Is Marketing Your School Just Not Your Thing?

In this era of increasing competition and school choice, the role of the principal is changing. Unfortunately, it is no longer enough to have a strong educational environment for your school. Principals are being placed in the role of chief marketing officer of the school. But most principals lack the training and frankly don’t want to spend their time crafting marketing programs for their schools. In my job as a marketing consultant for schools, I see many principals struggling with this part of their job. But knowing how to market your school will only grow in importance as competition continues to increase. Here are the ten things that I think are the most important for a principal or anyone involved in admission at a K-12 private or charter school to understand.

1. Marketing is not advertising
This is a common mistake made not just by people in the education space. Marketing is about understanding; understanding the environment, understanding what your customers look like and want, and ultimately communicating to them in a fashion that resonates with them and causes them to enroll in your school. What channel you select to communicate to your customer (advertising) will be much more effective if you understand your customer and where they actually are seeking information.

2. Don’t wait until you are in crisis to begin
Developing a good marketing plan takes time and should be regarded as an investment in the future health of your school. Making that investment when you are strong is going to be a lot easier than when you are scrambling with lower enrollment and fewer resources. It takes some time to have payoff with marketing.

3. Marketing (Recruiting) never stops
There is no “recruiting season”. You may be spending more time in the winter months promoting your school, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore your marketing efforts for the rest of the year. A constant presence and awareness with your prospects will make it much easier to drive action when it is time for your open house or to entice them to request a school tour.

4. Data is your friend but analysis is your spouse
Data is going to guide you and tell you what you need to do in your marketing and recruiting, but only if you collect it and analyze it. I have seen administrators pour over complex cuts of data when it comes to standardized tests, but don’t even gather fundamental information when it comes to marketing, like what percentage of people who came to your open house enrolled. It can be cumbersome to gather data, but once you have it, it is so critical to analyze it to understand why your enrollment might be slipping. You can read more about the importance of schools analyzing their marketing data in this article.

5. Fail to plan, plan to fail
You need to actually write out a marketing plan. Understanding your data should allow you to understand where your students are coming from and where there are available students. Having a year-long marketing plan will allow you to build a well thought out and executable market strategy. But remember that a marketing plan is a living document. As you try things and see the success of different marketing tactics, update the plan so you are constantly learning how to get better. Don’t just write this and file it away. Use it and update it as you learn more about your market and your competition.

6. Know what sets you apart
In order to effectively compete in the more competitive school environment, it is becoming more important to offer parents and students an experience that is unique to your school. Have you done a competitive analysis of the other schools around you? What can a parent get at your school that they couldn’t get somewhere else? Is your uniqueness something that truly resonates with a customer’s need or aspiration? Is your unique aspect understandable by the customer? Is what you think is the most important aspect the same as your customer’s preference?

7. Know your customer
In this increasingly competitive market, parents have choices on where to send their child to school. Do you truly understand your customer? Are you regularly surveying your customers to understand their satisfaction levels? Have you done focus groups to understand their unmet needs? Parents will send their children to a school that they feel is the best fit for their students. The only way to understand if that is your school is to ask your them.

8. Word of mouth takes effort
Word of mouth is going to be your prime source of student referrals. But word of mouth marketing is not doing nothing and hoping parents are saying good things about your school. Word of mouth is the best marketing program, but to truly maximize its effectiveness, it takes work. Don’t just hope that parents are saying good things, actively work to ensure that they are. For a more in depth look at word of mouth marketing, read this article.

9. Customers will interact with your online presence first
Your potential customer will almost always go to your website first. Is your website enticing to a potential new customer? Is it easy for prospective parents to find information about your school? Are you monitoring the types of online reviews that parents are leaving on sites like www.greatschools.org? Your website is your digital “curb appeal.” Make sure that it is enticing for potential parents.

Remember that most traffic on the internet is now conducted via a mobile application. If your website is not mobile enabled, not only will you be pushed down in the rankings by the search engines, but you are giving a poor experience to customers who are trying to learn about your school via their mobile device. If you haven’t examined your reviewed your website lately, I am sure that the good folks at Kreative Webworks would be happy to give you some advice.

10. Personal touches will set you apart
Little things can matter as customers are making the decision on which school is right for their child(ren). If the customer expresses an interest in your arts program during the school tour, are you having the art teacher conduct a follow up call after the tour? Are you sending thank you notes to people who attended your open house? Little things like this can often tip the scales towards your school and they generally don’t cost any money. It just takes a little bit extra work.

Having a good marketing program is critical as more and more schools are competing for students. This no longer can be something that you just think about during Catholic Schools Week or during the winter months. This needs to be part of your DNA and a developed strength for your school.

Let me know if I can help!

Nick LeRoy is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides marketing and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve your marketing, visit us at www.brightmindsmarketing.com, send an email to nick@brightmindsmarketing.com or call us at 317-361-5255.

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