Despite marketing often being viewed as an added extra or ‘nice to have’ within the education sector, in my experience, it has proved vital to the very make-up of our schools. With effective marketing, we have been able to highlight the unique and diverse charter of each of our schools and reach prospective parents to explain why our school would be a great place to send their children. After all, parents have a choice of where to send their child and without pupils, our schools would not function. For us, the initial investment in marketing has helped raise pupil numbers, improve community perceptions and ensure a pipeline of pupils for years to come.
However, implementing an effective strategy requires more than simply placing adverts in a local paper. It needs a holistic approach that encompasses thought leadership, merchandising, social media, websites, branding, signage, newsletters and many more elements besides. So, here is my guide to establishing an impactful marketing strategy.
Step 1: Define your target audiences
It all starts with the customer - who are they and what do they want and expect from your school or MAT? Your customers are not children, but their parents - your school’s or MAT’s prospective parents. They are the decision-makers and it will be up to them where their children go to school. It is crucial that we market to them directly.
Parents’ wants and needs will vary - some might prioritise academic achievement and others a nurturing environment. Think deeply about the different types of parents in your school and community and who you are trying to reach. From here, you can complete a detailed profile of each type of parent.
Step 2: Develop key messaging and call to action
Now we know who we want to speak to, we need to decide what we want to tell them. Using your profiling along with your school’s key strengths, you can build three to six key messages that you would like them to know. It is beneficial to consider potential barriers for parents and proactively weave the counter view into your messaging to reassure them before they have a chance to worry. For example, this might be ‘your school is too small’ to which we would say ‘every child gets amazing, personalised attention in our close-knit school community’.
Key messaging can also be a great opportunity to highlight your best features. For example, daily sport would be a feature and the benefits to the pupils would be increased physical fitness, readiness for learning, teamwork and improved wellbeing. This is much more powerful than saying ‘We have games every Wednesday afternoon’. Do not be shy about blowing your own trumpet - school staff often shrug off the amazing things they do, but for non-educationalists, these can be absolutely awesome.
Alongside developing your key messages, it is crucial to define what your call to action will be. This is a clear instruction for prospective parents as to what to do next, such as arrange a visit, speak to the headteacher or book an open day place. This also helps you judge the effectiveness of your marketing because if you ask respondents how they heard of you, it will tell you which channels are the most successful and then you can target your spending accordingly.
Step 3: Explore the best platforms for your audience
Next, it is important to decide which platforms will be the most effective at reaching your target audiences. While a print advert in your local paper might reach thousands of people, is its readership the correct demographic?
Marketing needs to be precise to reach genuine leads - if not, we waste our scarce resources. It is crucial to work out where your target audiences receive their information and which sources they trust – whether it is the local paper, your website, social media or word of mouth, or a mixture of all these things.
Step 4: Create your suite of materials
To create the most effective marketing strategy, you should use your knowledge of your audience, your key messages and understanding of which platforms you will be using to create a campaign. This is a series of marketing collateral that will build a narrative about your school over time in an engaging way that presses the ‘hot’ buttons of your prospective parents.
This may include a prospectus to use online and in print for those visiting the school, infographics to use on social media advertising, positive news stories to share with your local press or interesting pictures on your Facebook page or Twitter feed. They should all portray the same key messaging, and the same call to action – albeit with different twists.
Step 5: Consistency is key
While there is no doubt that the admissions window is a key time for marketing, your community is always there and so are you. A constant and consistent presence is important to keep the profile of your school raised as much as possible throughout the year.
Furthermore, make sure your marketing materials are current and refreshed annually. Marketing is like ‘show ‘n’ tell’ – everything you produce needs to show the features and tell the benefits by using and reinforcing your key messages. This will allow you to convert the maximum number of enquirers into parents and children who will be excited to enrol at your school.
Implementing our marketing strategy has been of huge benefit. Every academy’s first choice numbers have increased from last year, with some oversubscribed for the first time in their history. While this is of course driven by our high standards, excellent teaching and learning and amazing staff, without marketing few would know this is taking place. In the modern world, it is imperative to invest a lot of thought and a little money into marketing (though many of these tactics are free) and you will see the benefits.
Andrew Moorhouse is CEO at the Primary First Trust