What are the 5 key marketing strategies schools need to consider in 2020?

As we enter a new decade the competition for school enrolment has become quite a big deal in nearly every area and town across Australia. The promotion of schools is more competitive and, in some channels, even cluttered. Until recently, the parent conversations around schooling choice and expectations was a regular topic at every BBQ in the burbs.

And before you know it, it will become a topic of conversation again, along with: How did your school perform during Covid-19? How did your kids get on?

In this our second article looking at marketing planning in 2020, we want to help you focus on what you can control with respect to your school marketing.

As background, we recommend you reading our summation of 5  key impacts on schools and how to be mindful of this in your planning and messaging, particularly in the short-term.

We believe it’s important for schools to lift their sights and remember that we are year 1 of the 2020s. There is a lot that can and will be accomplished in the coming decade.

We believe the 5 key marketing strategies that every school and educational institution should focus on is:

  1. Your WHY
  2. Your Value
  3. Your innovation & fundamentals
  4. Your global capacity
  5. Your community

Many schools may read this and say we’re already doing that, but many of the schools we’re coming across are not. In some cases, they may be doing some of these initiatives but are not marketing them to their current community or to prospective families. This takes strategy, intent and action. Let’s talk about each of these 5 priorities and what it may look like for some schools to deliver upon.

Your Why

Having clarity around WHY the school was founded (its original vision or purpose) and communicating this on your website, prospectus and in staff inductions is paramount. Not losing sight of this – or the agreed evolution of it – will enable your school to continue with its competitive advantage. Additionally, having all of your community aware of your mission, vision and values and actively promoting those values is key to differentiation.

Values guide behaviour and school culture. They engender trust, which along with culture ultimately impact success. Also having a clear understanding of your brand essence will enable consistency and clarity around your brand and marketing communications.

Demonstrating value

Many schools struggle with enrolments due to fees in their catchment area, particularly if you are an independent school with a nearby Catholic school or a great local state school. It’s hard to compete and it will get harder in the coming months. This is where understanding what you offer and promotion of it is key. Crafting key messages around all of your features and benefits is a critical marketing requirement. Positioning this on your website home page, other pages and in social media can help create awareness, dispel myths and foster positive word of mouth.

The types of things that demonstrate value include: key (and unique) facilities, unique programs, great teachers (with interesting skills, interests, backgrounds, qualifications), value-adds, inclusive fees and more – such as how you responded and succeeded during Covid-19.

Balancing innovation vs Fundamentals

Ultimately parents’ expectations of educational institutions are wide-ranging and cover everything from academic results, wellbeing programs, co-curricular offerings, futuristic facilities/programs to fantastic teachers. As a school it’s virtually impossible to cater for every child’s needs/wants and have the budget for all of this. It’s important to ensure you cover the promotion of the fundamentals and try to steer your promotion to core terms that enable the development of well-rounded students with strong character and future skills and competencies that can give them flexible capable futures.

Focusing on promotion of what your school has/does in innovation should be well evidenced with good pictures and (almost) case study like examples. It’s best to focus on a few things and do them well then try to cover everything. This helps you become known for certain things.

Global learning environment

Remember in your marketing language you are (mostly) appealing to prospective parents. The current generation of parents are more diverse, more inclusive and more environmentally focussed. They and more interested in character-shaping and softer skills so their child can go anywhere/do anything/be anything. Gain a good understanding of what your school offers to the global generation and how you can communicate this through curriculum, facilities, co-curricular offerings and more.

Types of things you can share include cross cultural awareness, communication and sharing; your current diverse community of staff and students; the school’s approach to respect/tolerance; how technology is aiding students and more.

Creating great word of mouth

Ultimately the true success of your marketing is creating raving fans in and around your school. This demonstrates a great culture that is talked about outside of the school but usually represents a culture-led organisation that has strong leadership and embraces all community members. It enables you to be a best practice educational institution and an employer of choice. It also keeps your community engaged and passionate about what your school is doing week in and week out.

How do you create great word of mouth? Walk your talk and let your values guide you. Be prepared to lead from the front on issues and tackle them head on. Make a stance against bullying. Create an outdoor education leadership program. Be at the forefront of health and wellbeing for your students. Run a strong creative arts program or whatever it looks like in your school that enables education to be truly successful for your students, teachers and wider community. Then talk about it on your website, newsletter, social media, school events and more.

Through the challenges of 2020, you have the opportunity to build an even more closely-knit community through great communication, transparency, flexibility and openness to innovation.

If we reflect back 100 years, the roaring twenties were in some respects an antithesis to the preceding period of four years of global war and the Spanish Flu. It is highly possible that our next decade – the 2020s – could be one of great strides and celebrations in so many spheres.