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Branded House vs. House of Brands in Charter School Management [Choose One]

The goal of any charter management company’s brand strategy is to build a strong brand. That is because a strong brand—and an effective brand strategy—results in a higher return on investment for your marketing dollar. It is as true for charter management brands as it is for consumer products like Apple.

Our focus into charter and education management organizations (EMOs and CMOs) has informed a clear understanding of what makes a strong brand.

Brand Strength = Reputation x Visibility.

Whether developed intentionally or not, every charter management company has a brand or group of brands that stand for something. Our research indicates that high-growth charter management brands are more likely to have a strong differentiator – an easy-to-prove and relevant characteristic – as part of their brand strategy. That is because differentiation (or specialization) helps the company generate leads and improve closing percentages.

As charter school adoption grows and matures, the management of their brand strategy can become a challenge. Why?

Because, as collective expertise grows, there is a tendency to diversify the company’s service offering. To nurture and grow the profitability of those new services, management companies may opt to brand each network separately or under a collective brand.

When it comes to brand strategy for a growing charter management company, there are certain situations it may be better to go in the direction of a branded house and others where you want to build a house of brands. Let me explain.

Two Types of Brand Strategies

1. Branded House

In this model, the management company is the brand. Schools and market sectors are subsets of that primary brand and are not formally branded. KIPP charter schools are nationally known for this model. Under KIPP’s primary brand comes many subset network and school brands. For example, you have KIPP:Miami network. Then, under that network brand, you have KIPP: Miami Sunrise Academy.

KIPP Public School Branded House
KIPP Public Schools uses a branded house strategy

Certainly, smaller management companies can successfully pull off this model. In all instances, the subset brands are recognized, but not to the extent that they overshadow or detract from the primary brand.

In charter management, the branded house approach is also known as a one-company brand strategy. The company has a single brand: logo mark, marketplace positioning and messaging. The subordinate networks and schools share these brand elements but contain their own unique messaging points.

2. House of Brands

In the second brand strategy model, the branding is focused on the subset brands. The management company brand gets little or no attention. Most parents wouldn’t even know that their child’s school is being managed. For example, Academica is a Miami-based education management company brand, under which come the well known subordinate brands like Mater Academy, Doral Academy, Pinecrest Academy, and Somerset Academy to name a few.

Academica house of charter school brands
Academica manages a charter school network house of brands.

A house of charter school brands approach requires significant investment in dedicated resources because each network operates as its own company in terms of brand elements and messaging.


Branded House: Strategic Benefits

In charter management, the branded house strategy like KIPP: Public Schools is more commonly used. Let’s look at the reasons why.

A strong brand — one with both high visibility and strong reputation—requires careful nurturing. Our research shows that many charter schools overlook brand visibility, and their schools are weaker for it.

In today’s marketplace, brands must be visible both online and offline.

Online and Offline Visibility Chart
Online visibility has its offline counterpart.

Our research on this topic bears out the reputation-visibility imbalance. About 57% of surveyed parents rated their community’s charter school highly for having a strong reputation (from National Association of Independent Schools), but only 1 out of 4 charter school parents we asked felt the school their child attends had very good visibility in the community.

If your goal is for schools under management to enhance both visibility and reputation it is easier to build a brand that focuses on a single brand — the branded house strategy.

It’s no surprise that charter network brand strength is more easily attainable under the guise of a charter management company’s branded house. That is because the company channels its marketing, financial and labor resources toward strengthening a single brand, rather than diluting resources that compete in the building of multiple brands.

House of Brands: When this Strategy Makes Sense

Academica is an education management company that chose the house of brands approach to support a diversification of service offerings and regional school placements.

When this happens, the charter management company must make accommodations for funding and staffing of multiple brands, which lead to a division of marketing budgets across all of the offerings.

Under the house of brands, the management company operates like a holding company for the various brands; managing each brand as though it were a separate company and dealing with all of the necessary legal requirements of this strategy certainly carries greater complexity.

Is a house of brands strategy better than a branded house? Not necessarily. It just depends on the business's strategic objectives.

In some specific cases, such as state licensure requirements, funding or liability structures make it more reasonable to pursue a house of brands approach. For example, a management company may consider a house of brands to limit liabilities, regional legal requirements, acquire existing networks, or to attract partnership opportunities.

Cornerstone Academy
Governing Board approves Academica as the Educational Service Provider.

Sometimes the matrix of brand promise and audience profile is the driver of the decision. When management companies create sub brands that have unrelated brand promises (i.e. the curriculum that a school network delivers), which in turn have a very different buyer or audience profiles, it can also make sense to create a house of brands.

The key to determining what brand strategy is most appropriate for your management company depends on strategic goals, audience, resources, and commitment. Developing a house of brands can potentially compound the challenge of building your company’s overall brand strength. And measuring the return on investment for a single brand is not nearly as challenging as measuring that same return on many parallel brands.


Are you a charter school management company? Let's talk about your brand strategy! Schedule a discovery call with us here:

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