It’s been a tough 12 months for many independent schools, with parents struggling to pay fees and as many as 30 schools across the UK having to close their doors due to the loss of income.
As lockdown 3.0 shows signs of working, and the vaccine roll-out continues at a pace, perhaps now is the time for independent schools to begin to look to the future with a little more certainty.
Reaching your Audience
A key part of that future is the need for schools to market themselves to an audience that is traditionally harder to reach, harder to please and undertakes a ‘buying journey’ like no other.
Understanding the buying journey parents go on is crucial to schools when they are planning their marketing activities.
Timing of course is essential, to ensure you have maximum exposure at a time that parents are making their decisions about where to send their children. This is easier said than done, as some parents will be thinking about this possibly even before the child is born! The majority of your target audience will certainly be considering the choice long before the starting date arrives, with determining factors including location, reputation, financial considerations and historical links to schools. The key message to take from this is that your school needs longevity and consistency with its marketing.
The other critical factor in understanding your customer’s (parents) buying journey is the acceptance that they will more likely than not have already made their decision before they even set foot on the premises to ‘have a look around’. Indeed, that visit will merely serve to reinforce their decision; a decision that has been made as a result of the social network they operate in and the digital media they have access to. Consequently, your marketing communications has to stand up to the highest scrutiny, with in particular your website and your social media channels displaying consistency of message and presenting the best your school has to offer.
ALWAYS start with a plan
As you consider your likely marketing activities for a return to some element of normality, the first step is making sure you have a plan. There are some simple steps to follow when mapping out a marketing strategy, namely:
Market Research: identify where you sit in your marketplace and what are your ‘customer’s’ key drivers. What are the major trends you are seeing with your customers? Understanding your marketplace, even if relatively simplistically, will help you to adapt your approach to it.
Market Segmentation: who are your customers, and how do they differ in there buying decisions? Can you build up personas of different customers so you can understand better what they are looking for, and so tailor your marketing appropriately.
Key Messages: take what you have identified above and package your marketing messages so they communicate your values and what you can offer. You can use these messages across your marketing consistently.
Communications Plan: develop a comms plan, with timings and budgets, showing what marketing channels you will use over a given timeframe (6 or 12 months).
Make sure you have buy-in to the plan right across the school, so everyone is on the same page regarding the messages you are communicating, and who your target audience is. Remember consistency is key to your success.
Let’s take a look at some of the marketing channels you could use to execute your plan.
Your website is a vital tool to help you communicate with your parents (both existing and new). It’s a given these days that your site is:
- responsive (i.e. works well on all devices)
- is visually pleasing to browse through, with plenty of images
- loads quickly
- is kept up to date with informative content
Your site also needs to contain the necessary statutory information for Ofsted/ISI. You can expect your website to be minutely scrutinised by a new parent, keen to soak up as much knowledge as they can about your school, so accurate and timely information is key. Your website may not be the determining factor in a parent’s decision, but it can have a very negative effect if your site is not ticking the boxes named above.
Use of Video in your school marketing is another given. When 94% of video marketers say video has helped increase user understanding of their product or service, and 86% of video marketers say video has increased traffic to their website, you cannot ignore these stats.
The beauty about video is the flexibility you have to produce something that exactly communicates your message, whether it be your school facilities, your staff, your values or a combination of everything. Coupled with the attraction that users have of watching a video over reading text and you have the dream marketing tool.
When consistency of message and promotion of your brand are such key variables to keep your profile high in the minds of potential new parents, you can see why social media is so important to your marketing efforts. Many people now rely on social media for their daily fix of life outside of their own, and so your social media presence needs to be constant, upbeat and varied.
Use Facebook and Instagram to share stories and update parents visually, use Twitter to stay informed and interact with your stakeholders and use video through TikTok and YouTube to inject humour and personality into your brand.
PR ensures your communications are prominent and engaging. There are multiple opportunities to ‘touch’ your audience using PR, be it press releases, local community advertising or stories, blogs for your website, articles for national publications etc.
Creating PR content ensures you stay on top of events across the school, creates a buzz around your community and gives you material to use across your website and SM channels – so it’s a win-win scenario.
Through a combination of marketing planning to help you focus and carrying out selected marketing activities to achieve your objectives, you can keep your school in the forefront of potential customer’s minds at all times. This allows you to capitalise on the opportunities that will inevitably present themselves as the country moves out of lockdown and back to a sense of normality.