Next year is going to be an incredibly tough one for the Catholic and independent education sectors as Jobkeeper stops and mounting debt for businesses and families becomes unsustainable. The looming shadow of this reality has me thinking about how schools and the systems that administer them communicate their unique advantages over their competition.
This is not a problem unique to education. The rapid pace of technological change combined with the slow death of traditional media is baffling for many and presents opportunities and threats. The means of production and taking control of your own narrative have never been more readily available. BUT within an educational environment, advertising, marketing, and communication can (understandably) take a back seat to the very immediate intensity of the day-to-day.
In this piece, I will outline how education providers can provide real value for their key audience when it comes to attracting and retaining students… their parents.
Who are you talking to and why?
Talking to ‘parents’ is no longer enough. Who are the parents, where and how do they engage with your school community, and how do you help them to navigate parenthood in an increasingly complex and uncertain world? Use tools like Google Analytics to understand not only demographics but interests, behaviours, and how actively engaged they are with what you have to say.
Or if the data on your site is not rich enough perhaps conduct a survey using Survey Monkey or another tool of your choice.
Identify your niche
We can’t be all things to all people. And, when we try we more often than not end up confusing people, including ourselves and our staff. Let’s say for argument’s sake, you excel at community, pastoral care, and helping students thrive through easy to access extracurricular activities.
You now need to plan, create and consistently deliver content to demonstrate that your school or system is an authority in these key areas of competitive advantage in a way that is engaging and easy to understand. This content sits outside of the day-to-day logistical information delivered via the usual channels schools use.
What does the lifecycle of a student look like?
The short answer? From birth and through the duration of their educational journey with you. If you’re starting to engage with people the year before they’re making their decision you’re too late and you are not showing that you care nor are you fostering a sense of community. I’ve often thought about what typically happens in the Catholic community after children are baptised. In most cases it is nothing.
The opportunity here is to reach out to young parents facing the daunting task of raising their children and provide them with advice and guidance as their child or children grow, perhaps on the anniversary of their baptism or their birthday, or both. These messages could come from the parish and its associated primary school together and should be well thought out and really aimed at serving and helping those young parents with resources and contacts that can help them provide their little people with the best possible start in life.
For other independent schools or public schools where baptism is not a part of their journey it might look like identifying which daycare centres and kindergartens or pre-prep centres are their greatest source of enrolment and trying to engage in a similar fashion. This interaction does not have to be limited to the digital realm. Information nights for parents with experts providing them with top-notch information should be part of the equation as well.
There is no substitute for bringing parents into the physical environment of the school and getting a first-hand experience of the people and culture.
What model should I be using for communication?
The flywheel is a simple and effective way of understanding what your marketing strategy might look like. This model covers off on content delivered using no ad spend designed to build authority, audience and engagement over time. Note that this model is a feedback loop that continues to build momentum ongoing. The job of communicating your key messages and providing value to your audience is never done.
For more immediate traction there are many ways you can use ad spends on networks like Google and Facebook in order to reach audiences at scale quickly.
What sort of content should I be producing?
Keep it as simple and manageable as possible. Keep it singular in its intent. Too often people try to jam everything they can think of into a single piece of content. There is no silver bullet solution out there. If someone tells you there is or tries to convince you that jamming as much information in as possible is a good idea, run in the opposite direction. Simple, singular, concise communication covering many different topics consistently over time is the key.
Think about the content you’re producing as ‘hero’, ‘hub’ and ‘help’.
The hero stream is the celebration of the very best you have to offer in line with your niche. This might look like a short video documenting a moment in time that illustrates what you do better than anyone else. Think of the hub stream as a conversation where an expert or experts are offering insight into the overarching philosophy of the school or system and then bring it down a further level to provide insight into how the philosophy translates into how things are done. The article you are reading now, is an example of hub content.
And finally help. This is more ‘how to’ content. How do I help my child build resilience? How can I become more involved in a meaningful way with my school or system? How do I help my child define what success looks like for them in a holistic way? And so on.
As far as what content is trending and how people consume information online – video and audio will continue to dominate.
That’s 15 times higher than 2017.
How do I reach my audience?
Schools and the systems responsible for them are in the enviable position of having incredibly powerful databases at their fingertips. But once again email alone is not a silver bullet solution. An integrated distribution strategy might look like:
- Letting your audience know the communication is coming ahead of time on social media
- Delivering an email with the same message
- Delivering an email pushing your audience to the video piece you have generated on Youtube
- Delivering the same video direct onto Facebook or other social media after the piece has been delivered on Youtube, for those who prefer to engage on a different platform
- Pointing to the content on the homepage of your website
- Writing a supporting article on Linkedin
This seems like a lot of work
This type of approach will require a dedicated effort. Fortunately for us, we live in a time where the means of production have never been more accessible. We also have a plethora of digital tools at our disposal to help automate email sends and pre-schedule social media posts. We can also measure what is working from an engagement perspective and what is leading to enrolments, retention of students, and parent satisfaction.
If you are not in the publishing and audience building game. If you are not in the community engagement game, you will find it increasingly difficult to compete with those who are.