5 Marketing Strategies for Schools in the Age of School Choice

If you build it, they will come.

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School choice has some major implications for school leaders. It allows families to opt out of their neighborhood school in favor of a more desirable intradistrict choice. 35 states have policies in place that allow this form of public school choice. The kicker: State funds follow students, so schools must now market themselves to ensure appropriate enrollment. For admins with little marketing experience, this may seem like an insurmountable challenge. As a school leader, you have something in common with the parents in your district: You both want what’s best for the kids. You know your school has so much to offer, but what’s the best way to communicate that message? Read on to learn school marketing strategies that can help.

1. Develop your school’s niche.

When you’re starting out, it can be helpful to think of your school as a business. Imagine the other schools in your district as your competitors and the local parents as your target audience.

Of course, actual businesses have the luxury of hefty marketing budgets. They have the means to hire employees or consultants whose only job is to conduct market and audience research, build personas, and craft creative brand messaging. Schools are working with a shoestring budget and juggling other competing priorities. Don’t let this ruffle you.

As a school leader, you have an advantage. You already know your student population and their families and understand their challenges and goals. To dig deeper, use SurveyMonkey or Google Forms to build a poll that provides even more insight into their motivations and fears.

Often, low-income parents want their kids to go to college but don’t know to make this happen. These parents might gravitate toward a school that offers AP classes or dual enrollment. If safety is a top concern among your parent population, they might jump at the chance to send their students to a school offering a strict conduct or dress code.

You’ll market your ability to leverage your niche to help families overcome obstacles and achieve success—whether that’s getting into an Ivy or staying off the streets.

2. Build your school brand.

Let’s pretend you’ve chosen your niche: your gifted education program. However, there’s another school in your district with a similar program. Now you must convince families your school is the best choice. This is where branding comes in.

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” Why do some people prefer Coke while others prefer Pepsi? It might not be as much about the taste as it is about the branding. Look at Coca-Cola’s use of Santa and polar bears in their ads. Consumers see that and associate the brand with positive words like “joy” and “sharing.”

Think about the families you’re trying to attract. What do they value most? How do your positive attributes align with their needs? If you can demonstrate how your mission supports their goals, you have the building blocks of trust and loyalty.

3. Communicate through content.

Want to brand your school and its gifted program as supportive and challenging? Convey that by sharing student transformation and success stories. Every piece of content you post must be on brand to avoid watered-down messaging. Make logos, fonts, imagery, and slogans consistent across channels and optimize your website for search.

If you’re trying to spread awareness about your program, try blogging about it or filming an educational video. Keep your content informative and focus on presenting solutions to the challenges your families face. Don’t try to sell them on choosing your school just yet, you need to build up to that. End each blog post or video with a call to action inviting parents to learn more by visiting an open house or signing up to receive your newsletter.

Open houses and email newsletters are both excellent ways to continue the conversation with families in the consideration stage. Student success stories in text or video format evoke emotion and push families along to the decision phase.

When it’s time to close the deal, present the right offer at the right time. Have you built beneficial partnerships with others in your community? Tell parents you partner with local universities and businesses to provide students with networking and internship opportunities.

4. Reach out to community members on social.

Promote your blog posts and videos on Facebook to extend your reach. To increase your click-through rate, ask a question that relates to the content you’re posting. For example: Can you guess which Ivy League school this student is headed to in September?

Social media is a great place to fundraise. However, you can’t ask people to attend an event or donate money out of the blue. If you maintain an active social media presence and engage your audience by sharing helpful content on a regular basis, they’ll be more likely to help in return.

5. Market to high-performing students.

Marketing to students can feel a bit icky, but the reality is it’s something you’ll likely have to do. Or maybe you’ve already started. In any case, it’s crucial to do it with sensitivity and tact. Remember, you’re not trying to sell anyone a lemon—on the contrary, you’re using your high-quality program to help them hone their strengths.

If your target students have medical school ambitions, for example, post videos to Instagram of current students in medical internships. You want prospective students to see your feed and think, “This is exactly what I want out of my education. This school can help me achieve my goals.”

Interact with students via Instagram Stories. Ask a question using its Polls feature and watch the responses in real time. You’ll gather valuable insight while letting them know their opinion matters.

Take a lesson from businesses: Marketing isn’t about selling; it’s about helping. Approach all your marketing efforts like this, and you’re on your way to success.

Erin Balsa

Posted by Erin Balsa

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