Have you heard about that age-old debate regarding schools? Whether they're a business or not? It was all the rage when I started at University in the UK... it was right when they were debating about raising tuition fees. I stand completely on the side of "yes it is". And especially when parents are (sometimes) paying through the nose to get their children the best education possible, you better deliver.
Seeing a school as a business is not detrimental to its providing of an education, in fact, I believe it strengthens it. If you think of providing education as a service, then everything you do needs to depend on the quality of service you can produce. Would adding a few extra students to a class impact the quality of teaching done by staff? Yes. Do we need to open a new class, then? How can we create the maximum impact while we are delivering this 'service' of education? Many schools are non-profit, and rightly so. But such schools should still be thinking in terms of of a business: we need to make sure we are breaking even/treading above water/staying in the black while we are offering our amazing services.
As you are essentially delivering a premium service, you have to make sure that you are acting as a business that is in the know. And how do you do that? By keeping up with what the rest of the world is doing. There is no use in turning a blind eye to trends and things that are actually working or that are becoming the norm.
Just a mere 10 years ago, marketing was expensive, and for schools, it wasn't even really necessary. Sure, if you had a glossy brochure it would make you look a bit better. But if you don't really have competition, or aren't really looking to expand, then you don't really need to market, right? Wrong. This is the 21st century where, in its nascence, we are already experiencing huge changes to the way people (especially youth) are interacting. You can't get by with "just a brochure" anymore. You have to be where the people are, and that is on Facebook.
Facebook has nearly half the world population on its network, and by far the highest number of daily active users (source). With young people spending up to 9 hours a day on social media, it's no wonder that you want to be where the action is.
Marketing today is no longer traditional. You don't want to be the ones that are purely selling, selling, selling. It no longer works. Remember the last time someone tried to blatantly sell you something? How did it make you feel? Agitated no doubt. Perhaps like they were invading your personal space? That's because we've become so numb to direct marketing that we don't respond to it anymore, and if we do, we do so negatively. We have to appeal to something deeper, and this is especially true with millennials.
Facebook isn't just a place to keep up with what friends are having for lunch, it's becoming much more. While we are inadvertently documenting our lives on Facebook, we are also looking for more connection. Maybe you want as many friends as possible to 'like' your latest achievement, or perhaps you're sharing a powerful video that your favorite charity has produced, hoping others will be deeply affected by it too. Or maybe you engage in a hearty political debate with a cousin of a friend's friend who happened to comment on the same Facebook post you did. In these actions, you are looking to someone to respond (preferably favorably) to you, thereby forging a connection.
Marketing and selling is no longer about selling the amazing product or service that you have. People, especially millennials, can smell your insensitivity a mile away. It's now about making a connection with the buyer, and making them emotionally attached to you. Why do you think that at the Superbowl this year most of the brands took a moral stand? Because morals make for good connections, making for loyalty. A few years ago, Starbucks was entangled in a tax evasion scandal, making them widely disliked in the UK. But this year, their stance on the controversial visa ban that the new President of the US has caused lots of people to become more loyal to their brand. When you buy from Starbucks, you know that your personal views align with theirs, making you happier and willing to spend more. Same goes for several other brands that have taken a similar political stance.
What Does This Have to do with Branding?
Branding is about getting people to like you, respond to you, and agree with you. Branding isn't 'hey I've got these great shoes' but 'we believe that everyone deserves a pair of shoes, don't you think?' (think Toms- they donate a pair of shoes to someone in need every time you buy one). What does this have to do with schools, though? As the world becomes smaller and smaller and more different options of schooling are made available, your school needs to stay ahead of the game. Not only do you need to create a space for your current students and parents to connect with you on their terms*, but you need to be aligning yourself to a set of beliefs (they don't always need to be political, don't worry) so that they are proud of being associated with you. And what do we mean by *on their terms? Well, you need to connect somewhere they feel comfortable. More and more, that is no longer in the physical sphere, but on social media. Go where the kids go, be where the cool kids are (and by cool kids, I mean all kids). And talk to them, like they have something to contribute, like you are there for them: not the other way around.
How Do You Brand?
Well, this is a lot less complicated than you might expect. It just takes some good planning and some expertise. There is so much that we could go into, but I'll give you the basics. Have a plan. Know what your school voice is, know what kind of information you want to be putting out there. Be creative in how you deliver your messages. Make sure you respond to every single comment! Make people realise that they're heard. There is so much that can be done with a school, it's so much fun!