Do you feel that your school runs an effective marketing program?
Many school leaders that I work with struggle to answer this question. There really aren’t a lot of forums or other resources that school leaders can look to for benchmarking their school’s efforts. Most schools know they need to do better, but they don’t know what “better” is. Though each school is different, in my work to help schools improve their marketing I’ve noticed some commonalities of what the successful schools do as well as the deficiencies that struggling schools have. Here’s some insight into what I would consider best practices in school marketing from the dozens of schools that I have worked with.
This is the foundation for any good marketing program. The schools that do this effectively have three things in common:
- There is either a team or a single individual who is ultimately accountable for the success or failure of their marketing. There can (and should) be others who are responsible for certain aspects – but at the end of the day, you need to know who is running the program. Designate the person who owns this function.
- They have specific enrollment goals that are communicated to all stakeholders. Everyone needs to assist in marketing and having a specific goal (not “more students”) helps to provide clarity and know if you were successful or not. The goal should be specific, ie. “we will increase our enrollment by 12 more students.”
- They have a written 12- month marketing plan. There is no “marketing season”. Marketing efforts need to be happening constantly at your school. And remember, that something that is in your head is a dream. When it is on paper, it is a plan. You must write out your plan. Don’t worry if it changes. It is supposed to be a living document, but write it out!
Data availability and Gathering
If you can’t measure your success or failures, you are just guessing at what to do. This can lead to wasted money and time, and no school has an infinite amount of either. Here are things that schools who run a good marketing program do:
- Gather data at every recruitment event. Having a potential parent’s contact information is gold. You need to know your potential customers and have a way to contact them.
- Understand where all their new students came from and how they heard about the school. This is key to the fundamental success or failure of your marketing programs. Know this.
- Regularly conduct secret shopping of the competitors. We are in an era of increasing school choice. If you don’t understand the different things that other schools offer, how do you know that what you are offering is compelling? This helps you to answer the biggest challenge in marketing; are we going to be cheaper, better or different?
- Have created a marketing funnel to understand where they are losing customers. Is it awareness? Is it you don’t meet their needs? Do they drop out after hitting your web site? Do they sign up after taking a tour? Knowing where you are losing potential customers allows you to focus your efforts.
Do you really know what your existing parents and potential parents think about your school? Sure, word of mouth is your biggest means of attracting. But is it any good? What are people saying? Schools that are good at marketing:
- Conduct a yearly survey to understand the perceptions of their existing customers. Get a Net Promoter Score to understand satisfaction and if they are truly recommending you to their friends and family.
- They share the results of the surveys with parents with an action plan. Being transparent and acknowledging that you are taking their feedback to make the school better goes a long way in building loyalty.
- Create customer personas to understand what their ideal customer looks like. By tailoring your marketing to your ideal customer type – you will attract more of the students and families that will make your school successful. But you have to identify what that customer looks like.
Why your school? What sets you apart? What can a student only get at your school? Here is what successful schools do:
- They have a clearly understood message and value proposition that is unique. “Mr. Parent, this is why you should send your child to our school.” They know, based upon customer knowledge that this will resonate with their customer.
- They have a simple elevator speech that all their parents know. Want good word of mouth? Make sure that parents know what is important and how to talk about your school.
These are the building blocks and some of the higher-level things that good schools do that set them apart. These are things that a school gets when it thinks strategically about marketing. Part II will talk about the tactics that these schools use.