I don’t need a marketing plan: we are nimble and can advertise when we need students.
As a school Head, it would be unthinkable to begin a school year without a plan for how you will educate your students. From providing the necessary staff to making sure the curriculum is covered, you will make preparations to adequately fulfil your obligations.
Yet, when it comes to attracting, enrolling and retaining students, many school Heads face the year without a plan. They theorise that having a marketing plan will prevent them from being nimble, taking advantage of advertising ‘special deals’ when they are presented, and is too much effort for results that are difficult to measure.
The reality is that these schools often end up with fewer enrolments than is optimal. This results in continual pressure to enrol families who are not fully aligned with your mission, or to descend into a spiral of fee discounting — even if it is disguised as an academic scholarship.
Quite simply, without students, there is no school and your mission will remain unfulfilled. It makes no sense to risk the viability of your school by failing to plan to attract, enrol and retain students.
Every school, regardless of size, budget or current enrolment demand, requires a marketing strategy and a plan to execute it. To not have a marketing plan requires you to rely on hope to achieve your mission, and hope is not a strategy.
A school marketing plan should answer some key questions about how you will present your offering to prospective parents.
What is the customer experience?
This encompasses the entire experience of the family and your school.
- What is the education experience like?
- The extent to which parents perceive you are fulfilling your brand promise.
- The strength of your offering relative to competitor schools.
- What is, or where can you create, your competitive advantage?
- What sets you apart from competitive offerings?
- What is your market positioning and how do you want to be perceived by prospective and current parents?
What is your value proposition?
The value of an education at your school is the difference between a prospective parent’s evaluation of the benefits and costs of enrolling at your school when compared with other available alternatives. Education at a government school is essentially free, so it follows that for the tuition fees charged, you must provide a service that parents will perceive as a fair exchange of value.
- What creates this perception of value at your school?
- Can you clearly articulate it?
- Are the pricing and positioning congruent?
- If you engage in discounting, how does that change the perception of value?
How will you communicate?
This is the final part of the marketing mix, but many make the mistake of starting with it. To successfully craft messages that will resonate with prospective parents, you must understand their motivations. Then — and no earlier — you will be able to decide the channels to use to reach them.
All these factors are too important to your school to address in a haphazard way. In short, a marketing plan forces a school to think through the necessary strategic issues which will provide it with a much greater chance of success. As the leader of marketing at your school, you are responsible for holding your marketing team accountable for developing and then executing a marketing plan. Myth busted.