To anyone who visits a school at this time of year and spends a few minutes at the reception, the thought that schools need to market themselves seems laughable! Inside are anxious parents- a smartly-dressed father wiping his worried brow, a mother silently chanting a mantra, both fervently hoping that their child gets Admission. Surely schools are in a “sellers’ market”… able to choose which kids they want, what price to charge, and what facilities to offer?
Most school Managements, however, know that this is far from the truth! Yes, a few schools right now have the luxury of a long waiting-list, but the rest are battling to fill their capacity!
There are three reasons for this new dynamic. Firstly, many new schools are mushrooming in every locality. This is as a result of both Government plans to expand number of schools as well as the accelerating investment from private entrepreneurs who are starting either single schools or chains of schools. These schools are catering to every price point - from “dollar-matched” international schools to affordable private schools to free Govt schools. This phenomenon will lead to the need for each school to compete strongly to achieve it’s goals- else it will face progressive decline and the prospect of shutting down.
Secondly, at each price-point, the difference between schools in terms of facilities is going to narrow, whether it is computers or labs. This will result in schools needing to look at other ways to differentiate themselves. at each price point.
Thirdly, parents are going to be increasingly choosy and will have the information to exercise that choice more selectively. School-rating systems are coming quickly and soon we will see performance data of all schools in a neighbourhood being published regularly. With this kind of power, the pendulum will shift away from schools more to parents who will ask questions and “shop” around much more extensively to decide where they are going to put their children.
So how should school Managements be proactive in this situation and come out ahead? For a school to “win” the battle of the parents’ minds, the Management needs to understand and follow some of the basic principles of Marketing.
The first is to understand your consumer…in the case of the school - the parents- so as to accurately decide which segment to focus on. This is critical because if a school wants to be everything to every parent, it will never be able to establish a clear identity. More importantly, resources will get spent in several directions, often in a confused way, leading to nothing more than a parity school-rating.
The second step is to position the school so clearly that the parent knows exactly what this school stands for and why it is different from any other school in the area. Better academic results or school infrastructure will not be enough. The quality of teaching-learning and the student-experience clearly will be an increasingly important area of differentiation. This will require far more intensive focus on teacher-training, as well as on systems and processes of the school that can give it a distinct edge.
The third step for the school is communicating its distinctive position much more consistently. This is an area where a number of school managements are struggling now. When they look to build their enrollment, they almost blindly start “advertising” in the Jan-March admissions season, using fliers, hoardings, and other media with very stereotype colourful messages that say nothing new!
The fact is that the most important vehicle for communicating the school’s promise is childrens’ parents, themselves. They are unequivocally the best ambassadors of a school and have a huge say in future admissions. Unfortunately, school Managements don’t engage with parents enough…Parent-Teacher-Associations (PTAs) are even discouraged as a potential nuisance! Schools need to understand how to convert parents to being strong advocates! They need to believe in the school vision and they need to know how to get that message across to other parents. The processes are simple and cost-effective, but need be systematized and need unrelenting persistence.
Having truly won-over and mobilized the current parents, the next step is to reach out to new prospective parents. Media can play a role, but other ways like holding small information sessions in localities and participating at local fairs would be more productive. When conducted through the year, not just at the admissions’ season-this would work wonders to dramatically improve the schools success-rate!
Marketing will increasingly become important for any school to achieve its objectives. Done properly, it will also enrich the school with a much closer connect with its key stakeholders - parents, and lead to a much better experience for its children!
Reposted from Economic Times [Guest Column, March 20, 2010] | Written by Prakash Nedungadi, Director, Development at TTF.