The Charter school consortium sponsored by the Youth Coordinating Board, dedicates its first newsletter to marketing. Many of us like don’t like to think of ourselves as marketers—we’re educators for goodness sake's, that's why we’re here working so hard for kids in our schools. Often, focused work on marketing efforts takes the backseat to most everything else.
But it’s those students and their families that keep your schools in business. And all those students and families who benefit from your unique mission have to be able to find you, understand how great you are, and be able to enroll for school without too much trouble. Right?
And that’s marketing.
You need to:
1. Have a good (and clear!) story about who your school is.
2. Tell that story to the right people, at the right time, in the right way so people can sign up for what you have--that they need.
3. Repeat. Over, and over and over again. It’s really kind of simple, and very important.
This newsletter is dedicated to some simple ideas and tips that you can put into place quickly and easily on your own, or with the help of a consultant, that will help people understand what your school is all about and why it might be a good fit for them.
Have you ever read a school mission statement and felt like, huh, what does that mean? Words like: transformation, preparation, future, and transparency. What do those look like exactly? Do you picture a classroom, a hallway, a student?
A great branding and communications leader online, Donald Miller at StoryBrand has a brilliant process for figuring out your brand or story—though his training is very expensive to go through, the principles are pretty simple to explain. If you use these principles to probe how your school is unique, it can make a real difference to how you connect with people.
The Storybrand idea:
1. First of all there’s a character—that’s your parent (or student) and they want something. This is probably something like: they want their child to get a good education, they want a safe alternative to a neighborhood school, they want a specialty program (arts, language immersion, science and math, etc.) and other things. Take some time to understand what most of your families want and need from your school and speak directly to that.
2. Your character has a problem. This problem is something like: I don’t know what my options are, this is so confusing, my student hasn’t been successful in school, etc.
3. This character meets a guide. Here’s the important aha you need to have for this to work—you, your school solution is the guide, not the character. You don’t want to be talking about yourself, you want to be sharing how what you know or offer solves their problem (almost nobody does this!).
4. So then this guide—that’s you—gives them a plan, something like: here’s what you can do to understand how we can meet your needs, come check out our school, I’ll show you around, we’ll talk to some students, parents, teachers, you’re going to love it so much, you’ll enroll, etc., etc.
5. Then, everything you send out or communicate should have a strong call to action—what do you want your character to do, right now, and if you do it, it will lead to this success, and if you don’t, you are looking at this potential failure. Don’t forget to give people a very easy next step—that action.
So for most organizations, this basically means getting yourself out of the main role, and communicating that who you are and what you do solves your audience’s very important problem.
OK, so now you've gone to all that hard work of honing your message, and you've got a great story that's easy to share and spread. Everyone knows word-of-mouth is the single best way to reach new people. The thing about positive word-of-mouth marketing is that someone your audience knows/likes/trusts is telling them about your school. People are much more likely to believe something from someone they know.
All you schools have your people, the ones that love you and want to tell other people about you. Do you give them the tools they need to do it and make it easy for them to share? A good, simple story (read above) is critical, but people also need things to pass out or forward, so when your parent talks to someone, and that person goes back about their business and life, the card, brochure, email, website forward, reminds them of this important thing: your school and how it solves their problem.
Whether it’s a simple card (picture business card with snappy messages), a brochure, a postcard, or a well-done pdf you can forward or print, your word-of-mouth evangelizers need something to share (and keeps them on point, maybe, too).
With simple tools in the hands of your staff, parents and students, they can spread the word about how great you are.
Maybe you’re one of these people, where the only thing scarier than the word marketing, might be tacking on the words social media to your marketing. Who has time to manage Facebook pages and posts, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and who knows what’s next? And then there’s your website….
But social media and the internet is where things happen—where people search, learn, share, complain—everything—and you are either there or you aren’t. Here are some ways to dedicate some energy to social media that will keep it as simple as possible:
1. Create a monthly editorial calendar theme—example, September, back to school, October, connect with teachers (conferences), November gratitude … then think of a weekly student, staff, feature, testimonial that kind of fits that theme, then add an event or school news—feature one of these things weekly (more if you’re inclined).
2. Put your theme, and some of those key events you already know in a special google calendar called “Marketing” and before you know it you could have a years worth of posts, ask some of your teachers or families to take one of the stories, take some photos, share the calendar with staff.
3. Use your website as your base, and automate social media on your website. Post your news on your site, and it automatically posts to your social accounts, too.