Getting recognised in a crowded market

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These days independent schools are fast becoming like big brands. They see parents as customers with customer loyalty, brand experience and product engagement watch words that infiltrate throughout their marketing plans. Senior independent schools, in particular, have the budgets to employ a team of marketers, directly linked with their Admissions and Development offices that put their customers at the heart of every targeted campaign. 

When I first started in independent schools marketing in the 1990s, the explosion of the internet was yet to come and postal communication was considered the only way of really getting at the heart of the target audience. The printed prospectus was seen as central to a school’s philosophy on getting more parents through their doors. Today, technology has moved on so quickly and independent schools have had to move just as quick to keep up with both the demands of the technology and the demands of the parents, whose voices are heard that much more quicker and more louder thanks to social media. Word of mouth still remains at the heart of a school’s success yet that affirmation of a school can now be felt around the world instantly at the touch of a button. Marketing material has had to move just as quickly with apps, microsites, social media presence and websites all competing for the attention of each family.

It therefore makes sense that as each school gets to grips with the way marketing is changing, so it becomes harder to be recognised in your target market. After all, if every school is doing the same – churning out the same marketing material yet heralding it as revolutionary – then how is one school successful over another? And yet still schools use the same copywriting material to describe themselves as unique but how can they be unique when they are all saying the same thing?

The answer is to firstly really understand your target market – not every family will want your type of school. This is where market research is essential otherwise you will be wasting your time, money and effort on fruitless operations. Understand the location of your school, its demographics, its history and what your Head is trying to achieve. If you are a day school, your geographical area and the families who live within it is your target market, within a certain and reasonable travelling distance. Find out where they live to shop, what they like to buy, what careers they have and what aspirations they hold. Treat them as consumers and your school as their ultimate product – they are buying in to an experience.

Understanding your customer is key, just like the big brands. They target those who they know are likely to buy from them. Schools need to think smart to get ahead of the competition. Come up with marketing ideas that suit your brand and don’t be reactive to what your competitor schools are doing around you. Be strong enough to stand on the strength of your brand and be proactive with your strategy. If you don’t know what works, find out. Don’t stick to small ideas but think like a big brand and you’ll get recognised.