Already back in 2018, Independent Education Today reported on the importance of UK Independent Schools needing to create a strong brand.
“Rising costs in many areas have placed greater emphasis on the need to generate income over and above fee income. Schools who traditionally had to do very little in terms of marketing to ensure a steady stream of pupils have had to become more commercially minded, adopting smarter marketing approaches.”
Now, post-COVID-19, this need to create a powerful brand has become utterly imperative, not only for Independent Schools but for any business wishing to survive the UK’s deepest recession in 100 years.
A LLAKES research paper published in 2017 noted that the average fee for one child had “risen from 20 percent to 50 percent of median income” since 1980.
According to the Independent Schools Council:
“Parents who choose independent schools want the best for their children. The money spent on fees comes from taxed income with many families stretching resources to support their children in this way. “
Those families who had stretched resources the most will be hard-put to keep their children in a Private School.
Independent Schools need to come up with an infallible marketing strategy to (one) keep existing students and (two) attract new ones despite pockets being tight.
No matter the strategy chosen, magnificent content needs to be at the heart of it.
In hard times, inspiring and evocative prose which is both transparent and informative is crucial to ease the minds of worried parents.
Be proactive, be positive, be factual
To fail to write anything on your school blog or in a letter to parents regarding COVID-19 and upcoming changes is folly. To fail to provide regular updates that soothe instead of agitate is equally unwise.
In uncertain times, people need strong leaders more than ever. Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, recommends “transparency”, being “calm and compassionate” and “staying very close to clients and employees”.
After the media was called out for stoking panic, any Independent School hoping that same media will inject calm into the minds of stressed-out parents is mistaken.
In a confusion, people seek a source of stability. By merely being that source through regular updates which are calm and informative, the Independent School ensconces itself firmly in the minds of parents trying to navigate the daily confusions.
They will remember your guidance positively.
The school website’s news section
The school blog is the place to post updates and information on COVID-19.
I visited several Independent School websites just now and was horrified to discover one of three things:
1. No information at all
Absolutely no information on COVID-19 whatsoever. The school website looked as though everything was “business as usual”. My first reaction when seeing this was, “Oh, they’re so out of touch with reality.”
I know that’s not true, and this is not a criticism of these schools. I understand that “updating the blog” is likely the least important thing in the face of such drastic changes to the school system.
But marketing is all about perception.
No information posted at all leaves one with a terribly low perception of the institution.
2. One page of generic information
Other Independent School sites I visited had a generic, short description of COVID-19 and its relation to the school. The text was staid and unemotional and barely 500 words long, if that.
Sticking with the point of marketing being about perception, my perception of schools which did this was that they were not being proactive at all about the virus or their students.
The correct perception to bring across is that the school cares about its students, its staff, the parents, and about the school itself.
The only way to do this would be to provide regular content which shows that the school cares. Even just a post saying the following would be brilliant:
“We’re worried and afraid as well, but we can assure you that we will do everything in our power to ensure you child receives the best education safely.”
It doesn’t say much, but it’s reassuring. And when the crisis is over, parents will remember who encouraged them and who didn’t.
3. Semi-informative, sporadic blog posts
I found at least one school that had posted something, but it was mostly incomplete and did not inspire confidence in the school’s activities. It felt a little like a half-baked idea rather than a concerted effort to inform and assist.
It did little to improve my perception of the school.
Why the blog is the best place to post updates
We are talking about marketing here.
We are talking, also, of existing and potential students.
Information could certainly be sent to parents by email or post as well. But if it is not content of a confidential nature, it should also go on the blog.
The way to get traffic to a website is to provide magnificent content.
That information on your blog/news section will serve you well into the future. Not only will it be useful for search engine rankings, but it’ll also serve as a great marketing “brochure” showing parents of potential students what you did for your existing students and their parents during trying times.
Provide a COVID-19 resource centre
The ISC did a fair job on this, although it just links to Department for Education articles and other government resources.
I felt their resource centre could’ve been a lot more creative, but it’s better than nothing.
This is such a golden opportunity for marketing and showing off your school’s transparency and desire to help. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to create just the right perception of your Independent School’s brand that I am amazed no schools have done it (that I know of).
Just look at some of these examples of resource centres created by some of the big corporations. All of them follow a similar pattern:
- Reassure customers that they care
- Reassure customers that they are alert and proactive in dealing with the virus and its attendant social changes
- Provide readers with useful information on:
- The virus itself (usually directing the user to official guidelines)
- The company’s new policies regarding the virus
Examples of COVID-19 Resource Centres
Too many schools consider marketing a dirty word. The school is there to educate, after all.
Unfortunately, the realities of the world are quite different. Your school might be averse to marketing, but your competitors are not.
This is precisely why content marketing works so well. By definition, content marketing doesn’t push the brand.
Content marketing is all about offering helpful information. It’s about assisting people and asking for nothing return.
It is incredibly powerful in creating the right perception for your brand, provided the content is written professionally, and written for a specific market.