23 Apr Your School Strategic Marketing Plan Guide
Lead Your Independent School to Smarter Marketing and Clearer Communications
A strategic marketing plan is an essential component for any organization—and academia is no exception. Having a comprehensive, data-driven plan in place will not only help you effectively allocate your resources, but also empower you with the information you need to make important decisions to maximize your marketing spend and benefit your institution as a whole.
That being said, putting one of these together is no small feat—and we’re guessing that may be why you’re here. If you don’t have a marketing plan in place, or are simply frustrated with addressing superfluous requests from board members, donors or other stakeholders, not to worry. We’re here to provide you with the tools you need to construct a winning marketing plan that will also serve as a roadmap for your success.
Should We Call It ‘Marketing?’
Before we jump into the specifics of a strategic marketing plan, let’s take a second to address what exactly we mean by marketing, and how we deal with this concept in the academic realm. Often, schools will maintain that the word ‘marketing’ carries an inherently negative connotation, particularly when used to describe revenue-generating activities at a private academic institution.
We could give an exhaustive explanation to why marketing is not a naughty word (even when uttered in the hallways of schools), but just as we’ll recommend to you, we won’t spend time trying to reverse this preconceived notion. If this is something you’re experiencing at your private institution, simply refer to your strategic marketing plan as something else—admissions plan, enrollment strategy or enrollment growth are all viable alternatives.
A Strategic Marketing Plan is Livelier Than It Sounds
If the phrase ‘strategic marketing plan’ evokes the image of a binder-clipped document tucked away in a filing cabinet, we’re talking about two entirely different things here. When we refer to a strategic marketing plan, we’re talking about an invaluable resource that you will reference on a daily basis. Here are a few use cases illustrating why this document is so important.
With a strategic marketing plan, you can respond to the myriad requests you inevitably face from parents and stakeholders by providing data to support your decisions. This is especially helpful when it comes to the second cousin who runs a radio station and can give great advertising deals, so-and-so’s father who works in marketing, and other superfluous detours.
You only have so much time and money, and if you don’t know what’s working, you’re not going to be able to effectively budget for the following year. As a steward of tuition and donor dollars, you need to be sure you’re allocating your resources as effectively as possible.
Focus Your Efforts
A strategic marketing plan will allow you to tailor your resources to target your ideal fit. If you know exactly who you’re targeting, you can determine on a case-by-case basis whether an opportunity is worth pursuing.
Empower the ‘Nope’
This one is exactly how it sounds. A strategic marketing plan will empower you with the information, context and authority to say no—respectfully, of course—and refocus your time, energy and budget on productive initiatives. No more getting side-tracked.
Do You Have What You Need to Build an Effective Strategic Marketing Plan for Your School?
Before you embark on this journey, you need to first determine whether you have all of the components you need to build an effective marketing plan. Some of these are things you know—numbers, target demographics and your key differentiators—while others rely on support from your leadership team. Here’s what you need to get started:
Buy-In from the Top Down
Do you have the budget, resources and support to make this work? You will need budget and a lot of support, especially after the document is created. Can you be sure the plan will be used and not shoved in a filing cabinet?
Know Who You Are
If you don’t, then how are you going to convey what makes you so unique? Try the car test: go around the room and ask school leadership to identify what kind of car they think your school is. If they have vastly different responses, something is off in terms of your identity or messaging.
Know Your Numbers
Strategic growth decisions require the data to support them. From maximum capacity to geographic distribution of your students, a thorough understanding of your numbers will enable to you to identify trends and align your marketing efforts with the needs of your academic community.
Know Your Ideal Student
Be specific, and consider creating personas. Do you have a top-ranking athletics program that would be especially appealing to students with a passion for sports? This comes in handy when writing any kind of content, from the course catalog to a social media post. When you’re crafting your content, you want to ensure you’re speaking the language of the students and parents who will appreciate your school’s ethos.
What’s in a Strategic Marketing Plan?
A marketing plan is an inherently robust aggregation of data and analysis, which means there’s a lot that goes into it. And while the format may vary slightly by sector, the sections below are universal and should certainly be included in your school’s strategic marketing plan.
- Executive Summary
Essentially a bulleted overview of your entire marketing plan, the executive summary should clearly define your goals and outline how you’re going to achieve them. It’s important to be specific here, as this will likely be the only section of your marketing plan your leadership team reviews.
- Situational Analysis (SWOT)
This section is a deep dive into your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), providing the framework for your entire marketing plan. With schools in particular, it is critical that we understand what’s happening in the community, as this is the foundation upon which we will need to structure our outreach.
- Demographic Analysis
Of equal importance to your situational analysis is an understanding of your demographics, as this enables you to develop a strategic one to three-year plan based on the projected percentage increase or decrease of school age children in your draw area.
- Customer Analysis
Here’s where we start to get into more of the personal side of marketing. Why wouldn’t a parent want to send his or her child to your school? This can be anything from perceived costs to lack of after school care. Try to think like a parent here.
- Competitor Analysis
Students (and their parents) have choices when it comes to their academic careers, and you need to know them well. How are you different from other schools in the area, both public and private? This will help you understand who you are and who you’re attracting.
- Positioning Strategy
The positioning strategy is your opportunity to bridge the gap between how the community perceives you and how you want to be perceived. Make it crystal clear who you are, what you stand for and why you exist—then shout it from the rooftops! (Or integrate it into a fantastic new slogan.)
- Marketing Mix
Take a good look at your offerings. What’s missing? Are your fees too high or too low? Should you invest in a summer program? This is the time to determine where you should spend your energy in the four ‘Ps’ of marketing: price, product, promotion and place.
- Advertising Strategy
Now, the fun starts. Once you’ve locked down your positioning strategy, you can start to determine where, when and how you’ll bring your message to the real world. And with a firm understanding of your numbers and resources, you can be confident you’re spending money where you’re likely to get the most inquiries.
- Project Plan Summaries
Once you’ve gained a thorough understanding of where you are and where you want to be, it’s time to determine how you’re going to get there. List out your pain points and brainstorm with your faculty. Trust us—you may be surprised by what you hear.
A Step-by-Step Guide
For anyone who thinks a strategic marketing plan is easy, we’re sorry to say that could not be further from the truth (that is, if we haven’t convinced you of this already). It’s a tough process, but one that will benefit you as a leader and drive measurable results for your independent institution.
To help you through the process, we’ve created a free 30-minute, on-demand webinar giving further insight into the steps outlined above. As an added benefit, we are providing a complimentary sample marketing plan, along with presentation templates and a one-on-one consultative review of your data and resources to outline a strategy that advances your specific institutional objectives. Simply follow the link below to get started. (And take a deep breath—we’re here to help!)