Schools are Competing at New Levels in 2024. Time for Brand Strategy

For many schools, branding is like an atrophied muscle group. But expanded educational choice and competition means it might be time to start flexing.

Schools of all types and sizes across the country are increasingly thinking about how to maximize enrollment. Even though private schools have long been more focused than their public counterparts on marketing and community relations (for the obvious reason that they are competing against free public options), neither has been historically marketing savvy. 

The pandemic came along and disrupted everything. Phase 1 involved a mad rush to implement remote learning tools and safety measures. Phase 2 involved the realization that disruptions in enrollment were more long term. The response at this phase for many schools was to dial up advertising, or social media activities. Let’s call this the “bandaid” phase. Phase 3 is marked by schools realizing they need to make foundational, strategic adjustments. 

 

Choice in Education is Exploding

The pandemic was initially a boon for some private schools who managed to return to in person learning more quickly. But Covid dragged on just long enough to spark a flood of new remote learning options and prompt the question for parents, “Wait, do we really need traditional school? Maybe remote learning, home schooling, and specialized programs are an option for my child.” And in many states, funding and financial aid are enabling more families to exercise that choice. All of this impacts not just public schools, but traditional private academies as well. 

Types of K-12 education options:

The expansion of alternative schooling options—and their ability to enhance and improve flexible and remote learning experiences—has forced many administrators to think much more proactively about how to attract, engage and retain new families and students.

Important Marketing Strategy Questions All Schools Need To Be Asking

Whether you run a public school, private academy, virtual / remote school or something in between, it’s time to start having a marketing mindset. From brand identity to messaging strategy to web presence, schools have under-invested in strategic marketing…because it hasn’t been critical to do so until now.

Here are some questions every company competing for business in a free market should know the answer to:

  • Who is your Ideal Customer Persona (ICP)? What does their buyer journey look like? Can you describe the stages? What’s important to them at each stage?
  • Who are your competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your competitive advantages?
  • What is your unique value proposition? Can you recite it?
  • What are your brand values? What is your brand positioning? Is it written?
  • Does the design and messaging of your website tell your brand narrative and engage your ICPs through their buying journey?
  • How much is each new student worth financially? How much do we currently pay in loaded marketing expense per new student? How much are we willing to pay to acquire a new student?

If you were able to answer more than 2 or 3 of these questions you are in better shape than most schools. Why are these so important?

These questions are at the heart of brand strategy. If you are spending any money on ads, social media execution, website development, etc without a defined brand strategy, you are likely wasting that investment while stagnating or declining enrollment.

It’s Time to Start Thinking Like a For-Profit Business

Public Schools Brand Strategy

 Many of the questions above may be uncharted territory, but there are consultants and agencies that can guide you through the process.

The general strategic approach:

  1. Do the research to understand your audience, find out what’s important to them. This study by the National Center for Education Statistics sheds light on the drivers of school choice generally, but your community or target audience may vary.
  2. Assess your current situation including your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Identify where your strengths intersect with your audience’s needs; this informs your brand positioning.
  4. Develop a marketing and communications plan that emphasizes your brand positioning and value proposition, and engages all your audiences and stakeholders.

Major factor 1: Your brand identity

Over time, branding amplifies and maximizes the impact of every single touchpoint with your audience. It’s imperative that you know what your audience is seeking, and your unique competitive strengths that meet those needs.

Once you know this, you’ll need to craft a messaging strategy that identifies key messages at each stage of your customer’s journey. This strategy informs your brand narrative, which informs every brand expression and communication, including your logo, your tagline or motto, your enrollment materials, your advertising, and your website.

Knowing what’s important to your audience, and then telling powerful stories that show how your brand meets their needs and helps them achieve their aspirations, is essential to making an emotional connection. And its emotional connections that motivate people to prefer brands and take action.

A study by Harvard Business Review found that emotional connection was 52% more valuable than customer satisfaction. 

When choices abound, there’s nothing more important to marketing success than being laser focused on what differentiates your brand and uniquely meets your customer’s needs. But it goes beyond just espousing features and benefits. Brands need to engage their audience and take them on a journey through the use of story.

Storytelling has been used for thousands of years to convey a message that moves people into action.
—Donald Miller, Building a Story Brand

Once you know your audience and understand their motivations, fears, frustrations, and decision making process, AND how your offering addresses those factors, then you have what it takes to start crafting headlines, stories, offers, calls to action, and designing an engaging experience that connects the right people to your brand. 

Major factor 2: Your website

Your website is your school’s single-most important brand asset. The vast majority of public school websites are grossly outdated. Even the ones that aren’t, are almost 100% of the time built for functional baselines rather than for brand differentiation and growth, to say nothing about telling meaningful stories that drive real engagement, connection, and brand preference. 

The approach for developing a growth website is completely different. Savvy schools today are realizing that the legitimate need for a content-heavy community information portal and the need for conveying the brand narrative and value proposition to prospective families are at odds. Separating current parent content from prospective parent brand messaging into two standalone but linked websites, enables a much more effective growth-driven approach.  

Rocketship has created the first website architecture for schools based on growth driven design, brand narrative, SEO (search engine optimization), CRO (conversion rate optimization) research, and integrated nurturing and relationship management. 

 

How to Get Started

 

We’d love to learn more about your situation. Contact us to set up a free consultation.

Or

Download Our Free 30-Page Marketing Playbook for Private School Enrollment Growth.

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