Branding Best Practices for Schools and TAS

During SY2022-23, the TAS Communications Office will pursue a monthly series helping to prepare the TAS community for the launch of a new branding initiative, in accordance with the TAS strategic plan. 


By Lindsey Kundel, Director of Communications & Marketing 

Thank you, Tiger readers, for following our brand journey this year. For those of you who are just joining us, Taipei American School is in the process of clarifying and revising its brand strategy as part of our larger Strategic Plan. 

In previous articles, we’ve discussed the overarching goals and timeline along with a look back at the past 73 years of our brand. This month, we’re here to discuss more general best practices in branding, specifically for schools and other nonprofit organizations. 

There are seven key elements of a school brand, some of which cross over to other companies and organizations, but all are crucial to schools specifically. 

  1. A Mission-Aligned Brand Promise 
  2. A Mission-Aligned Positioning Statement 
  3. A Mission & Values-Aligned Visual Identity (which, in TAS’s case, also needs to align with our JEDI community commitment) 
  4. Brand Differentiators 
  5. A Brand Voice 
  6. Consistently Branded Communications 
  7. A Larger Brand Story Told Through Many Perspectives 

As discussed in previous articles, a brand is not just a logo or a style guide. Those things are important (as shown in number 3, visual identity is a best practice area), but it is just one piece of a larger branding puzzle. 

A brand is how you look, but it’s also what you do and how you present yourself. 

Let’s examine the history of each of these elements to reflect on our past brand and how we hope our newly clarified brand will help us align our entire community better. (We will tackle the last four in next month’s article over the five-week holiday break.) 

1. A Mission-Aligned Brand Promise 

According to Finalsite, a mission statement describes what a school does, while a brand promise tells the world your purpose. Both need to align with one another, and both need to be slightly aspirational – because they drive the work we do each day. In other words, what are we working to achieve if we don’t have anything to aspire to? 

The TAS mission statement is bold about what our community tries to achieve. However, the School recently changed this mission statement in 2021 as part of the new Strategic Plan.

This fundamental change means our school needed to consider its brand because our previous brand wasn’t designed with this new mission statement.  While the differences between the older and new missions are slight, they are easy to spot. 

Our previous brand promise was not documented in any formal way. However, as the Director of Communications, I can tell you that our brand very much had to do with the last line of the first paragraph of our mission – encouraging a love of learning, academic excellence, a balanced life, and service to others. We received feedback from our community that our previous brand promise often gave outsize weight to academic excellence compared to some of the other components, something which we’ve intentionally taken to heart as part of our branding journey over the last year.  

TAS has always been – and will always be – an academic institution that takes learning very seriously. This will not change, and we wouldn’t want it to! But our new brand promise will do our best to equally prioritize learning, personal well-being, and service, which is in alignment with our new mission statement. 

2. A Mission-Aligned Positioning Statement 

This is another area in which TAS really needed to spend some time and thoughtful energy over the last year. A positioning statement is a short, memorable phrase or tagline that summarizes your brand promise. Before this project, TAS's closest thing to a positioning statement would be “The Bridge from an Island to the World.” This tagline served the TAS community well for the decades it was in place, but over the last few years, we have received feedback from current and former community members who described the tagline as a bit paternalistic, implying that it looked down upon our home island of Taiwan while our “American roots” symbolically represented a bridge. I’m not saying that I fully agree with that feedback, but we received many comments of this type over a long period of time. My office’s privilege and duty were to listen and learn from those comments. 

I am so glad we now have a clearer positioning statement based on community feedback. I cannot wait to share it with you in April (although if you’re looking closely, you can probably begin to decode some of the elements of our new positioning statement if you follow our news page or social media feeds.) 

3. Mission & Values-Aligned Visual Identity 

As we’ve said ad nauseam at this point, a brand is not just a logo; however, we’re finally ready to admit that a logo and visual identity are an important part of this work. Best practices in school branding suggest that visual identity cannot and should not be tackled unless your organization has a crystal-clear approach to the first two elements – the brand promise and positioning statement. You can see from the first two elements that the school had a lot of things to think about when it came to those two, which warranted a larger discussion of what we look like as a result of those changes. 

These were some of the most exciting and inspirational discussions to be a part of because a school’s visual identity should use graphic design principles to evoke the same emotions and ideas in a person that are discussed in the brand promise and brand tagline. 

Our previous visual identity relied on two main logos – a crest and a slightly stylized version of the bridge tagline. The feedback we consistently received about these two logos is that they felt outdated and stuffy, two words I would never use to describe our dynamic and progressive learning community.  

As you can see from the trivia questions included below, in our current brand and style guide, we listed 14 colors, 13 fonts, and 14 logos that people could choose from. When too much is available in your brand and style guide, your visual identity gets heavily watered down and lacks a clear and consistent application of visual principles. We knew we had a lot of work to do in this area before beginning the project, something which became clearer and clearer with each passing meeting and month.  

Our new visual identity will be much more streamlined and provide fewer visual options – but rest assured that that is a GREAT thing and means we will have a stronger application of our visual identity as a result. 

This article shows why it took the TAS team a little over a year to think through these various pieces. Next month, we will explore the remaining 4 branding best practices - Brand Differentiators, Brand Voice, Branded Communications, and the Larger Brand Story – to compare best practices with our own organizational brand history. 

As always, thank you for staying engaged with TAS and learning more about our brand. Every single Tiger (past, present, and future) is a brand ambassador because a brand isn’t just what the marketing team does – it's what we all say and do together in pursuit of our mission. 


 

FOOTNOTE:

As promised in last month’s article, here are the answers to a few trivia questions that relate to our brand. Congratulations to an upper school employee, Angela Lien, for submitting the most correct answers! 

  1. What are our school's current brand colors? TAS has five official colors (three for athletics and two for the school at large) PLUS nine additional colors on our website. This is decidedly NOT a marketing best practice (2-4 total for a brand is the suggested number depending on who you consult.) 

  1. What are our school’s current brand fonts? TAS has approximately 13 English fonts and four preferred Traditional Chinese fonts. Again, this deviates from marketing best practices, which suggest a maximum of around 3-4 per language, with two being optimal on a website. 

  1. What is the name of our mascot?  Tiberius the Tiger. He was named through a PTA contest a number of years ago. 

  1. When is TAS's birthday?  September 26, 1949. The first meeting took place in the basement of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary on Zhongshan North Road, with just eight students in attendance! 

  1. When did we move to our present-day campus?  September 1989. 

  1. How many logos do we currently have?  Again, decidedly too many! We have two schoolwide logos – the crest and the bridge logos, respectively – but we also have a few affiliated sub-brands, including a logo for the alumni office, TigerSharks, the TAS Essential Capacities, TASMUN, and around eight athletics logos. 

  1. What is our current "tagline"?  The Bridge from an Island to the World. For faculty recruitment, we’ve also relied on the tagline of “Expect Excellence.” 

  1. When was our current logo adopted?  The archives are a bit fuzzy here. We know that the crest logo was commissioned right around the time that we moved to the new Shilin campus in 1989, but it wasn't consistently used on school publications until 2009-2010 as part of the 60th-anniversary celebration. It was technically present in some publications before then but in a very limited way. The first TAS yearbook to use the crest was in 2009. The oldest physical document I could find bearing the crest is a Student Directory from 1989. If you are an alum from the 80s and have a different perspective to share, I would WELCOME the feedback and/or correction since our archives do not paint a complete picture here. 

  1. When was the last time the school went through a complete website renovation? Right around the same time that it got serious about its previous logo. June 1, 2010 was when the then-new website launched. We have not had any major updates to the website since 2010, except for a facelift for the Athletics microsite about five years ago. 

  1. How many approved Tiger images are in our current style guide? 1-2 Tiger logos that can be changed into one of our approved colors, depending on who you talk to. One of the Tigers will be discontinued due to negative feedback about how “scary” it appears to many within our community.