For the past four months, I have been facilitating the Effective School Marketing workshops for ISASA, the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa. The focus of these has been on taking a more strategic approach to marketing in schools.
We’ve had some excellent feedback, see the end of this blog for examples.
But it does appear from the pre-workshop surveys that many schools are operating with little or no strategic framework when it comes to their marketing. Even though they are doing some excellent work.
Why do I need a marketing strategy?
Marketing in schools has become a lot more strategic because the situation has changed.
- Are you feeling more competition?
- Are you seeing more families emigrating?
- Are you finding that parents are demanding more online communications?
These are three key reasons why you need a marketing strategy. Customer behaviour and competitive behaviour has shifted. These trends affect admissions, retention and the brand reputation of your school.
A wise person once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” In the same way, continuing to work in the same way for a completely different market environment is unlikely to succeed.
How do I go about it?
Marketing strategy is about the market. Who are they? What do they need/ want/ think/ believe/ value? Who is your ideal client? What do they do? Where do they go? What worries or delights them? How would they describe your school and your customers?
So, as much as you may know about your school and the parents, it’s exceptionally difficult to create a good marketing strategy without doing some independent market research. This will also help in creating buy-in during and after the process. I.e. Being able to say: “Independent research has shown that…”.
My preference is for independent qualitative research (preferably interviews not focus groups) supported by quantitative research (surveys, existing customer data, admissions and retention data and external market data).
There are four parts to any marketing strategy:
- What are the objectives we are trying to achieve? (admissions, retention, awareness, etc)
- Who are we trying to attract? (target audience/s specific to your school)
- How are we going to do that? (4-6 big steps to take)
- How are we going to measure it? (each of the steps need metrics)
So, forget about trying to be perfect, and get these four questions into a framework document. If you cannot get external support, at least arrange a full day workshop session, a working team that is broader than the marketing team to pull a draft document together. Then plan to fill in the gaps, refine and refresh it.
Strategy is about making choices. Choosing what not to do is as important as choosing what to do.
Just as in decision-making, any decision is better than no decision. Something (a draft or outline) is better than nothing when it comes to marketing strategy.
What do I do first?
I believe that the first thing to do is to get to understand who your target market is. This exercise can be called ‘market research’ but it has the effect of creating momentum and raising awareness, while providing the foundation for the marketing strategy.
You can kick off the market research with a strategic workshop, or simply set up interviews with staff and parents. I prefer a 45-minute interview, face to face, for best results. A phased approach, done on-site, is usually best to help on affordability and buy-in.
What ISASA Effective School Marketing Workshop delegates said
Over 50 different independent schools have attended these workshops so far, across four provinces. They have attracted marketers, admissions personnel, admin staff, bursars, foundation staff, deputies and heads of school. Here are some of the comments from delegates who have attended:
“The course gave a good foundation to principles of effective school marketing. It was good to break marketing down into digestible chunks so that we can use it as a framework to build a marketing strategy.” – Beth Coetzee, Head of Marketing, Stanford Lake College, Limpopo
“A wonderfully stimulating and thought-provoking overview highlighting crucial elements of strategic marketing.” – Vanessa Bowes, Marketing Manager, DSG Marketing & Foundation office, Eastern Cape
“A unique combination of theoretical and practical aspects coupled with beneficial group interaction.” – Vicky Crookes, Head of Marketing, Epworth School, KZN
“Fantastic course for both newcomers and existing school marketers.” – Kenda Knowles, Advancement & Marketing Manager, Holy Rosary, Gauteng
For more information
If you are looking for market research and marketing strategy for an educational institution, I can help. Let’s talk!
I'm Keryn House
I enjoy creating marketing anecdotes and visuals related to my horse as there is a lot to be learned from animals, and this provides a unique context to my writing. My horse Slick (aka Sports Express) has been with me for many years and is a source of inspiration and relaxation for my strategic mind. He lives on a friend’s farm in KZN and I see him twice a week.
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