In the past, many independent schools recruited prospective students without a written school marketing plan, generally relying on word of mouth. This is changing, however. The current enrollment landscape for many schools is uncertain, partially due to the effects of COVID-19. Today, it’s imperative that every independent school, no matter how small, develop and implement marketing plans for schools.
Enrollment is the bedrock of independent schools because it directly impacts revenue. A well-thought-out school marketing plan can lead to more predictable enrollment numbers by helping you stay on track, measure the performance of your marketing campaigns and identify the best way to direct your efforts.
Some small schools are reluctant to put in the time and effort required to write an effective school marketing plan. Even if your marketing team is very small (or maybe it’s just you!) and on a shoestring budget, having a plan will help you communicate with other members of your management team so you can work together to achieve your goals.
A marketing plan will give your school a road map that walks you through your marketing goals, strategies, tactics, budget and expected outcomes.
Here’s how to write a school marketing plan.
Set your marketing goals and objectives
It’s important to clearly identify the overarching goal and specific objectives related to your planned marketing activities. An overarching goal is usually the outcome you are looking for by the end of the year, such as “Increase next year’s enrollment by 10% over this year’s enrollment.”
Marketing objectives are the broad-stroke activities you will implement to reach your overarching goal. School marketing objectives generally fall into these categories:
- Brand awareness
- Increase inquiries
- Increase social media marketing performance
- Target a new audience (maybe a new demographic)
- Improve stakeholder relations
- Enhance parent relationships
- Improve public relations
- Improve internal communication
- Increase enrollment
Of course, your marketing objectives need to fit into your overall school objectives and drive the direction of your marketing strategy. To be effective, your marketing objectives should be SMART:
For example, you might state a specific objective within your school marketing plan is “To increase the number of inquiries submitted by 10% by the end of July 202X.” Here's more information on how to write SMART objectives.
Conduct a SWOT Analysis
A SWOT analysis will help your marketing team identify your school’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats as they relate to your marketing. A SWOT analysis guides you in building on what you are doing well, address where you’re lacking, recognize and leverage new opportunities and minimize risks.
Here’s an example of what a simple SWOT analysis might look like:
- Strengths – high rate of parental interaction with school
- Weaknesses – underperforming social media presence
- Opportunities – parents are interested in engaging on social media
- Threats – Competitor schools have a more robust social media presence
One thing to keep in mind when writing out your SWOT analysis is that strengths and weaknesses are internal and opportunities and threats are external.
A real SWOT analysis will have many more elements than this example. Once you’ve exhausted your lists for each category, you might want to go back and adjust your marketing objectives if needed based on your SWOT analysis insights.
Identify your target personas
Chances are, you’ve already identified mission-appropriate target personas for your school. However, you may want to rethink your personas to see if perhaps there are other demographics you’re not targeting. Generally, this is done using demographic, psychographic, and qualitative data. Not sure how to do this? Here is a step-by-step guide to creating accurate personas that work for your school.
List your existing marketing resources
Every school has existing marketing channels, tools and technology in place you can leverage when implementing your marketing strategy. Make sure you list out each one of these so that you build on the work your marketing team has already done.
Get clear about your timeline
You need clarity about the expectations your management team has for your marketing plan timeline. For example, does your plan span June 1, 2022 – June 1, 2023? Or some other dates? Make sure you know what your timeline entails.
Know your budget
You need to know the budget you have to work with during the time span of your marketing plan. Are you allocated a lump sum or do you have budgetary line items? Or will your plan influence your marketing budget? Make sure you know ahead of time what your budget constraints are or if you are required to research and present budget amounts related to your activities.
Define your school’s unique value proposition (UVP)
Your school’s UVP is how your school is special and different than your competitors. Why would a parent choose your school over another school? Your UVP will help you devise messaging and will help influence your marketing plan. What is your school’s mission? Values? Offerings? Having a clear UVP will help parents recognize what sets your school apart and identify how your school will help their child succeed.
Determine your marketing strategies
Your next step is to identify the marketing strategies you will use to achieve your goal and objectives. Typical marketing strategies include:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Social media
- Landing pages
- Direct mail
Prioritize your strategies
While a multi-channel marketing strategy can be powerful, it’s important you recognize your team’s limitations. Some of your objectives can be achieved in a short time, but others will take a longer time to come to fruition. Be realistic as you set out your goals, objectives and strategies. Also recognize you may want to seek the help of experts who can augment the work of your team using their professional expertise, saving you time and money in the long run.
Determine your tactics
Once you’ve chosen and prioritized your strategies, you can lay out specific tactics or activities you will implement in order to achieve your goals and objectives.
A general template for writing tactics may look something like this:
- Strategy: Blogging
- Who’s responsible: Team Member A, reports to Director of Marketing and Communication
- Timeline: Weekly
- Conduct keyword research and identify topic
- Research content and write blog post
- Upload blog post to website blog
- Complete SEO elements (title tags, meta description, H1 tags, keyword density, etc.)
- Budget: 5 hours per week / .125 percent of Team Member A salary + benefits
- Measurable outcome: Website visitors will increase by 5% each quarter.
Tactics should be specific and measurable.
Evaluate your plan
Be sure to measure your results using key performance indicators and analyze what’s working and what’s not. Be sure you’re tracking the right metrics and generate regular monthly and quarterly reports. That way you can measure your changes over time so you can adjust your strategies and tactics based on your performance.
Keep in mind there’s no such thing as a perfect school marketing plan. You should always be adjusting, changing, testing and refining. Taking the time to complete a detailed school marketing plan will pay off in terms of meeting your goals and objectives to help your school remain secure and successful.
Have you developed a marketing plan for your school? What was your experience with the process? What tips for writing a school marketing plan do you think should be added to this list? Please comment below…