Devdeep Guha is a senior marketing professional based in Dubai, UAE having strong experience in K-12 International School sector. He has successfully lead brand re-positioning, advertising and communication functions in leading K-12 international educational organizations in Dubai. He is recognised for implementing digital marketing strategy and running end to end digital campaigns alongside offline marketing functions to create winning strategies. In his previous role with a leading K-12 school organization in Dubai, he is credited with successful set-up of offline and online marketing functions from scratch and evolving the institution into a sought after brand. His other competencies include inspiring and mentoring multicultural team members into delivering exceptional outcomes. In his professional journey, while working with advertising companies, Devdeep has been fortunate to be associated with iconic brands in UAE. In this article, he shares his insights on a broad range of marketing tasks, which with coordinated planning can bring about transformational changes in an organisation.
Technology today has revamped and introduced fresh opportunities in business as well as education. With competition soaring high in the academic field, many charter schools as well as for-profit institutions are strategizing marketing plans to build awareness for their school.
Schools with well-established marketing strategies have a monopoly which might seem insurmountable for institutions that have not adapted to the growing need for better marketing. A study by RNL found that the median cost of recruiting an undergraduate student in a private institution was $2,114 in 2020. With a successful marketing plan, academic institutions can become competitive with the best in the business.
Creating a Marketing Plan:
It all starts with a marketing plan. Although, there might be a generational difference in students and parents being targeted today, and technology has opened up new marketing channels, the essence of education marketing has remained, more or less, the same. Education marketing is all about community engagement, student enrollment, and sharing your brand values with your audience. How you engage with the community, what you offer your students, and the values that permeate the academic environment you provide are all part of brand experience and brand positioning.
Before going onto the specifics, you need to establish some marketing objectives on which you will build your brand.
The first thing you need to ascertain is towards whom this marketing strategy is aimed. Is it the educators, administrators, the parents, or the students? If you are a public institution, you would want to appeal to administrators, while also focusing on the students and parents because ultimately the number of enrollments will drive your funding.
From there on, the most obvious goal is to set a target as to the number of student enrollments you want to achieve. However, the marketing objectives will typically contend with more than merely an increase in enrollment. You will position your brand in such a way as to achieve those goals.
You will need to target a niche or target a specific audience in order for your brand to stand out. Your brand can, for instance, target expats and offer exceptional language courses to help bilingual students.
K-12 education precludes some marketing opportunities that are more prevalent in marketing for higher education programs. In higher education programs, the students have a lot more say and setting up students for high-paying careers through partnerships and internship programs have a significant role. By comparison, K-12 education is targeted more towards parents, while also keeping students in mind.
When creating a marketing plan targeting parents, we need to keep in mind the demographic. The new generation of parents looking to enroll their children in K-12 programs have grown up with an ever-increasing influence of technology. Millennial parents rely much more on technology to inform their decisions than the more traditional means in the past, meaning that digital marketing has an integral role in any marketing strategy.
The study done by RNL indicated a predicted 65% increase in activity allocation of web services and digital advertising in private institutions and 48% increase in public institutions. Meanwhile, respondents predicted a 26% decrease in the activity of traditional advertising.
Whatever niche you choose in the education market, your brand will always have competitors. You need to position your brand as a leader amongst your chosen niche so as to entice students and parents to choose your institute over another. There are a host of things you can be a leader from price to extracurricular programs to technological facilities.
Create Appropriate Personas:
You will need to create personas for the parents and students you are targeting. An educational institution does not cater to one specific kind of parent. You will need different personas for different sections of the target demographic. For instance, you might need to have a separate persona for an international family and another one for a local family. You can use polling and surveying to get a better sense of your target audience in order to create realistic personas that yield positive results. Your marketing efforts will always keep these personas in mind, for instance, if you are creating text content, you will need to consider how the parent personas will receive the content.
Create Relevant KPIs:
Increasing enrollment numbers is a very general goal. In order to facilitate growth, you need to consider some KPIs that can be addressed in a more actionable way. These KPIs include CTA conversion rates, the contribution of traffic sources, and social media engagement. The traffic sources can vary and will give you a clear idea of what is working and what is not.
Call to action conversion rates will inform you about the number of website visitors and how they are funneled into conversions. If the former number is low, you can try to improve the SEO of your website to increase organic visitors, if the latter is low, you will need to create a more effective call to action strategy. Therefore, KPIs give you a more actionable metric to put your efforts into.
Social media engagement can be affected in various ways. Some universities have created individual pages for each department. However, in K-12 education marketing, this might not be viable, and social media marketing, in general, might play less of a role.
The brand experience is built on a number of marketing factors such as brand playbook, digital and social media management, public relations and influencer marketing, events, and direct marketing and tactical campaigns.
When you are creating content for your target audience, you need to maintain a consistent brand image. This is not only true for branding on correspondence and letterheads but is also true for the type of language you use in any online social media post. The content should always reflect your brand image. This can even include color schemes such as those used consistently by major social media networks. These brand traits are what we call the brand playbook.
Digital and Social Media Marketing:
You might want to start with rebuilding your website to be consistent with your brand experience. General marketing strategies are, needless to say, still pertinent. If your website is not mobile-friendly, for instance, it will have as negative an impact as if it is not consistent with your branding.
Speaking of consistency, you might want to improve your search engine strategy to have a strong online presence. You might focus on strong local SEO with consistent structured data and positive reviews for rich results. You might also want to explore the PPC ad pipeline and crunch the numbers to create an effective digital ad campaign.
Keeping your target audience in mind, you can also expand your online presence to include social media management. The posts and engagements will also be reflective of your brand experience. Social media engagement is more prevalent among Gen Z and can be used to share academic experiences relevant to them in order to let them know what to expect.
Public Relations and Influencer Marketing:
Public relations play a vital role in determining how your brand is viewed publicly and can be used to advise you on how to approach interactions with the community. The advice of a PR team can be taken and put into actionable objectives such as arranging community events, giving press releases, and arranging for promotional content to be produced.
This can also inform an institution on the type of influencers to associate with. Influencer marketing brings to mind popular content creators, social media figures, and streamers. However, students, alumni, and professors can act as influencers for your institution. Your current students can be encouraged to share their experiences and these can be recorded online, published in student blogs, or even used in school newsletters. Similarly, alumni can be inspirational and share how the institution shaped them into successful individuals later on in life.
School events are an excellent way to interact with the community and showcase your brand experience. Events can be wide-ranging and serve a variety of purposes. Open houses can offer parents an opportunity to witness first-hand the values and principles embodied in your scheduled academic activities. Workshops can showcase what students can learn from your institution in both academic as well as non-academic settings. This can be appealing to both students and parents alike. Inter-school competitions and events can highlight the capabilities of your institution and can bring a lot of public attention.
Direct Marketing or Tactical Campaigns:
Through lead generation or otherwise, direct marketing strategies can be employed to engage the audience directly. This can be through advertisements through digital or traditional means, email correspondence, text messages, and any number of ways.
In addition, you can put tactical campaigns into effect to bolster any weak areas in your marketing strategy or to keep your marketing efforts going in the right direction.
While executing marketing strategies is well and good, you also need to keep track of the efficacy of your marketing campaigns. Of course, you can do this by surveying or polling the target audience but modern methods can give you exact numbers. By employing digital tools, you can track your lead through impression, conversion, and finally, enrollment. Having exact numbers before you can give you a good idea of exactly what needs attention. It will also be highly valuable to centralize your marketing reporting so that resources can be allocated where needed without the institution becoming complacent.