When I began my career in 2002, the world of marketing and communications was vastly different than it is today. Back then, we sent out information about our schools into the greater world and waited for someone to come to us. We relied on snail mail and phone calls as our primary sources of contact, followed by email. Advertising was done mainly in print and on radio. Social media didn’t exist, cell phones were just phones and they weren’t a necessity to have, watches were simply a way to tell time, we didn’t communicate 24/7, text messages weren’t a normal mode of communication and email wasn’t regulated by the government. If someone asked if you had tried the latest app, you would assume they were talking about food.
But things have changed. Today’s world is much more sophisticated than it was at the turn of the century, and marketing best practices change almost daily in order to meet the growing needs of an increasingly savvy and sophisticated marketplace. Cell phones are now mini computers and our lifelines to the world. We rely on apps to live our daily lives, and our watches are now extensions of our computers and phones. There are more than 200 social media outlets to choose from, and we communicate through snail mail, email, portal messages, push notifications, text messages, and social media touches.
We don’t just send static information out to the masses and wait for someone to come to us anymore either. We now need to create calculated communication and marketing strategies designed to find specific target audiences based on their digital behaviors, attract them to our schools, and nurture them until they convert into inquiries for admission and donations for development. This is what we call inbound marketing, a term that in today’s competitive market, you need to know, understand and embrace.
As Cheshire Academy’s Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications, it’s my job to figure out how to make my school’s message heard loud and clear through all the noise that is modern life. I am fortunate to have a team to go into battle with me, but not every director is as lucky. Some directors are juggling the duties of three, four, and even five marketing experts. We need to better educate our internal school communities on the importance of modern marketing techniques and clearly explain the value.
Schools, and heads of schools, in particular, have to change the ways in which we operate our marketing and communications offices. Let’s be honest, if I ran my department the same way I did nearly 15 years ago, I’d be fired. Instead of developing a marketing and communications strategy that is driven by the wants of the institution, they must address the needs of our customer.
At Cheshire Academy, the Strategic Marketing & Communications team develops marketing strategies and implements industry best practices. We discuss inbound marketing techniques, develop customer personas, and brainstorm about how to reach these new target audiences, nurture leads and convert them into customers. We evaluate the user experience and customer satisfaction. We talk about our school like it is a business.
The truth is, school is a business. I see the grimaces I get every time I use the term customers to describe our constituents. But if my team and I don’t think about the business of education, our school will lose out on paying customers and the teachers won’t have full classrooms.
Schools face an incredibly difficult challenge today. We need to convince a frugal and savvy marketplace to forgo a product they already pay for (public school paid for by taxes), and instead opt for an expensive product that requires a significant annual investment, for a total of four years. And, schools must convince these potential customers to do this, fully knowing that they will likely then purchase the next model (college) at an even larger price tag for another four years. We are asking families to invest in a product that we call, education.