How We Helped a School Define Their Brand for a Second Century

Private Schools Marketing

THE CLIENT

Villa Academy is a ​​Preschool through 8th Grade independent school community located on 31 beautiful acres in northeast Seattle. With their distinctive Cabrinian model of education, they’re growing confident young minds with strong moral character who are prepared to make a difference. The community is intentionally diverse and inclusive, and Villa’s dedicated, exceptional faculty and staff work to personalize educational experiences and provide leadership opportunities that allow every student to grow and thrive.

THE CHALLENGE

Though Villa Academy is a well-established school in the Seattle area, members of the school agreed that it was time for a redefinition – one that could bring clarity and strength to the Villa Academy brand, and balance the reputation of the school between offering an academically strong program and being a school that values inclusivity while staying true to its Cabrinian roots.

Villa Academy came to Metric with a new Strategic Plan on the horizon – the perfect motivation to ensure our brand work was exceptional and accurately reflected the school’s mission and vision. Their plan made it all the more  important for us to honor the rich history of the school, while providing excitement and motivation to help lead the school to a more inclusive and first-choice future.

Here’s how we elevated the brand’s positioning and developed communications pillars to ultimately adjust the school’s reputation to one that honored the school’s commitment to Growth, Service, & Purpose – then helped to refine and define their visual identity to match.

THE STRATEGY

Our journey to a refreshed brand began with a pulse check – an opportunity to hear from Villa Academy stakeholders on everything from motivators and barriers for prospective families, to the school’s key details and differentiators. Starting here allowed us to build the foundation for our research to follow, which included an in-depth competitive analysis, target audience breakdown, brand direction, brand platform, and visual identity guide.

Insights from our stakeholder interviews taught us a few things about how the Villa Academy brand is perceived today, and where stakeholders would like it to go. Goals included clearly defining the school’s values and teaching philosophy, distinguishing the school as a competitive option, emphasizing both the journey and the outcome of each student that attends Villa Academy, and underscoring the school’s dedication to a whole-child education.

In an effort to understand how the strengths and reputation of Villa Academy translated to the broader community, we also conducted a survey for external stakeholders. This key step in the process allowed us to uncover some insights that schools and other corporations often don’t take the time to explore when getting through other time-sensitive day-to-day tasks. For example, many respondents used the word “Catholic” when describing the school, whereas many internal stakeholders stated that this was the aspect of their school that’s most-often misunderstood. 

We also learned that many respondents think favorably about the school when asked about their perception about continuity from Pre-K through 8th Grade, the individualized attention that Villa students receive, and their beautiful campus. Lastly, we were able to ask respondents about their top-level priorities when ‘shopping’ for schools. The majority of respondents placed a balanced experience high on the list of must-haves when considering a school for their children – one that balances academic rigor, traditional values, inclusion and social justice, and social-emotional learning.

With these conversations and insights behind us, our work was cut out for us.

THE EXECUTION

The development (or, re-development) of a brand is a hefty undertaking – one that requires ultimate collaboration and buy-in from key players. It’s exactly where Metric thrives. Over several months, our team communicated frequently with the Villa Academy team to ensure everything we were doing felt true to the school.

To define our Brand Essence, we put a magnifying glass over three key aspects: our Competitors’ Positioning (identified as achievement and opportunity), Organizational Strength (The Villa Difference: Challenge, Stretch, and Thrive), and Market Need (a real appetite for a diversity of learners). The Brand Essence, a primary attribute that differentiates us from the competition, became “Mind & Heart.” From here, we developed our communication pillars: the keystones to the Villa Academy brand and message we want to communicate to our stakeholders. These became: Be Known. Be Challenged. Belong.

Given the weight of our defined messaging, and Villa Academy’s desire to transform the Brand Essence into a usable and true-to-school phrase, “Schooling Of The Mind, Education Of The Heart,” it was essential to pair it with visuals with utmost care. 

Our Visual Identity Guide became clean and minimalistic, using simple yet regal fonts to convey a sense of modernity while ensuring readability. Our color palette was chosen to be reflective of Villa’s roots and vision – earthy tones that speak to Villa’s lush 31-acre campus, complemented by vibrant shades to represent the school's energetic, diverse, and inclusive community.

Photography played a pivotal role in capturing the essence of Villa: students engaged in learning, passionate faculty members, and the scenic beauty of the campus. The visual storytelling was designed to provide a holistic view – showcasing both the academic rigor and the nurturing environment. Images selected show students engaged in a wide range of activities, from intense classroom sessions to playful outdoor interactions, reinforcing the message of “Schooling Of The Mind, Education Of The Heart."

THE RESULTS

While the complete impact of the branding exercise is still unfolding, early indicators are promising. The renewed messaging is prominently showcased across Villa Academy's website, offering visitors a welcoming place to explore for both prospective and current audiences.  It was important that our brand refresh remained dynamic and responsive to remain evergreen and top-of-mind. We anticipate more measurable outcomes from our brand refresh in the months to come.

Crafting a brand that resonates with its community, honors its history, and looks to the future is no simple task. But with respect to a school’s educational philosophy and character, careful attention to detail, and a shared vision, it is possible. With this in mind, Villa Academy is excited to welcome new students in the coming years who will never doubt their ability to Be Known, Be Challenged, and Belong.

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