As one of the of the oldest and most successful independent college preparatory schools for students with learning differences in the Philadelphia area, Woodlynde School employs specialized instruction and support to prepare students in grades K–12 for future study and work. Located on a small campus footprint on the Main Line in Strafford, PA, Woodlynde has limited room for physical expansion at a time when student recruitment and donor support are becoming more and more competitive. To maintain its competitive edge, Woodlynde has developed a strategic plan that includes major renovations to its current facilities and further development of its outstanding programs and resources.
Over the years, Woodlynde has faced increasing competition from other private schools that serve students with similar learning differences, traditional private schools eager to admit these students due to their own declining admissions, and local public schools vying for the state and federal dollars that can accompany specialized programs for students with a range of challenges.
Therefore, in order to sustain and grow their student body and build more robust philanthropic support, the School needed to gain a thorough understanding of its current branding and marketing situation. The objectives of our work included answering three critical questions:
- Is Woodlynde School’s mission and role in the community clearly understood?
- What are Woodlynde’s most competitive attributes? Its strengths and weaknesses?
- How do Woodlynde’s target audiences and professional partners perceive the school?
Preparing for Growth
Woodlynde School has the programs, staff, expert teachers and counselors, resources and services to give students with learning differences the best possible chance to learn, grow and succeed in study and work. In fact, 100% of Woodlynde’s students who apply to college are accepted. The School has a small campus footprint, but must expand to be more competitive in the market.
Competition is Fierce
Finding successful ways to increase admissions and build donor support is paramount. Over the years, public, traditional private and other similar schools have become more competitive. Each aggressively seeking to admit the same student population for a variety of reasons.
Brand Identity is the Name of the Game
Woodlynde School realizes that its footprint will not grow, but it facilities can be upgraded and expanded in ways that will provide a more competitive and enriching environment for its students. Therefore, in order to grab the attention of its target students and their families and to appeal to a broader donor base, the School undertook a market research and branding study that yielded a new positioning statement, messaging platform and tagline that promotes its strengths and opportunities as a leading education resource for students in grades K-12 with learning differences.
Woodlynde is surrounded by quality public schools and high-profile traditional private schools in an affluent community with many households capable of affording full-time private school tuition for their children. The School is landlocked with limited opportunity for physical expansion. Its current facilities are at utilization rate capacity for sports, theater productions, labs and classroom activities, making it increasingly challenging to compete with regional schools that have been expanding their capacity and upgrading their facilities for many years, if not decades. In addition, Woodlynde has struggled with an image problem; it was often perceived as a program for students with learning disabilities and handicaps rather than as a fully-fledged college prep school for children who learn differently and require specialized instruction and support to maximize their learning potential.
In order to adequately understand the School’s current competitive environment and marketing and branding opportunities, Schultz & Williams employed three major market research tactics: a SWOT analysis conducted with three groups of current faculty and administrators; a website benchmarking study against four of the School’s biggest competitors; and three focus group sessions with Woodlynde’s alumni, community and referring educational and medical professionals, and parents of current students.
The results of our research revealed the School’s exceptional competitive attributes and unique opportunities for appealing to a highly targeted audience. Specifically, we found that Woodlynde’s greatest strengths include its cutting-edge assistive and instructional technology; the caliber of its evidence-based programs; the quality of its faculty, learning specialists, and counselors whose expertise and commitment helps students achieve higher levels of success; and the proven outcomes for alumni in college and beyond. Other notable assets we uncovered include Woodlynde’s engaging, multi-sensory learning environment; a culture of care that embraces not just the student, but the whole family in support of a more positive family dynamic; and expert, national-level programming on learning differences for the Woodlynde and regional communities.
The final research results and report informed the second phase of our engagement with Woodlynde School: creating a brand identity platform focused on the School’s unique value proposition and strengths. In this capacity, Schultz & Williams developed a positioning statement, key messages and sub-messages, and a new tagline, “Where Great Minds Learn Differently.” The brand identity is currently executed throughout the School’s marketing, development, recruitment, communications and strategic planning efforts.
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