We are moving into a new era of school marketing. The buying journey of your prospective parent is no longer a straight line. They can, and do, locate information online, compare pricing, read and make social recommendations about prospective schools ... all before you even know they are in the marketplace. Increasingly, unless you make their final shortlist you won’t even know they were looking.
I make a call for school Heads to look afresh at their marketing function.
It’s simple: business as usual isn’t.
It may sound strange, but this marketing disruption – primarily enabled by the rise of the internet – is now more than 20 years old. While many schools still struggle to adapt their marketing to the online paradigm, your prospective parents have already adapted. Indeed, the newest generation of parents in the market looking for the right school have never known the world without the internet.
What is your ‘big picture’ strategy for your marketing? Do you have a plan for 2020? As you read this, we are closer to 2020 than to many things that we think of as recent developments:
- Twitter started in 2007
- Facebook opened its doors to everyone in 2006
- The iPad was launched by Apple in 2010
The web isn’t new anymore. It’s time to catch up – and perhaps even lead the way – into a new era of school marketing. Here’s why:
- Relationships with prospective parents (and parents) are more complicated than ever.
Although differentiation by your version of educational excellence is vitally important, it is no longer enough, it is expected. Today, your prospective parents crave an experience that delights them at every interaction. Consider the rapid inroads Uber has made into the taxi industry by offering a superior experience. You know who your driver is (with photo), where they are, how long it will be before they pick you up, and exactly how much the trip will cost ... all before the driver has arrived. It is no longer good enough just to get from A to B in a smelly taxi with plastic seats.
- Information (‘content’ in marketing speak) and experiences have become democratised.
Your school can buy advertising and get noticed, but you cannot pay to have more relevance and value. This reaches far beyond your marketing team. In the attention economy, prospective parents no longer give time to the school that can simply shout the loudest. We need to get their attention and then hold it long enough so that they can hear our message and determine that they want to hear more. Interrupting people with our messages (a.k.a. advertising) is no longer good enough. We have to be what people are interested in.
- Marketing has fundamentally changed and your school marketing hasn’t changed enough (yet).
The equation is fairly simple. In days gone by, the only scalable choices available to reach new potential parents were limited to print (newspapers and magazines), broadcast (radio and television), and ‘outdoor’ (billboards, bus-backs and alike). Know the medium and how to access it and you were a pretty good marketer. In contrast, the last decade in particular has seen a dramatic increase in the number of channels available. There is simply no way for your team to scale to address every channel with your brand story. The only way to scale your impact is to transform the purpose of your marketing team to centre on the creation and dissemination of content that describes and creates value for your prospective parents.
For some schools, marketing is just a necessary cost centre that creates good looking ‘brochure-ware’ while the important work of education is performed by the specialists. The reality is far more challenging. Every person in a school – from the Head to the cleaner – is a marketer, because they all impact on the experiences of prospective parents and parents.
In today’s school, marketing and admissions serve as ‘promise makers’ of parent experiences, and the rest of the staff are the ‘promise keepers’. The effectiveness of the promise keepers determines if parents believe we have kept our side of the bargain. This means that school marketers have to expand the scope of activity and influence. Internal and external alignment has never been more important.
But is your marketing team equipped for this new reality? Connecting with prospective parents is harder and more competitive than it has ever been. The strategic vision and technical skills that are required have changed significantly in just a few years*.
- 21% of marketers say the skills for which they were hired are now obsolete
- 97% see a dramatic increase in the breadth of marketing skills needed
- 97% are doing things they have never done before
- 45% of organisations can’t find marketing candidates with the right skills
The change in the buying behaviour of prospective parents has been understood for the better part of a decade, but very little has changed in how school marketers view their role in creating experiences for the same audience. When the pressure is on, it is easy to default to what is known and comfortable. Unfortunately we live in the real world and the pressure is always on and the required change often comes at the cost of careers.
The quantum and dramatic nature of change to marketing in just the last few years has left many people in schools fearful of embracing the new marketing mindset. It is this fear that naturally steers them toward seeking safe options with their careers and the marketing initiatives they propose. The outcome is marketing communications with a factory mindset turning out the same execution as last year with the hope of a different result. Meanwhile the attention of your prospective parent, and even worse, your current parent, has moved on.
School marketing is on the cusp of significant change. Will you settle for what you are comfortable with or will you do what is necessary to ensure sustainability in a changed world?
As a school Head, and therefore your school’s Chief Experience Officer, do you know what your school will look like in 2020? What does your marketing need to look like today to achieve that goal?
We know it's impossible for schools to keep up, which is why we developed the School Marketing Institute (SMI) ...
SMI is membership based, so schools will need to go through a brief application interview to ensure that it will be a good fit for the school.
A key feature of SMI is the one-on-one mentoring with one of imageseven’s practising school marketers, which means the school marketer will receive a personalised service that many would not normally be able to afford. The 2016 membership intake is limited to 50 schools. There are already 10 schools signed up, so in reality, there are only 40 positions left for this year.
This blog was written by Brad Entwistle
Brad Entwistle is founder and Managing Director of imageseven. For more than 25 years he has led the imageseven team on a crusade to lift schools’ brands and reveal the true value they deliver to students and their families. When he is not working with schools on their marketing strategy, Brad sits on the boards of two national not-for-profits and enjoys looking at antique maps.