Many schools and universities are looking for new ways to "brand" themselves to increase their visibility and differentiate themselves.
One common approach schools use to market themselves is through powerful Web sites, a tactic adopted several years ago by businesses. Along with developing new Web sites, they are using the appearance and health of their facilities to promote their campuses. In essence, they are branding their facilities as clean.
Using "Clean" to Market a School
"Cleanliness is one of the most important decision makers for potential students," says Christene McInnis, Manager of Cleaning and Grounds at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, considered one of the most prestigious schools in the country. "[And] parents want their children to live and study in a clean and healthy environment."
Although many school administrators in the United States have long believed that the appearance and cleanliness of their schools can be used as a branding tool, recent studies indicate these may be a more powerful marketing combination than was previously realized. For instance, Saddleback College, a private school in Mission Viejo, California, asked new students to list the main reasons they chose to apply at the school. These were the top five reasons:
- The school's location and geographic convenience
- The reputation of the school, including its instructors and programs
- The type and variety of classes offered
- Costs compared to comparable schools in the area
- The school's cleanliness
"Many schools consider cleaning just an expense, but we've known for some time how the cleanliness and appearance of our school help us stand out from other campuses and market our university," says Tom Scheuermann, Director, University Housing and Dining Services, at Oregon State University (OSU), which has nearly 20,000 students. "When prospective students and their parents visit, it is not unusual for them to comment on how clean our school is. We know they remember this when they make a decision on which school to apply to."
Both McInnis and Scheuermann also believe certain areas of the campus get more scrutiny from visitors than others. For instance, at their campuses, dormitories and gym locker rooms tend to get a closer student/parent inspection than do classrooms and common areas.
Because of this, at OSU, Scheuermann and his staff pay considerably more attention to keeping these areas clean at all times. One of the ways they do this is by including ongoing training programs to help custodial workers improve their cleaning skills in these specific areas. "Regular training programs make sure old [poor] cleaning habits are not reintroduced and allow new cleaning procedures to be evaluated and improved upon," he says.
They also investigate new cleaning technologies and equipment regularly, looking for products that can bolster worker productivity and cleaning efficiency. For instance, wherever possible, the school has switched from conventional cleaning systems—sprayers, cleaning cloths, mops, and buckets—to no-touch (sometimes called "spray-and-vac") cleaning systems.
"What we like about the spray-and-vac system is that it is so much more thorough," says Scheuermann. "And once an area is cleaned, it smells and stays clean longer because the system is so much more efficient. This helps us . . . maintain these areas more hygienically, [and] their appearance sells the school."
"Sold" on a School's Appearance
It can be difficult to see how well a school is doing branding itself as clean. Often the best way to evaluate a school's cleanliness is to form a focus group made up of school administrators, custodial workers, teaching staff, and students.
The process begins by touring the school, especially those areas that often get a closer examination by visitors. Members of the focus group must try to view their school as a first-time visitor would. Are floors clean, shiny, and well maintained? Are unpleasant odors detectable? Hotel managers say a guest will often refuse a room if it has a malodor, even if the room looks pleasant and well maintained. Students and parents are likely to do the same when viewing a dormitory or locker room.
Does the appearance of the school say "we care" about our campus and those who work at and attend this school? This is often indicated by the use of quality tools and cleaning equipment as well as environmentally preferable cleaning products. The focus group can also use the tour to determine what areas need more attention and, once corrected, how they can use these same areas as a marketing tool and a sign that the school takes action where problems exist.
Branding with quality cleaning products is in many ways a promise to students and their parents that yours is a superior school. It helps build the image of the school, which can be more powerful than all the marketing letters, brochures, and Web sites combined.