In this blog post we discuss the key elements to include in any independent school marketing plan along with some idea of how to execute them.
At Akcela our involvement as independent school business strategy and marketing consultants we understand the nuances and sector specific challenges faced by independent schools. One of the most common areas of support is for an indepnendent school marketing plan. Admissions is of course the key driver to this, with as many as 30 independent schools being forced to close due to COVID-19 and reduced or lost admission fees. Admissions marketing and communication in independent schools should focus not only on acquisitions, but also retention (this is ultimately market segmentation consultancy). Below we have some simple steps and requirements for any independent school marketing plan.
We will look at the following steps to delivering a great marketing plan, as with most business tools, this is an itteritive process, with foundation based elements. It is reccommended to follow the process in a logical order, however feel free to refine each element as you progress and uncover more information. We will discuss each element in detail later in this post.
Putting down all that you know about the market, buying decisions and trends into a concise document may sound counterintuitive. But how often can market drivers change? Think of the market in a post COVID-19 context. Does the market purchase in the same way that it did? If we rank what’s important to parents and students today, compared to 6, 9 or 12 months ago, would that be the same? How do our core values and offering align on an overall level to the market requirements? Have purchasing habits changed, operationally can we support this? Remember this is a mile wide, inch deep view of the market, but helps refocus the strategy at a high level, in light of current trends.
Market segmentation seeks to divide your target market into specific personas you can easily identify and market to. Many companies use demographics as a target market approach. For independent schools, we hear the same sort of segmentation at a very headline level, usually based on geography, age and income. Whilst these are great ways to segment, they are extremely broad and ultimately, does it drastically drive your approach beyond where you are marketing. Invariably the messaging is closely aligned. Great segmentation allows you to adapt your messaging to resonate more closely with your specific target audience. As an example, you wouldn’t market the same to a prospective new student as you would to a student who is already part of your cohort.
Value proposition and alignment is the stage in which you take the market research and your own intrinsic value proposition and package them into a marketing message. Remember, use the detailed personas highlighted in stage two. A good indicator that you have defined your value proposition to unique segments is that they will all have a slightly different message around the core theme. Great conversion comes from clearly differentiating your segments and aligning meaningful messages that deliver a solution to their wants and needs. Of course, getting that message to them is the next steps as we will cover.
Competitor insight will allow you to understand your competitive landscape and adapt your marketing and strategic offer. In this stage take time to review competitors’ strengths and weaknesses through the lens of your own segmentation. Where are your competitors strong? Where are they weaker? How does that align to the size of the target market? Where should you look to win, hold, or withdraw your attention?
The marketing strategy will define the how, to the what covered in steps 1 – 4. This is generally delivered in a few documents, including a marketing strategy document that allows everyone in the organisation to define the value proposition and segmentation approach. Remember, the value proposition must be intrinsic to the running of the school. A marketing message only works if it is both believable and factual. Another key document to produce will be a marketing planner, this will define the channels and timing of messages to segments.
Allocating a budget is critical to success. No element is more iterative than this approach. An initial budget should be allocated, however this is always a starting position. The real value is driven in step 7.
When advising clients in this area, our approach is to run through a marketing budget based on a segmented P&L. This segmented P&L based on customer segmentation. We drive an acceptable operating income model and allocate extra resources based on real time admissions. Many channels will rely on a commitment based approach, but negotiating such expenditure based on agreed “roll-on” elements can prove an effective model to deliver long term partnerships that work.
There aren’t many areas of marketing where understanding the sales funnel, optimum time for engagement and conversion is as important as with independent schools. Admissions marketing and communications in independent schools requires a concerted focus at set times and this is the point where all previous work is rigorously put through its paces. Our recommendation to independent schools is always to ensure the phasing of plan, execution, alignment has correct focus and resource as required.
Mark has a long history of working as a consultant, and as a governor and critical friend within public and independent schools. Mark is the MD of Norwich based marketing agency Flocc, holds an MBA and postgraduate in professional consulting.
James has held roles as a governor and works to support independent schools with corporate level business strategy and process improvement. James studied Politics and Economics at undergraduate level, holds an MBA and postgraduate in professional consulting.
Matt has a wealth of experience in delivering high level strategic sales and marketing strategies, as well as supporting in the operational execution. Matt has an undergraduate in Marketing and Advertising from Lincoln, an MBA and postgraduate in professional consulting from the UEA.