As schools begin the return to classrooms after a period of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic across the globe, parents are feeling anxious, and rightly so. Much is still uncertain.
This is a time for school leaders to seek ways to do their best to allay fears and to help families work through their concerns about sending children back to school. As a marketing strategist, I felt it may be useful to pull together four tips to help schools, using proven techniques from other sectors.
Fear and marketing
Fear is not new to marketing. Most buying decisions involve an aspect of fear. As customers, we fear the unknown. We fear regretting our decision. We fear overpaying. We also fear losing our privacy, in online purchases especially.
Some sectors deal with fear constantly. The medical sector, for example. Buying medical treatments and dental care is fraught with the fear of physical pain.
While fear is a serious challenge and deterrent to the purchase and use of a product or service, there are ways to manage the situation and help customers to allay their fears.
Knowledge is power
When we are unsure of the future, or we do not understand something, and we cannot control it, we become fearful and we often resist engaging further.
Timing is important here. The sooner information is clearly provided to the customer ahead of that customer having to make the final decision, the more likely the experience will be positive. Mixed messages and lack of communication tend to increase fear. The benefits of attending school must be greater than the fear of missing out.
So, almost as a campaign of sorts over the next week, the school can put out clear steps that have been taken to ensure health and safety, and exactly what will need to happen when and where, on arrival at the school on Day 1. Then continue this process after schools starts to maintain the constant flow of clear information. Videos, maps, and images are good to complement written messages. Signage on the school grounds is key.
To meet your customers’ specific needs, a survey can be effective, especially by phone or online where you are connecting directly. Ask parents what would make them feel happy to bring their children back and what would make them feel unhappy or more worried. This will guide you on creating a FAQ for your website and social media channels and to cover all bases.
Testimonials from parents help build confidence
Positive reviews from existing parents of the school (word of mouth) are a well-known tool for school marketing. Currently, testimonials that are recent and relevant to the school’s handling of the pandemic are particularly valuable.
Parents talk to other parents and tend to listen to views and opinions of families around them. When a parent has had a positive experience, this reduces fear. It may be useful to invite a small group of parents for a tour of the facilities and processes and then ask them to record a video or write a few sentences on what they have seen. Also share positive reviews received from remote learning here as well to demonstrate credibility and adaptability of the school.
Communication from the head is especially important now. Heads of schools need to be visible and vocal, in an encouraging and decisive way, setting the direction very clearly while creating an environment of warmth and welcoming, excitement to get back on campus.
Honesty and authenticity are important, building confidence through knowledge that is consistent and clear, with everyone on the same page.
With a staff team that may be both off-site and on-site, having consistency in message can be a challenge, and encouraging the team is an important leadership role at this time.
Communication channels need to be clear and centralised, but specific areas can be allocated to designated role players. It may be a good idea to have one go-to person to help with all cases of fearful parents.
Mistakes will be made, as this is uncharted territory. It is always best to know these mistakes as soon as possible and to address them, ensure they are resolved and communicated immediately. Open communication is best as far as possible as it builds trust at a time when it is needed most.
The 7Ps of Marketing and the fearful customer
In my book, ‘A Guide to Effective School Marketing’ I cover the 7 Ps of Marketing, which is a useful model to use in marketing strategy. What is clear is that all seven of these elements are relevant in the return of children to school and dealing with fearful customers during this transition period.
- Product is changing for many, as we see remote and contact learning taking place
- Promotion is about how we talk to the customer, and as mentioned above, our words matter
- Price is relevant as many parents are struggling financially
- Place deals with the buildings, the facilities, and the signage and these are important due to social distancing procedures
- People involves all the people who have a role to play in the marketing, in this case every staff member is a part of that team
- Process includes all the steps taken on health and safety, information management and efficiency of the systems we use to avoid frustration and endangering anyone
- Physical evidence is the proof that we can manage the situation well, and the use of personal protective equipment, the sanitary standards and the testimonials of satisfied parents form a part of this.
Fear and anxiety are not likely to be completely removed due to the extraordinary situation in which we find ourselves at this time in the pandemic. Schools in South Africa are opening as the cases are increasing.
And yet much is in place.
As a school, you have probably invested years in creating a well-established ethos and way of working that enhances structure and familiarity for children and parents. You have worked hard to get the school ready. This is an opportunity to help parents in entrusting their children to you. Many children will want to get back to school!
I hope these four tips are useful. Please make contact if I can assist with marketing strategy or market research for your school, online and on-site.
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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