It’s good to have aspirations. Aspirations are what drive us forward towards achieving our preferred future. But our marketing and communications aspirations often outstrip our ability to deliver.
Let’s, for just a moment, revisit our definition of a brand. Your brand is not what you say you are, rather it is what others say you are. Your brand is who you are, what you promise and your ability and willingness to keep that promise. Your brand is not your logo, your school crest or your motto.
It follows then that your aspirations are very clearly part of your brand. And this is where many leaders of school marketing — school Heads — get it wrong.
It is common for everyone except the most experienced marketers to be tempted to bite off more than they can chew. There is an exciting world of marketing and communications options available. You are the first generation of educational leaders to be faced with this choice … and it is daunting.
So what is the magic formula for getting our aspirations to line up with our brand? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, but there are some time-proven principles that you can apply with almost guaranteed success.
Your strategic aspirations
Be very realistic about your strategic aspirations. Set targets that can be achieved. If you lead a school servicing a fixed geographic area, it would be overly ambitious for your school to aspire to change the standard of education throughout the nation. It would be far better to articulate this example in terms of how you would help improve education for children in a local government area in your state.
Make sure that everyone in your team is on the same page and understands your aspirations. This is all about internal alignment. Write your aspirations down, talk about them and agree on the limitations. When everyone on your team has a common understanding of your strategic aspirations, they will talk using a common language. This is where you can tap into the power of clear word-of-mouth. When your community hears about your aspirations from two different people, it counts for twice as much as if they heard it from one person. But when they hear the same thing from 10 people, the impact is exponentially greater.
Regularly articulate specifics of your aspirations in your brand messaging. Be clear and specific about what you want to be or what you want to make happen. Communicate these specifics regularly … once a year or once a term is not often enough.
Your tactical aspirations
Today there are so many choices for your marketing and communication messages. In fact, there are too many.
Not so long ago you had the choice of television, radio and some limited print options. Now every few weeks there is a new format, a new platform and new opportunities to spread your message. No organisation — including a school — can do everything successfully. The organisations most successful at communicating, draw very clear limits around what they believe they can tactically achieve.
Make these tactical choices before you are faced with a decision or need to defend your position. Too often leaders in education are faced with a scenario something like these:
- A member of your board of governance has been introduced to a new social media platform by a family friend. Then, before you know it, at the next meeting she asks, “I’d like to know what we’re doing about getting the school on this great new social media platform.”
- A parent who enjoys communicating in 280 characters or less traps you in the school car park with a statement like, “I wish you would just use Twitter, it is so convenient and all the parents would find it easier.”
- A prospective parent really appreciates the fine-looking prospectus you have printed because it reinforces their decision to enrol their child at your school. They even gave a copy to grandma to show how good their new school is. Just a year later the same parent complains to you that you should cut down on your ‘fancy printing’ and you would be able to keep school fees manageable.
Your resources – both money and time — are finite. Every new communication channel that you open has to be maintained and fed with content. Setting up a social media account is usually free, but using it and making it work for your school is not free. Select the channels that you use based on their effectiveness for your targets and your ability to sustain the communication. That is your limit.
Keep your marketing and communication aspirations in check. Do less, but do them well, and you will reap the rewards.
- Don’t let aspiration out pace your ability to deliver.
- Be brutally realistic.
- Be clear and specific.