It’s wonderful when an organization dedicated to helping those in need begins to gain steam. Unfortunately, that typically comes with some growing pains. The ability to scale an organization’s marketing efforts can be a very difficult challenge. Fortunately, I’ve done this several times before and I was excited to make the transition an easy one for African School for Excellence.
African School for Excellence (ASE), is a South Africa-based not-for-profit organization that aims to provide affordable, yet world class education to the residents of South African townships. The townships there are known for abysmal conditions in their education system and in South Africa in general, fewer than 1% of Black South Africans complete college. ASE firmly believes they can change that. They’ve shown considerable success and now that they have numbers to back up their theory, they are ready to jump in and start really promoting themselves.
Of course, while they may be solving a South African problem, their audience will be worldwide. This presents a few issues. First, terminology is a challenge. Much of ASE’s information is highly detailed academic metrics which use jargon, much like any industry. As the copywriter for the project, my goal was to relate the same information in a way that was easy to understand and made obvious the profound impact ASE’s educational model played in improving the education in townships.
Another problem revolved around colloquialisms and British vs. South African vs. U.S. English. They are all just different enough that it causes problems. Their Chief Operations Officer (COO), who was my point of contact for the project, agreed that using S.A. English would be the best since that is where they are based. They don’t want to be perceived as a U.S. or U.K. entity because they aren’t. Using S.A. English would help convey that they were local to South Africa.
Finally, I was given an outline and asked to produce from it a brand standards document. This was, after all, a rebranding mission. ASE did not want to be viewed as a not-for-profit school first and foremost. Their aim is to be seen as a top educational facility and as something that can help transform the state of education in South Africa.
Do it all in just 3 weeks. Remotely.
The Site Structure and Homepage
The site structure mattered a great deal, as it should for any website. But we agreed that a flow through the top-nav of the site should go from top to bottom, left to right, and should tell the story of African School for Excellence in a way that makes sense. Additionally, the individual pages would need to reference other main pages in order to fill gaps. We found that you could talk in circles when discussing the three main sections of the site: School, Scholars, and Results. Inter-linking the pages helped eliminate redundancies in copy as well as maintain an even flow through the site (not to mention improving crawlability).
In the copy for the homepage slides, we wanted each to address the core values of ASE. These values are Affordability, Scalability, and World-Class Education. In addition to the homepage slider, I made an effort to maintain a focus on these three values, bringing all discussion and explanation back around to how these values serve ASE in everything they do and, in turn, provide value to the school’s students.
Finding the Right Voice and Tone
In addition to website content I also ended up writing a brand guidelines document to help the ASE business and marketing teams proceed with the voice I’d given the site (which they loved). Prior to my involvement, their Founder, Jay Kloppenberg, had been interviewed, given speeches, and written some of their marketing materials himself. He’s a very good writer and very passionate, but he’s not a marketer. The COO and I agreed that the ideas were there, but ought to be presented with more finesse and more in-line with achieving their PR and branding goals.
To create the website copy I took about 20-30 of Mr. Kloppenberg’s documents and sifted through them, looking for repeated thoughts and phrases, noting the use of language (or avoidance of words, terms, and references) and extracted the core elements of their brand. I polished it and then explained it in the branding document.
The voice and tone of ASE is similar to that of Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or Sir David Attenborough. Full of knowledge and an excitement for educating others, but simple and plainspoken. ASE wants to command the same respect as these men of science for their expertise in education, but also needs to be approachable. I called out these men in the branding document because they are famous for being well-loved academics. They use humor and join their audience in the sense of awe that accompanies the information they relate, but they do so without the sterility often common to academia.
Website Rewrite and Branding
My Associate’s degreeis in English Education. I was familiarized with the different learning models and studies that have helped shape education over time. This made digestion of ASE’s content simpler for me, and left me with the task of reiterating it to their audience in a way that was easily understood.
It’s difficult, particularly with a client like ASE, to avoid using nothing but numbers and metrics in the body copy–particularly when they have such jaw-dropping results. My goal was to deliver the statistics, but to color them in such a way that the reader could immediately grasp the implications of the results. I’d then bring it back to the ASE values, specifically scalability and affordability. Yes, ASE is succeeding at an unprecedented rate, but that’s not the good news. The good news is that they can reproduce these results in every township in South Africa and THAT’S why you should get involved.
Another challenge involved creating copy that answered all the questions a typical not-for-profit entity receives while assuring visitors that: ASE is real, ASE is trustworthy, Contributing to ASE will make a measurable difference. This played a significant role in how the website was structured. As I mentioned, the flow of the site is such that there is a logical progression from topic to topic that builds understanding and trust. The flow of the website is as follows:
- About Us: Informs readers about the purpose of ASE, what makes them unique (their educational model) and their values.
- Results: This section builds trust/ authority. It shows that ASE has a measurable impact and incredible potential.
- Scholars: This section shows who you are helping by getting involved with ASE either as a donor, a partner, or a volunteer. The kids at ASE are driven in a way that almost redefines the word itself. It causes a strong desire to help.
- School: This shows that ASE is fiscally responsible as well as the fact that even small contributions go a very long way, while aiding the already established notion that ASE are experts in education.
- Get Involved: This is our call to action section. It might seem a bit passive for a NFP site and it is. ASE is primarily funded by investors and gaps are filled by donation. ASE does not push as hard for donations as a result. They feel this gives them an edge in authority, trustworthiness, and reliability.
Website Functions Beyond Copy and Content
This was more than a complete website rewrite, we were basically building from scratch. African School for Excellence knew the kind of content they wanted to make available, but they were open to suggestions for how to go about that. One specific example involved sharing insight into the daily life of their students. They had a blog, but it was more multi-purpose. It offered posts from the founder, news and announcements, as well as input from teachers. ASE wanted something that was dedicated to showing their school through the eyes of their students.
Initially they were just going to have a second blog section. I asked if they were open to something that might involve slightly more development work. They were. My idea, which they chose to incorporate, was having a section of their site that ran the Tumblr API. This way they would have their own Tumblr page that lived right on their site (keeping visitors from leaving their domain). Students could share to the Tumblr page which allows for a combination of both images and text in addition to social sharing. This also opened up a torrent of ideas for social campaigns to help grow the schools’ following and possibly gain the attention of others who could help grow ASE.