely. And I love the word authenticity in general because that’s the marketing, I think that is showing yourself to others. And when we talk about schools that’s, which is our audience. They’re really trying to be authentic in the market because that’s how you’re gonna attract. The people that are the best fit for your schools. So I am so excited to dive in. Tara has told me so much about you and I am an admirer of your work. And I would love to know as we’re diving into this, what is your process in helping organizations and businesses define and clarify their brands?
Michelle: So I think that it really starts with visioning. I think it starts with where the company is as a whole, and it’s really about identity. So who are you? Why are you here? What is it that you were put on this earth to do? And I know that these sound like singular individual questions, but they’re particularly relevent for purpose-led businesses and businesses who really have singular missions to help transform and change the world. If you’re in the middle of a transformation, you’re not being led by a lot of the things that are happening necessarily externally. It’s really, it should, you should start with you. And whether it’s with individuals and really looking at that in a solo printer kind of way, I think it’s a little bit easier to imagine that if you are a one or two person business, that it, that vision is, led by one or two people. But in small businesses, It’s really led by the people that you hire, and they’re there for a reason. Why are you there? What is it that you’re here to really do? So I think the process really starts with visioning and then it moves into gaining clarity. Looking at what it is that you really are magic at. What are your skills? What is it that you offer? What do you do? What is it that you’re trying to showcase for other people that is in your genius zone? And then it goes into writing that. How do you voice that? How do you show up? How do you get past the hurdles that show up sometimes when you are talking about yourself, even small businesses have that. If you are a 10 or 20 person organization, sometimes they’re like, we don’t wanna just brag about what it is that we do, or we don’t wanna just talk about our services. We really wanna show why we’re here. But sometimes there’s like a hesitation to do so. There is a moment where there, where people think that they just need to talk about their services and maybe their mission and their vision and their values, and hope that people show up and know what it is that you do. And so that starts the conversation about like, how do you actually showcase and relate to the people that are showing up on your website or showing up at your place of business and how are you actually connecting with them? So it’s not just about writing who you are, but it’s like who you’re for and why that’s important and why they actually want to work with you. People want to know and trust you. That is, we hear that all the time in marketing, but it’s true. People work with people they like.
Tara: Right. Well, If we’re talking about schools, I think like that’s really important, right? That families, if we take this into the, not working with one person, but if you were working with a team at a school, the whole admissions team, for example, or the administration of the school, helping them answer these questions like, what makes your school magic, what makes you stand out? And talking about trust and authenticity with your prospective families and your current families. Can you speak a little bit to how this would translate to a school a school team and a school environment?
Michelle: Absolutely. So I am a former educator. I taught high school. I taught English, I taught journalism, I taught technology, and I did that in between corporate careers. And before I launched my business, I quit a corporate job to go and work in the inner city at a high school in Arizona. Never having taught a day in my life. And what attracted me to teaching and to that school was the completely different way that school was doing things. So I’ll get to your question in just a second, but I’m coming at it from a perspective of an educator who has also dealt with parents, who has dealt with administration, who has wanted to really like, understand students and help elevate them so that they can go out and make the world whatever it is that they wanted to make the world in a better way. And I think when you’re thinking about this from a school perspective, particularly. There’s a lot of times when your administrative staff, whether it’s admin, whether it’s admissions, whether it’s truly if it’s parent relations, whether, you know, you’re dealing with a lot of different entities in a school. You’re dealing with children, you’re dealing with parents, you’re dealing with the community, and these are the people who you want to show what it is that you’re really here for. So your leadership team really needs to be on the same page. Your leadership team needs to sit down, have visioning sessions together, really understand what it is that you’re here for, and not just write a vision statement, but really define that- you know what makes your individual leaders tick. Why are you in this business of education? Because we know it’s not for the paycheck. I have to make the teacher joke, sorry. We all know that educators are underpaid. And I think that’s one of the things that you have to think about. You’re doing this for a reason and everybody’s reason might be a little bit different, but how do you represent that as a whole? So I start with visioning again with these schools and really look at.- What is your school here to do? Yes, you’re here to educate. All schools are here to educate. Yes, you’re here to help kids make a difference. That’s one of the things you’re here to raise with the community. You’re here to talk to parents. What makes you special, what makes you different? What passions do your leadership teams have and what is it that they are really here to do? And I think delving into that personal really helps elevate. The overall mission of an organization. Tara: Yeah. That’s terrific. I love that. Taking it down to that granular level of, digging deep into why they’re there in the first place. Because that, as a parent, that makes you feel really comfortable sending your child to a school where you know that the people that they’re spending their time with have a passion for your kids.
Michelle: I think also with your teachers too. Just to say one more thing about schools is that, we hear a lot of things in media different, at different times about, schools are doing this or education’s doing that, or teachers need to do these things. And when you take it down to a personal level, it’s really much easier to understand people’s stories when they feel represented in what the mission of the school is doing and why they’re there and what they’re actually doing for parents, for the community, for kids, you, it’s hard to, bucket people like, oh, all teachers are this, or all administrators are this, or all students are this. When you actually know stories. And even involving, the community in your story and the parents and the kids. These are you’re creating an ecosystem. It’s not just about services in what you offer as a school.
Tara: Yeah, let’s talk about storytelling. I make websites for schools and I find clients often struggle to create content and to tell and to create content that tells a story. I think storytelling is a buzzword right now in marketing, right? There’s all these ideas about storytelling, and I’m not even sure that many people understand what that actually is. So maybe you can talk a little bit about storytelling as a concept. And also, writing copy for a website is very different from writing content for a brochure or a lesson plan, or a white paper or something like that. If you could talk just a little bit about storytelling and how copy for the web, because I’m a web person, so I wanna talk about websites- How, what, what that is
Michelle: I’m gonna talk about storytelling first. Tara, you basically gave the introduction to my storytelling workshop when you said that, I always say storytelling’s a buzzword. Most people dunno how to do it. I’m going to give you the quickest rundown of how to tell a great story. And it’s a synopsis to that workshop that I offer on storytelling. So using the acronym story, so how to tell a great story. First, you set the scene, so s is for set the scene. T is for tension. What’s the conflict? What are people wanting to know? What is it that they don’t necessarily know that you can offer them? Okay, O is open it up. Really dig into that tension, really dig into what it is that they’re trying to learn. And I’ll give you an example of this when I’m done. R is the reveal or the aha. Most people read stories because they’re engaged in the scene. They know the tension, they’re really getting into it because you’ve opened them up and then all of a sudden there’s a reveal and it’s oh, I thought it was this, but it’s really this. And then get people to say yes at the end of the story. Yes, I’m there with you. Yes, I agree with you. So that this is a formula for storytelling. Now, let me tell you about storytelling as a whole. I think when people think about storytelling, whether it’s for business or even personally, they think that they don’t have any stories. That’s number one, or that they have stories, but they’re not sure how to relate them to their business. And this really leads into that second question you asked me. Storytelling for the web is different than storytelling for a brochure, and it’s different for storytelling in social media. It’s different than storytelling in a blog. It is and it isn’t. So I’m gonna flip that around a little bit and say to you, that when you have a foundational story, when you have brought people into a scene, say you’re a school and you start that story and you’re like, it’s 8:00 AM the bell rang, the kids are running to the school or running into their classrooms. The teachers are, scrambling to take that attendance. Maybe there’s bell work and you’re really getting people into that moment. They’re invested, right? So that’s maybe a longer format story. You might not put that as website content, but when you understand that really big story, then you can actually pull out pieces of that story and then optimize it, right? We all know that search engine optimization, SEO is a thing, and then, pick people’s keywords. What do they Google? What do they talk about? So when I wanna know what’s happening, should I have, I have nieces and nephews, so I wanna know about my nephew’s school culture, so I’m not gonna Google what is the culture at X school. I might though say, I might Google the actual school name and I might talk about the students or the location or those kinds of things. So then taking that bigger story, the story that people actually care about and working in those words so that, that optimized for a search engine. That’s different in a website, in a blog, it might be adding in some of those things too, in a brochure. It’s really about connecting with your audience and taking them through that entire story.
Tara: Thanks for mentioning seo. I appreciate who pay attention to that .
Michelle: I write website content too, right? I totally understand that SEO is important and yet you don’t wanna lose the story. Based on that. I think a lot of times when people think about their websites, they think about it like, how am I gonna sell my services? How am I gonna show what it is that I’m doing? And they’re, how do I get SEO content? And they miss the whole story, which is actually how people connect and how they like, know and trust you.
Aubrey: Yeah. I love I, I always talk about know and trust, because that’s a huge part. And I would say of marketing, especially in schools right now, now more than ever, as it’s taking, you know, parents are very selective consumers at this point, especially for such a high ticket price as independent school education can be. So they definitely need to build that know and trust factor. So as we were talking about stories, I had a few like follow up questions around that. Like when you’re looking at storytelling, are you thinking of creating like a couple of story stories, like the overarching stories for perhaps a school and then those are lived out in various content areas, like reflected on social media, on the website, in the brochure. They might look different, but it’s the same story. Yes. Used across all, all, various content sites and everything like that. Is that how storytelling like a school could start with a story, like you could start with one story and then do hit all those platforms in different ways? Is that what you would recommend for schools? And what else would you say about, I think storytelling and social media, which I think is so intriguing.
Michelle: So you asked me about my process earlier. Usually the very first thing I do is I sit down for visioning. The first piece of content I write for somebody is a brand story. So the story then drives everything else. When you think about social media, most people want to, or I’ve experienced a lot of businesses want to just start putting things up without a story, without a strategy. Just throwing things at the wall, see what sticks. Did I get likes, did I get engagement? Did people convert? And it all comes from the story. Start with one story, and then you build the stories around that story. It becomes, just think about lesson plans. We’re in the business of education, you have a purpose and a point that you’re trying to get to. At the end of this lesson, students will X, Y, Z. So how are you building a story like at the end of this story, people will feel. People will know you. People will like this. People will relate to this. So one story then builds all of the other stories that you tell and you asked about social media. So when I work with a client, it’s story first. Website content second. So how do you build out all of those pieces of content? And then the third part is then how do you use all of this beautiful content you have and build like year long plans around it? I did this for a client recently. It was a small nonprofit. And we built a year plan off a brand story and some website content at, based on their vision, their values, the things that they actually cared about. But if you’re not starting with that deep visioning at the beginning, you’re not gonna land in the social, at the end where you wanna land. It all builds upon each other. Much like education.
Tara: Yeah. Yeah. I, so full disclosure, Michelle’s working with me on my brand story and my website copy, and I’ m a do-it-yourself person, and I feel like I’m a good writer, but I think bringing someone in from the outside with a fresh perspective there is it’s really invaluable and I can’t say enough about that. And I know schools are on budgets and when I talk to them about their website they usually want to write their own content because they also, many of them are educators and writers. But there is just a great value. It’s very different when you bring in someone who is coming in and looking at you school and your story from an outside perspective. So I really appreciate your sharing your process and I would recommend that some of our listeners think about applying that process and maybe even consulting with some, with a writer to help them or someone on the outside, cuz it, it really does make a difference I think. It’s opened up my mind a lot, so I appreciate that. I often-
Michelle: And speaking clients, just real quick, I often have clients who said, I used to think that I knew what I did. You came in and now I actually know what I do and it’s changed- the bigger visioning has changed how they actually work. Yeah. And has actually done the work of attracting the people that they want to attract.
Tara: Yeah, and we get caught in our own head and in our own thing. And so in schools, oftentimes they wanna say, they have, accreditation and they have, teachers who have been there a long time and all of these different things, which are great, great attributes, but that’s not their story and that’s not their brand. So they get caught up in that and to have somebody come back and it’s invigorating to have somebody come tell you what’s great about your school. And so I think it’s just been a very good process and I’m really happy that you shared it with us here today. I wanna talk about mindfulness because we are the Mindful School marketing podcast. And we, so we talk about mindfulness and how it applies to those who work in independent schools, specifically marketing and communications. And then we apply that concept of mindfulness. We like to talk to our guests about this to the work environment and life in general. And I also know that you are someone who pays attention to this topic as well. So can you share how you define mindfulness and any mindfulness practices that you use?
Michelle: We probably have a limit on our time, so I cannot tell you all of the mindful practices that I use. But I realized many years ago that we can never, ever get done with our to-do list and I think what stopped me in my tracks at different points in my life to revisit why I’m actually really here were all of these, you know, I didn’t have a mindful practice that was, every single day. Of course I journaled and things like that, but the reason that I think mindfulness is so important is because it informs everything else. If we are just going, we are missing the bigger picture and as, as a former educator, as somebody who’s worked with schools, as somebody who has worked with nonprofits, purpose, yes, is really important. It’s yes, I have to do this next thing, I have to do this next thing because I’m doing these things purposefully. But a lot of the times, if you’re not taking time to take that stop and that pause regularly throughout your day, which I do. You’re just always onto the next thing you’re gonna miss your whole life. So let’s talk about the life piece first. Mindfulness is important because otherwise you will miss your life. Without the stop, without the pause. There’s more power in the pause than there is in the go, and there will always be a million more things to do, but you don’t even know if tomorrow is going to happen, right? You don’t know if next week’s gonna happen for any of us. All we have is today. So how do you weave that time in for you so that you can actually show up better for the people you serve? More clear, more calm. More present than thinking of the 20 things that are piling up or the 200 things that are piling up without your attention. My own mindful practices. I meditate every day. I use guided visualizations. I do this for my clients too. I actually build, I do mindful work with clients where I build visualizations for them, build off of them. I use different types of, hypnosis to really calm and restructure our minds. It’s a passion of mine to actually study how our brains work in the psychology. I have a minor in psychology and have taken a lot of extra master’s coursework in this. We get stuck in patterns. How do you break the pattern? You do so with mindful practices. So whether it’s journaling, whether it’s taking a walk, whether you don’t have to meditate the way everybody else meditates. Whatever it is that brings you back to yourself and centers yourself and calms yourself so you can then show up more, present and clear for others. Take that five minutes, take that 10 minutes, do it several times per day.
Aubrey: That’s such great advice. I think for school leaders especially. They are very busy and they have a lot on their minds and on their plates. So for them to be able to do that, it’s, I always encourage my teams of small schools especially, take your meeting outside, go for a walk, like breathe some fresh air, or take that moment for yourself. So thank you for sharing that. Now we’re about to head into one of my favorite parts of the show, which is our rapid fire questions. So are you ready?
Michelle: I am ready. Let’s do this.
Aubrey: All right. So if you could put one book as mandatory reading in the high school curriculum, what would it be?
Michelle: Lies My Teacher Told Me, Everything, Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.
Aubrey: Amazing. Fascinating.
Michelle: I can’t, I gotta do one more. All About Love, Bell Hooks. So both of them are about expanding our knowledge through different stories.
Tara: Wonderful. Thanks. I’m gonna look those up. We do have, I’ll put a plug in here for our Good Reads list. We have an amazing Good Reads list from all the books that are mentioned on our show, and I encourage everyone to check ’em out. I have read some fabulous books from that list. I refer to it all the time, so I’ll add these to it. What’s one app that you could not live without?
Michelle: I cannot live without my SkyView app. I am a space aficionado. I love everything space. Nasa, IS, planetary stuff. I love to identify the night sky.
Aubrey: That’s amazing. Is that where you can track like the space station and stuff like that?
Michelle: You can track all kinds of stuff with using SkyView.
Aubrey: I’ll have to download that app. My kids are so-
Michelle: You can see the constellations, you know how the world moves. You can check track satellites. It’s awesome.
Aubrey: All right. You’ve sold me. This is the app I must have. Thank you. What are you reading right now?
Michelle: I actually just finished, I wanna talk about when I finished, 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, and that is by Oliver Berkman. It just really reminds you that you can’t manage time. That you need to just be present in your life, and it was a beautiful book. So it’s a little bit about time management and a lot about mindfulness.
Aubrey: I, I just read that too. It was a good one.
Tara: I don’t know about that one either. You guys are blowing my mind today. Awesome.
Michelle: I underlined half the book.
Tara: Oh my gosh. Okay. I can’t wait to look these up. I just finished and I listened. I’m almost finished with my book so I can add that to my next list. Perfect.
Aubrey: I listened to the audible version. It was pretty good too.
Tara: I can do that. Awesome. Okay, cool. I’m very excited now. All right, what’s one great piece of advice you’d like to leave us with? Not that you haven’t already left us with a lot, but let’s wrap it up with one, one final.
Michelle: Lean in- yeah, absolutely. I just wanna reiterate, lean into who you are and who you are as a group, as an organization, why you’re here and embrace it. If it seems a little odd or weird or that other schools aren’t doing it that is your differentiator. Lean into who you are.
Aubrey: Such powerful words of advice. Thank you. We’re so glad that you join us here today, Michelle, where can our audience find you on Learn Online to learn more about you and what you do.
Michelle: You can find me @ michellemercurio.com or on LinkedIn at Michelle Mercurio or on Instagram at michmerc, M I C H M E R C.
Tara: Thank you so much for joining us, Michelle. It’s been really great.
Aubrey: Thank you Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you so much for having me. Bye.