More than ever, schools need to think and act like a brand.

For many schools, brand building is something Campbell’s Soup does, not them. And while it may sound a bit commercial, don’t tell that to the Head of School who wants to raise the reputation of the school, attract and retain top-tier faculty, fill student capacity, or build an endowment.

Like it or not, to fulfill their mission as a school they need to think and act more like a brand. Brands own a place in both hearts and minds. Schools must as well. Brands know who they are and who they are not. Schools must as well. Brands instill pride. Schools must as well.

What is your reason for being? What differentiates you from other schools? What inspires and motivates your faculty? What language do you own? What promise do you make to your parents and your students? What keeps your alumni engaged long after graduation day? These are some of the questions every school – elementary, high school or college level – needs to answer by defining who they are.

It is amazing to me how many of them feel they have crossed off this box by choosing words like commitment, wisdom, honesty, integrity, and community. They are all great words to live by but hardly original. Every Head of School and their Board needs to ask the question, “Who are we?” and then answer this question with words they can own. One great example of this that is particularly close to our hearts as parents is the school our son attends. A few carefully crafted words, “that they be good men,” reflects everything the school is and does, in the classroom or on the athletic field. They are words on the walls and the website, but more important, they reside within the hearts and minds of the faculty, administration, parents and students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education there are close to 25,000 private elementary schools, 10,000 private secondary schools, and over 2,500 private colleges in the U.S. Each of them is unique and needs to define who they are in a simple, differentiating and inspiring way.

By doing so, they can provide the foundation for building the recognition and success of the brand. Just like Nike, Starbucks and yes, Campbell’s Soup.

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