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At a recent online workshop on school marketing, I asked the delegates, “Which of the 7Ps of Marketing have changed the MOST in the past few years?”

The response was, “Place.” This was followed by Physical Evidence, which I will cover in a later blog post.

So… What has happened to make Place so different today? And how has it changed? What does it mean for your school?

 

 

A quick intro to Place

 

First, let’s understand what we mean when we talk about the concept of Place in the 7Ps of Marketing.

In my book ‘A Guide to Effective School Marketing’ published by ISASA, the ‘place’ aspect of the marketing mix refers mainly to the actual school facility, including extended sites, franchises and online transactional sites.

Because schools are integral parts of most communities, their geographic location is wrapped up in who they are, their culture and ethos. The building itself may be a heritage site, or part of a conservation area or a high-tech innovation hub. But the concept goes beyond brick and mortar into every place your brand is present in a substantial manner, where the offering is sold or the service provided, whether it be a once-off or an ongoing, expanding, multiplying and even partnership model.

 

 

Place has always been important in schooling

 

The importance of place is not new. Many parents I interview for market research tell me that the main reason they chose the school was because of its geographic location. Traffic flows and congestion impact buyer decisions, convenience and accessibility en route to the workplace can make a big difference for parents and guardians.

Being able to find the school easily via online maps, good signage and familiar landmarks is another key factor impacting school attractiveness. I’ve heard some interesting stories from parents who struggled to find a school and then landed up at another school which was so welcoming that they stayed! The same with safety and security of the school location, and access to public transport or a school bus. These are all relevant to Place.

Sports, culture and academic facilities offered by a school tend to be visible on campus. They can easily be compared from school to school simply by driving past, though easily misleading. This is where the concept of Place has started to shift, and why Place has now become a factor that can be extended and enhanced through digital media and effective marketing.

Open Days are often used to showcase the physical Place to prospective parents. Our new robotics lab or astro turf hockey field gets a special mention. Gardens and classrooms are given a deep clean and extra maintenance touches to ensure the best possible impression on the day. We used to rely much more on this single experience of the school for the sale to be successful.

Franchises and school groups would traditionally have multiple Places of course, but these were mostly physical Places where schooling was both sold and delivered under that brand, housed in one main entity or sub-sets of that entity.

 

 

What has changed in Place?

 

Since 2020, the shift to online has been dramatic, and not only for schoolteachers and pupils, but also for consumers. This means that the buyer will now almost always search online for a school before visiting the campus. Expectations will be higher with regards to availability of online transactions and user-friendliness of the website and other online activities, whether promotional, administrative or operational. School apps can form a part of ‘Place’ too.

The school now has multiple ‘Places’ beyond the physical school premises.

Perceptions of Place can be shaped through the online experience before anyone visits the school or in parallel with school visits. Brand presence is broader and multi-faceted, with digital and physical Place needing to be seamless as the buyer transitions from one to the other and back again on a constant basis. In the Euromonitor Top 10 Global Consumer Trends 2021, this was known as the trend to ‘Phygital Reality’, the collision between the physical and the digital worlds. I created a video series on this Euromonitor report, as applied to school marketing, with three points to consider on leveraging the Phygital Reality trend. The link to the YouTube video can be found here.

 

 

What this means for schools

 

First and foremost, the awareness of what your school understands as ‘Place’ will help you to better frame this customer experience and ensure brand consistency across the various touchpoints.

You can also see this as an extension of a ‘moments of truth’ exercise with your team, considering the customer journey your prospective families follow. If you haven’t run a workshop on this before, it’s something I offer online or in-person. Or you can give it a go yourself internally and use this article about the book on the topic by Brian Solis.

The points raised in ‘A Guide to Effective School Marketing’ by ISASA are relevant to both the physical and the digital worlds. The challenge is to ensure brand consistency and to optimise the two, so the outcome is more differentiated, more relevant and more likely to reach and meet the needs of your ideal customers. This is best done using market research and some strategic marketing engagements.

A few key points are:

  1. Make your Place easy to find and navigate
  2. Showcase your Place’s assets
  3. Monitor consumer trends in Place
  4. Offer tours of your Place – Virtual, physical and hybrid
  5. Conduct a survey on your ‘Place’
  6. Differentiate your Place from others

These points are all covered in the book, available to order on the ISASA website here.

 

 

 

In a digital world, is Place going to be different?

 

As we move more and more into a digital world, getting the balance and seamlessness between the physical and digital will be paramount. Digital marketing is not only social media, and it is not only measured by hits and leads and conversions. Schools remain people places. The ethos and values of a school form a significant part of the experience that captivates, delights and retains your ideal families.

To reach prospective customers, choosing the right Place to find them will be critical. That requires market research, understanding your customer and developing a clear market positioning in the minds of your customer. Then, develop messages and themes based on the positioning that will resonate with that customer, and select platforms (also known as channels to market). Test these, refine them and measure their effectiveness based on goals that are important to the school’s unique positioning, underpinned by analytics.

Story is much more important in a digital world. Are you telling the story of your school’s Place?

Constantly monitor brand consistency and messaging across platforms. Corporate identity (CI) has become more important because of the proliferation of Place where our brand is now seen, online and offline as platforms multiply and fragment. Does everyone in your organisation understand the value of consistency in branding, and why it’s more important in a digital world? A series of staff workshops to get this buy-in is an effective tool for marketers.

Remember, there are also Places where you do NOT want your brand to be present. This is why a strategic approach is necessary.

This, therefore is an important element of Place in the digital world – Platforms, based on personas, positioning, messaging.

If you’d like to know more about my work in Marketing Strategy for Independent Schools, contact me here.

 

 

 

 

 

I'm Keryn House

I enjoy writing on my niche in marketing strategy for independent schools. I’m inspired by global trends driving change in this sector – from consumer trends to educational trends to market and macro trends.

I like to draw from my background in strategy across multiple sectors as well as my personal and professional journey to craft short conversational and topical pieces.

I hope you feel informed, inspired and supported as readers of this blog from wherever you are in the world. I encourage comments and suggestions on content. Please also connect with me on my social platforms.