This week’s Marketing Matter touches on my follow-up book to “Retention: A Systems Approach to Growing Enrollment.” “Marketing: A 12-Step Plan to Increase Inquiries to Your School” shows how to go about creating a marketing plan, since boards and administrations want to see a plan before moving forward. If you’ve been a visitor to the SchoolAdvancement.com site, you already know something that a lot of schools don’t realize. You know that successful marketing does not increase enrollment; successful marketing increases inquiries to the school. A great enrollment program turns those inquiries into enrollments.
There are two things to remember about marketing today. First, newsflash, it’s changing…again. The previous methodology regarding marketing was to increase the number of exposures your school had to its prospective “market” – that is, females age 25-39 with young children. Back in the day when there were three (then four) commercial television networks and public broadcasting. TV, radio, newspapers and billboards cost big bucks 30 or so years ago. Then, cable came along. Then, the Internet, and, with the improvement of delivery systems (dial-up to broadband to wireless), connectivity became ubiquitous. Social media helped to spread the word a little more cheaply through channels like Facebook and Twitter, and since women are the target market, some school administrators even grasped the idea of using Pinterest as a way to generate interest about their school. Word of mouth is still the least expensive and most effective marketing strategy there is, but its effectiveness – both positive and negative – has been elevated by social media access and utilization.
Now, more and more “exposures” are lost in a sea of everyone else seeking more and more exposures. A few years ago throughout its articles, SchoolAdvancement stated that “Academic Excellence” wasn’t something “remarkable” about your school. It was an “expectation” since parents wouldn’t be paying a premium price (read, tuition) for an educational experience that was simply “okay” or “good.”
Now, your school can no longer be simply “excellent;” it needs to be able to “fascinate” those parents researching your school as a potential educational environment for their children, as well as continue to “fascinate” parents whose children are currently enrolled in your school. It’s no longer acceptable to have “excellent academics ” while other areas of your school may be “good” or “okay.” Everything needs to “wow” them so you can “woo” them. Continuously “wowing” parents will lead to them being “fascinated” by what’s happening there.
You also need to remember the five rules of marketing. While “remarkability” has led to “fascination,” the “rules” that govern marketing really haven’t changed, since you need to know them to provide a foundation for moving “remarkable” (which can be applied to individual constructs and events) to “fascinating” (which results from a continual stream of those “remarkable” attributes). It’s just that you don’t communicate your school’s brand anymore. Your audience determines it and communicates it through social media.
Unfortunately, there are still school leaders that think that a great Web site and some great marketing collateral will help their enrollment to grow, but fail to understand that their greatest potential audience is a very limited one; namely, parents of students who will be enrolling in Kindergarten for the coming school year. Many enrollment committees believe (and school administrators hope) each grade level could and should experience enrollment growth. While that’s a lofty goal, the reality is that it probably won’t be achieved. It’s more difficult for a parent to leave the local public school to enroll their 5th or 6th grader in your Catholic or Christian school unless there is a significant change that happens or needs to happen in their current experience. For instance, the child might be having issues at their current school, or parents may not be satisfied with the academic progress their child is making. This past year, public schools were starting the year virtual, while faith-based schools were aiming toward in-class instruction. The fact remains that the longer a child remains in a particular educational environment, the more difficult it is to extract them if there is no compelling cause to do so.
That’s not to say, however, that it does not happen. For instance, I’ve seen a situation where a dozen students that were enrolled in one Catholic school all went to another Catholic school 10 miles away. Why? All the parents knew one another, and all the children were friends. Parents started talking about the possibility, and it became reality. How different is that from one’s current mindset? Are you thrilled when one or two new students come to your upper grades? The influx of 12 new students necessitated the hiring of a new teacher because they brought siblings with them to help fill the empty desks in other grades. The unintended consequence was that the perceived windfall caused a significant expenditure to be made on a new teacher, and the school was in no better a financial position that they were prior to accepting this new flock of new students.
As for The Five Rules of Marketing for your school, they are:
1) Know Yourself
2) Know Your Market
3) Know Your Target Audience
4) Communicate Remarkable Qualities Through Channels Your Target Market Utilizes
5) Check and Adjust
These are covered in greater detail in the book, which provides a 12-Step Process to creating a marketing plan for your school. Why a 12-Step plan? Because 12-Step plans are used when people are trying to change their behavior to make an improvement in the results they’re seeking. As for now, here are some quick insights into the Five Rules:
1) Know Yourself means you know your strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities, and how they affect the remarkable attributes of your school. Your school’s brand must associate itself with these unique qualities. If you don’t develop your brand, it will be perceived as being “just like every other educational entity” in the market. If parents see no difference in your school from other schools in the market, your school becomes a commodity, and, when dealing with commodities, the lowest price wins. Your “brand” needs to “fascinate” those who are engaged with your school today.
2) Know Your Market means to know what other educational entities and options are available to parents in your local area, and knowing what “position” you hold in that marketplace. That position should also be congruent with the position your brand holds in the mind of your target audience (see how all these start to fit together?). For example, if you see yourself as the only faith-based school in your market, but parents see you as the most expensive school in the market, the discrepancy can lead to some unpleasant consequences.
3) Know Your Target Audience means that you must know who your marketing materials must be geared to. In the case of elementary schools, it’s females between the ages 25 to 39 who have young children. Mom makes the decision where the child is going to school (but interestingly, one of the largest influences on enrolling a child in a Catholic school is if the father attended a Catholic high school), so your marketing materials must appeal to mom. It also helps to know some specific qualities pertaining to these individuals, such as what generation are they from, and what common characteristics they possess.
4) Communicate Remarkable Qualities Through Channels Your Target Market Utilizes means that your materials must be available where members of your target market “wait,” as well as in the different technological channels they utilize. For instance, today’s mom in your target audience is probably not the stay-at-home housewife who does the laundry on Monday and the ironing on Tuesday while watching soap operas on television. Your school’s remarkable qualities need to be communicated and emphasized, and must touch them emotionally. It is the only through an emotional experience that those who are not apt to change will experience an event that may cause them to change their way of thinking, and changing one’s thought processes is what marketing is all about.
5) Check and Adjust means you need to monitor your performance and adjust accordingly. Before you can do that, however, you must be aware of what the goal is. If you come up with a marketing plan for your school which will be evaluated as successful if you enroll 10 additional Kindergarten students than last year, then you’re setting your school up for disappointment at best, and failure at worst.
Next week, a little more about #4.
If you’d like more details about the book, visit https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/mike-ziemski-med/marketing-a-12-step-plan-to-increase-inquiries-to-your-school/paperback/product-1jnez27z.html?page=1&pageSize=4
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2011-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20110404)