A logo is a vital part of a nursery's branding and one of the simplest and most effective ways to attract parents and stay ahead of the competition.
Design agency Urban River, whose clients include nursery group Kids 1st, says a consistent image is vital if nurseries want to attract more parents.
Its head of marketing, Hannah Mattinson, explains, 'Deciding what nursery is best for their child can be a daunting decision for any parent, so having a consistent brand image will reassure them and ultimately help the business to grow.
'What we've noticed recently is that the clients we've worked with want to impress parents as much as possible to ensure that they enrol their child at the setting. One of the easiest and best ways to do this is through corporate consistency and effective branding,' says Ms Mattison.
While having a good logo can help a nursery stand out and be easily recognisable, it needs to work hand in hand with other marketing materials, says Urban River's head of design Carly Carrahar.
Kids 1st enlisted the help of the design agency to develop its the visual identity of its established branding in 2010 after it decided to outsource its marketing following the expansion of the business.
With a logo already in place - an image of a child surrounded by toys - Urban River worked with the group of eight settings to make its brand visually stronger and more recognisable.
Ms Mattinson says that it started by setting a brand direction that parents, staff and children could identify with.
'The style of the group's marketing materials needed to be adjusted to form a more coherent style, as well as strengthening their brand personality,' she says.
'We updated the nursery group's literature to include a seasonal newsletter for parents including staff updates, Ofsted inspection reports, nursery activities and future events.'
The agency also launched a campaign to attract more parents to Kids 1st nurseries. For the 'I (heart) Kids 1st' and 'We (heart) Kids 1st' campaign, the agency printed quotes from parents on postcards. These are used as a selling tool by the nurseries who give them to prospective parents and visitors, as well as using them to promote the group at public events.
This move has helped the nursery to showcase its qualities and added value to its marketing materials.
Busy Bees Nurseries also recognises the effectiveness of its logo in helping to increase awareness of the group. This is why all of the sites it acquires are rebranded.
Operations director Margaret Randles says, 'Part of our overall strategy is to have all the nurseries we have acquired rebranded. We are proud of what we do and our logo is synonymous with quality.'
The Leapfrog chain of 88 settings that Busy Bees bought in 2007 have nearly all been rebranded following a multi-million pound refurbishment of nursery buildings and outdoor areas.
According to the group, the logo, which has remained relatively unchanged for 30 years, is recognised by parents and children - but it is part of a bigger picture and for this reason it is not too precious about it.
Ms Randles says Busy Bees considered giving each of its nurseries a unique brand, but decided one identity would increase awareness of the brand, as well as make producing marketing materials more cost-effective.
But not all nursery groups would agree. For the Childcare Corporation, which runs nurseries under the Kiddi Caru and Westchester House Nursery Schools brands, choosing two identities for their nurseries enables it to create a different feel and attract a variety of customers.
'The Kiddi Caru logo fully embraces the lively, vibrant and friendly brand, which has been developed over a number of years,' says Childcare Corporation chairman Alan Bentley. 'In contrast, the Westchester House logo, a circular red logo with white text, which came about through months of research and working very closely with our design agency in Halifax, has a classy, elegant feel to it and portrays a different message to that of the Kiddi Caru logo.'
Mr Bentley says that to publicise the brand name Kiddi Caru, the group focused its marketing more on the logo - blue lettering and a jumping kangaroo.
'The kangaroo is used as an illustrative device for specific content within our marketing - the aim being that the graphic could stand alone and parents would still get the connection to Kiddi Caru,' says Mr Bentley.
The Childcare Corporation features both the logos on all of the company's materials, including websites. In line with this, the group recently transformed the Kiddi Caru logo to coincide with the launch of its new website and other online marketing activities.
OPEN TO DISCUSSION
Like the Childcare Corporation, Bertram Nursery Group, which has settings throughout Scotland and England, goes under a number of brands with more than one logo.
According to their commercial director Susan McGhee, the marketing approach to operating 11 individual brands within its group of 33 nurseries is continually open to discussion.
'Our main growth route has until recently been through acquisition, and where an acquired nursery has a strong brand and reputation we have retained it and benefited from the positive trading history of that brand,' says Ms McGhee.
'Having the right logo in place as part of your marketing strategy is crucial. While we have kept many of these original nursery names, we are now moving towards standardising imagery and we have the same Little Men logo for 24 of our branches, with the remaining nine currently still operating under five different logos.'
The nursery group hired a graphic artist to design a logo for its 15 Holyrood nurseries and for the company logo. Some of the existing logos have also been modernised.
A graphic of Little Men was chosen for the Holyrood nurseries and a traditional child's toy for the Bertram logo, designs which Ms McGhee says were chosen for their 'wow factor'.
She says, 'Through the logos we wanted to send out a message that we are friendly, welcoming, modern and forward-thinking. We wanted our characters to appeal to children and to their parents, and for them to be fun.
'The Little Men are simple and friendly characters, which are welcoming and make our nurseries and the marketing materials we use instantly recognisable. We have even had character outfits made of the Little Men that are used at events and open days.'
Ms McGhee says the group has plans to create a range of soft toys and children's stories based on the Holyrood nurseries' characters.
USING IT EVERYWHERE
Nursery group Kids 1st credits its logo for contributing to the successful promotion of the brand, and says that featuring the logo on its Twitter page recently has helped to reach more potential customers.
Managing director Mark McArdle says that he tries to put the logo on everything, as there is no point having a good logo if it is not used in the right way.
He says the Kids 1st logo was chosen - after considering several options, including a big number one - on the basis that it made everyone smile.
'Our parents and children love our logo,' says Mr McArdle. 'Even children associate the logo with our nurseries.
'It has developed over the years. The letters used to combine the rainbow spectrum of colours, but it was almost impossible to reproduce for marketing materials, so we changed the colour of each letter to one single colour of the rainbow.'
SAYING IT ALL
Little Green Rascals Children's Organic Day Nursery, which opened in 2009, believes that its logo has made a very positive impact on the business.
Owner Vanessa Warn says the logo 'is integral to our whole marketing strategy. It stands
strong in representing what we are and how we operate. People recognise and like it.
'It is used on everything - uniform, coats, the children's bags, all literature - and ensures that any sponsorship we do is immediately recognisable. We have had an ink stamp made to pop on to post, it is on our emails, and the font is used for all our literature around the nursery, including signs and notices.'
Ms Warn enlisted the help of a friend, a former graphic designer, to come up with the logo. The brief was quite specific in that she wanted something that summed up what the nursery stood for - green, organic, outdoors, animals. The process of developing the logo can be seen here.
The biggest challenge, says Ms Warn, was choosing the right font for the lettering. But once one was found, everything fell into place.
'I wanted the logo to convey a warm message, to have a real family, fun feel, with a quirky childcare quality', she says. 'The logo has a worm and a ladybird on it to make people think of the outdoors, and to represent our large gardens and our Forest School ethos. The colour green is used to get across our ethical message.'
Ms Warn says that she has had lots of positive comments about the logo, and despite slight changes to Little Green Rascals' advertisements and literature, the logo has remained the same and continues to be a depiction of what the nursery stands for.
She says she would advise other nurseries branding themselves to work with someone with design experience, particularly now that a logo that stands out is needed to effectively promote a nursery online.
'It's worth remembering that on many websites and social media channels, a logo is often the only thing allowed to be used.'