6 steps to creating a solid school marketing plan
Have you got a marketing plan for your school, academy or education company?
Schools and language academies might be focused on education and making the world a better place, but when it comes to finding new students or clients, they are just like any other business. They need effective marketing campaigns to drive sales or applications.
As most schools have limited marketing budgets, they need to be strategic about allocating funds. A well-thought-out education marketing plan allows you to make the most of your resources, attract applicants and define your school’s overall business goals.
In this extensive guide, we’ll take you through the 6 essential steps for creating a successful school marketing plan.
We’ll start from zero and get to a place where you can start confidently implementing your own campaigns.
Let’s get right into it!
- Where are you now? Analysing the situation
- Where do you want to be? Setting goals
- How are you going to get there? Defining your strategy
- What tools and tactics will you use on the way? Preparing your marketing mix
- Who is going to do what and when? Taking action
- How are you going to measure it? Tracking your progress
1. Where are you now? Analysing the situation
When creating a school marketing plan, begin by analysing your school or academy’s current situation in the marketplace. If you’re going to improve your marketing and measure your progress, you need to know your starting point.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Who are you?
First, go back to the basics and think about what your organisation stands for:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- What are your values?
For example, if your school believes in collaboration, respect, creativity, innovation and excellence, your marketing campaigns should reflect these values.
This exercise will help you define your school’s brand identity and what makes you different from the competition – this is sometimes known as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or a differentiator. It’s an essential part of effective marketing communication, so keep it top of mind.
If your USP is that you’re the only school in your area providing enhanced English proficiency with bilingual teachers, you want to weave it into your messaging as part of a positioning statement (see below for how to write a positioning statement).
Who is your audience?
Secondly, you need to think about your audience. Who are they? What problems are they trying to solve?
The only way that you’ll be able to effectively communicate with your audience is if you know what their pain points are, how they consume content, what social media platforms they use, etc.
Depending on the type of school you work for, your audience may be the students themselves, or people who can influence their decision about which school to apply to (parents, career counsellors, etc).
To get to know your audience, you need to do some customer research. Here’s how:
- Interview your current students (or their parents) and ask them about the challenges they faced when looking for schools to apply to.
- Send surveys to your alumni and discover what made them choose your school over others.
- Talk to your admissions team and find out what are the most commonly asked questions by potential students.
- Find local forums and social media groups where parents talk about their experiences trying to find the best school for their kids.
Once you’ve gathered all that information, you’ll know enough about your target audience to create your buyer personas. These will be the basis of all your marketing communication, so refer back to them as often as you can.
Who are your competitors?
Thirdly, it’s not enough to know what you stand for and who your audience is. You also need to know your competitors.
Online marketing is an extremely competitive space. If you want your school to stand out, you need to know what you’re up against and do something better.
When doing your competitor analysis, answer the following questions:
- Who are your competitors?
- What are they offering?
- At what price point are they offering it?
- What are their USPs?
- What’s their online reputation?
- What marketing tactics do they use? For example, do they use paid ads? Are they active on social media?
Positioning statement for your school marketing plan
A positioning statement is a short text that shows what you do, who you do it for, why you exist as a brand and how you are different. It will help you gauge what it takes to market successfully in your space and outline your brand promise. It will also get you thinking about how your school or academy fits in the local ecosystem.
Here’s what to do:
Think about your customer profiles, what needs of theirs you fulfil, the services you provide and the benefits or value you give. At the same time, consider how you are different from other similar providers. Here are some pointers:
- Think about what you do more of than your competitors (e.g. more exam preparation)
- What you do less of (e.g. paper work)
- What you create (something no one else does)
- And what you don’t do at all (e.g. young learner classes)
Here’s a quick template:
We work with ____________ (buyer personas) who need to ____________ (their problem or challenge) because ____________ (their goals). Our ____________ (services you offer) helps them ____________ (the benefit and way it solves challenge or problem). In contrast to ____________ and ____________ and ____________, (competitor names) we ____________ (how you differentiate).
And a simple example:
We work with education marketing managers who need to write and produce more student-focused content because they want to increase relevant website traffic but have no time or resources to do so. Our content marketing services help them save time and offer value to their clients. In contrast to our local competitors, we have pedagogical expertise and focus on education providers.
Next, take the time to do a TOWS analysis to identify the Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses and Strengths that your school has.
Think of Threats and Opportunities as external to your organisation and Strengths and Weaknesses as internal.
Don’t just think about your school’s marketing: think about the business as a whole.
- What advantages do you have?
- What’s holding you back?
- What opportunities do you have?
- And what could ruin everything?
You’ll need to address each element of this matrix when putting together your school marketing plan, so it’s a good idea to get it out of the way in the first stage of planning.
As you’re thinking about your internal Strengths and Opportunities, consider the resources your business has and doesn’t have.
- How do your revenues and expenses compare to your competitors’?
- What capabilities does your team have and what is it lacking?
- What training needs do you have in order to reach your marketing goals?
- Do you have the expertise required for the campaigns you have planned in-house, or do you need to outsource?
- What’s the state of the economy right now and how will it affect your marketing efforts?
Online marketing analysis
Finally, it’s essential to assess how your marketing initiatives are performing now, before you attempt to improve them.
- What has worked well and what hasn’t?
- Which marketing channels have brought you the most leads?
- Which campaigns?
- What do you need to do more of, and what’s not worth it?
This information will help you spot areas that need improvement and give you ideas on how to optimise what you’re doing. Once you’ve done this, you can move onto the second stage.
2. Where do you want to be? Setting goals for your school marketing plan
This is where it gets exciting. In the second stage, you get to decide on the objectives for your school marketing plan. The best way to do this is by setting SMART goals.
You’ve probably already heard about SMART goals, but it can’t hurt to go over them again.
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. They not only keep you accountable but they also help you create marketing campaigns that support your overall business goals.
Here are the questions to ask when setting SMART goals:
- Specific: What exactly do you want to achieve?
- Measurable: How will you know you are on track?
- Attainable: Can you achieve the results you want with your current team and resources?
- Relevant: Does your objective align with your overarching business aims/vision?
- Time-bound: By when do you need to complete it in order to be successful?
And here are a few of examples of SMART goals:
- Double your mailing list by the end of the quarter.
- Add 150 new leads to your CRM each month.
- Increase organic traffic to your website by 15% before the end of the year.
- Increase your average ranking position for 2 relevant bottom-of-the-funnel keywords per month.
- Grow your Facebook engagement rate by 20% in 3 months.
As you can see, these goals already imply what marketing channels you’re going to be focusing on. Good thing you’ve already identified your top-performing channels in the first step!
When setting goals, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of setting goals that are really just tasks. For example, “send 4 newsletters a month” is not a good goal. It describes what you’re going to do instead of what you want to achieve – and that’s what we’ll talk about next.
3. How are you going to get there? Defining your strategy
Your strategy is a roadmap to follow to arrive at your goals. For now, all you need to do is create an overview – you don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty details. That can wait until the next stage.
But there’s one crucial step in building a successful school marketing plan that you can’t skip: customer segmentation.
Segmenting your customers
Treating all your customers the same way is not the best way to approach your school marketing strategy. Not everyone you’re targeting is exactly alike. You may have several different groups of target customers who respond to different messaging, different types of content and call-to-actions.
While you probably already do advertise to different groups, your messaging will be clearer and more effective if you take the time to define your targets first.
This is what segmentation is all about. It will help you target each of those groups separately and properly position your service in a more personalised way.
So how do you segment your audience?
First, identify on what basis you’re going to segment your customers. A good way to do this is by looking at your buyer personas – which you created in stage one.
- Segment your audience based on which customer avatar they align with. For example, a language school could have a number of segments: adult learners, business English students (HR managers), local students, online students, exam candidates, the parents of teenage learners, and the parents of young learners, etc.
- Further segment these groups by looking at which stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in. For example, an adult learner who’s aware that they need to improve their English but hasn’t decided how will need to be treated differently than one who’s actively shopping around for language schools. The former is in the awareness stage, while the latter is further down the funnel, in the consideration stage:
Customer segmentation helps you in all areas of your marketing; from targeting ads and offers, to writing blogs for a specific audience, to social media content and email marketing.
In email marketing specifically, you are in complete control of who gets what message. All you have to do is sort your email subscribers into segments and target them separately with messages that are relevant to them. You should address their main concerns, focusing on their priorities and highlighting the particular benefits of your school for them.
Of course, for customer segmentation to work, you need to have enough information about your customers to sort them into groups. Here’s how to get it.
Gathering data for customer segmentation
The best and most GDPR-friendly way to collect data is simply by designing clever signup forms. When customers subscribe to your newsletter, download a brochure, register for an online open day, watch a webinar or request an application, they type their details into some kind of digital form. This is called lead generation.
Using signup forms, you can get leads to give you all sorts of details about themselves, including their names, email addresses, why they’re interested in downloading/signing up, where they heard about your school, and more.
The sky’s the limit – if your customers feel like what they’re getting is worth it (for example, it’s valuable content) you can get any information you want from them, with their full consent. Then, you can use this data to create customer segments.
4. What tools and tactics will you use in your school marketing plan? Preparing your marketing mix
In this stage, you’re going to roll your sleeves up and get deeper into the details of your school marketing strategy.
- What tools and tactics are you going to use to reach your goals?
- Which marketing channels will you focus on?
- What campaigns are you going to run on those channels?
The information you’ve compiled so far in the previous steps should be of great help here. All you need to do is put all of that together.
Here’s what you already know:
- Your objectives
- Your competitors’ weaknesses
- Your opportunities
- Your audience (buyer personas and customer segments)
- What has worked well in the past and what hasn’t
And here’s what you need to do now:
- Think about each marketing channel you’re active on and decide whether you’re going to keep up your activity, tone it down or dial it up.
- Think about channels that you’re not using and identify the ones that you want to add to your marketing mix.
- Map each channel to the relevant buyer personas. For example, if one of your buyer personas is a Millennial, they’re likely to use Instagram. But if the other one is a Baby Boomer, they might prefer email or Facebook.
- Come up with the tactics you’ll use on each channel and align them with your goals. Scrap all ideas that don’t serve your objectives.
- Consider your budget and prioritise campaigns that are most likely to bring a good return on investment (ROI).
If you need more help to answer the above questions, consider the 4 P’s of the marketing mix:
- How does your product/service solve customer problems?
- How can your product/service be upsold?
- To what degree is it scalable?
- What short, medium or long term benefits does it have for your customer?
- How important is branding to your product or service?
- How are you differentiating?
- What tools can you use to help you do this?
- Where is it available?
- How do customers interact with your business?
- How visible is your business online/offline?
- What social media channels are you using?
- Do you require a sales team?
- What tools can you use to help you do this?
- How does it compare to the competition?
- What is the customer perception of value?
- Is price sensitivity an issue?
- What is your pricing strategy?
- What tools can you use to help you do this?
- Will you produce regular content?
- How will you connect the message with market: Who, when, where
- What are your online/offline marketing channels?
- Will you run offline events?
- How will you balance organic, WOM and paid ads?
- Will you have a referral scheme?
- Will you offer rewards/loyalty?
- What tools can you use to help you do this?
We’ve created a questionnaire that you can fill out to help you organise your thoughts. You can find it here – just make a copy of the document and fill in your answers.
Now, you should arrive at a list of tactics that looks something like this:
|Drive traffic to website
|Posts every 3 days
|Persona C + D
|Drive traffic to website
|Weekly blog post
|Persona A, B, C + D
|Drive traffic to website and encourage brochure downloads
|Persona C + D
|Drive traffic to landing page and encourage brochure downloads
Instead of using a generic alias like Persona A or Person B, try giving your buyer personas names so they feel more like a real person. This will help you relate to their pain points more easily.
5. Who is going to do what and when? Taking action
Once you’ve put together your content calendar, it’s time to assign concrete tasks to your team members and start taking action.
In the previous step, you created a list of tactics broken down by channel. Now, you can start thinking about the individual pieces of content you’re going to create.
For this, we recommend putting together a content calendar. Planning out your posts ahead of publication will help you stay consistent and approach your education marketing plan methodically. It will help you be more organised and provide you with content ideas for days when you’re not feeling particularly creative.
Here are 7 steps to creating an effective education content calendar:
- Choose the format. Decide what platform you want to use depending on your team’s needs, whether it’s a simple Google sheet or a more complex tool like Notion, Trello or Monday.com
- Plan ahead. Get key dates in your calendar – such as holidays and school events – so you can create specific content for them. Always keep your buyer personas in mind: what would students (or parents) be interested in to hear about on a particular day?
- Batch your content. Save time by writing social media posts in batches. If you take a day to write three months’ worth of content in one go, your future self will thank you.
- Engage with your team. You don’t have to come up with all your content ideas yourself: talk to your teammates and get inspired by them. Seek out those colleagues who talk to students or potential students the most: they’ll have the most insight into what might interest them.
- Figure out the rule of thirds. To keep your audience engaged, it’s important to keep your content varied. When writing for social media, the ideal content ratio is: ⅓ educational or inspiring posts that add lots of value to your audience, ⅓ posts to promote your school, ⅓ posts sharing articles, ideas and content from others (for example, your teachers or organisations you collaborate with).
- Create a content library. This should be a place where you store your blog articles, images, case studies, videos, ideas and topics in an organised way. These types of content can be tweaked and shared on various channels, so it’s good to have them at arm’s length.
- Repurpose your content. While too much copy-and-pasting can turn off your audience, tweaking your content to make it appropriate for specific channels and reusing it in a way that adds value to your audience is a great strategy. Include some ideas in your content calendar that are creative uses of content you already have.
Come up with specific content ideas for at least the upcoming four weeks, and attach briefs to your content calendar for topics that call for complex instructions.
Assign tasks to your team members, making sure that everyone has a manageable workload, and repeat this process every month.
6. How are you going to measure the success of your school marketing plan? Tracking your progress
Measuring the success of your school marketing campaigns is essential. It’s the only way to know whether your activities are worth the effort you put into them, notice cracks in your strategy and find areas where you need to improve.
The best way to track progress is by using content marketing KPIs.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are values that measure how effective certain processes are at achieving your most important goals. They are indicators of progress towards an intended result.
It’s up to you and your team to decide what KPIs you should measure. You should base them on the SMART objectives you set in stage 2.
A few examples of education marketing KPIs would be:
- Get X organic website sessions per month
- Get X click-throughs from social media per month
- Receive X admissions inquiries per month
- Receive X applicants per month
- Achieve an ROI of X per quarter (revenue generated from marketing compared to marketing spend)
Instead of trying to keep track of everything in your head or a messy Google Doc, make sure you set up monthly monitoring dashboards for your KPIs.
The tools that you can use for reporting include:
- Google Analytics to report on website traffic
- Google Search Console to report on keyword rankings and other search performance metrics
- Hootsuite or Socialbakers to report on social media analytics (these are paid tools but you can also use the free native analytics tools of each social media platform)
If at the end of the month you didn’t manage to hit your KPIs, there are two things you can do.
First, think about whether your KPIs are actually attainable with the tools and resources at your disposal. If you set the bar too high, you will keep failing and it’s not going to help you improve your content marketing strategy or reach your goals.
Second, try to pinpoint the areas where you could do better, and optimise your strategy to make sure you do hit your target next month.
Of course, none of this is simple or easy. But if you follow the framework above, you’ll be able to devise a school marketing plan that actually works.
And, if you need help, feel free to reach out to us! We’d be happy to take some – or all – of this work off your shoulders.