Many professionals in the business world would agree that a company’s logo is one of the most important facets of its brand. Not only is a logo the first opportunity for a company to make a statement about its product or services, but an effective logo can make a terrific first impression on potential clients, future employees and other stakeholders. It can even strike fear in competitors.
Although music teachers are not trained marketing strategists, we are content experts who spend countless hours developing our musical skills and refining our pedagogy so that our students can benefit from the best version of ourselves. However, if we do not effectively market our product — in our cases, our students’ achievements and the authentic learning opportunities we create in our classrooms — we may alienate ourselves from the very people whose support we need to stay afloat and flourish in a post-pandemic educational landscape.
Why should our students be the only ones privy to the culture and prestige we associate with our music programs? Having a brand that transcends the walls of your music classroom is an excellent way to let the greater community and other outsiders in on the magic you and your students create on a daily basis.
A brand for your school music program or a select ensemble should not just be about designing a cool logo and throwing it on a T-shirt. Rather, it should be about creating and sustaining a unified vision and mission for your program. To be clear, a vision should center around what you want your program to be, while a mission should focus on how you intend to get there.
When the Dwight D. Eisenhower High School band was in the process of rebranding our ensembles, I met with current and former students and their families to determine the aspects of our program that meant the most to us and which areas could be improved. I wanted all stakeholders to have a shared vision so our program would be reflective of our students and their community. We looked at music programs from other schools that we admired and considered how we could provide similar opportunities for our program. The sense of pride you want your students to experience as a member of your music program starts with a meaningful vision and mission. Otherwise, your logo would just be a design without any substance.
Once your vision and mission are created, consider when the best time would be to brand or rebrand your program. I would caution new directors on rebranding an already established music program in a completely different direction if their school community is not ready to embrace significant change. On the same token, a rebrand may be long overdue for experienced directors who have been steering the ship on the same course for quite some time. A rebrand may be accompanied with some resistance, but if you keep your focus student-centered, you will encounter much less adversity.
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No branding is complete without an effective logo. When selecting a logo for your program, it’s important to consider the following questions:
I had a prime opportunity to rebrand our marching band in 2013 when our school board approved the purchase of new uniforms. At the time, we did not have a band logo or any real identity. Our uniforms were almost 25 years old, and they were mostly black with very few design elements. About a third of the uniforms were missing buttons, most did not fit properly, and some were torn from years of use. Suffice to say, no one was particularly enthusiastic about suiting up for a football game or festival.
My administration gave me carte blanche to design whatever I needed to take our image from the early ’90s to the 21st century. With our school colors being red and white, I wanted a bright uniform that would stand out on a football field and make a statement of authority. I worked with a local artist and graphic designer and ultimately opted for the design shown here.
Over the course of that year, our band formed an identity steeped in our new vision and mission of empowering one another. We decided that helping other members of our organization become the best version of themselves was just as important as achieving individual success. Our students began sharing responsibility for their own learning and holding each other accountable. We intentionally and collaboratively designed rehearsal plans to keep our organization advancing toward our goals. We sought to be the band that tried together, failed together and triumphed together.
Equipped with a bold new uniform that gave us a new found sense of confidence and pride, we drew inspiration from its design to create our logo. From that point, we flooded our neighborhood with this brand and made our band program’s success — even the smallest of victories — synonymous with our community.
Every elected official in our community has a band T-shirt with our logo on it. Our band parents have yard signs, window clings and face masks, among other merchandise proudly displayed throughout our community. Every 8th grader from each of our feeder schools receives a brochure with our course offerings on letterhead with our logo proudly displayed. Now that we are several years into our rebrand, we have successfully used our logo in different iterations separate from our original design to showcase specific productions from year to year.
Think about when you were first hired as an ensemble director. Reflect on the level of enthusiasm you possessed when you were FINALLY empowered to build or shape a music program the way YOU wanted. If that fervor has begun to wane, especially since navigating through the pandemic, a rebrand could help reignite your passion and set you and your students on a trajectory to achieve greater personal fulfillment through your collaborative music-making.
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