Ever since Pinterest appeared on the scene, it seems the world of “do-it-yourself” has exploded. DIY home improvements, DIY home remedies, DIY furniture refinishing—if you can Google it, chances are you can find a way to do it yourself.
There are lots of reasons people decide to do things themselves instead of outsourcing or hiring a trained professional. We’ve been in the education industry long enough to know that one of the principle reasons schools choose the DIY method is budget! At School Webmasters, our aim has always been to provide services schools desperately need in ways they can afford; we also aim to fill our blog with useful and actionable information to help schools shine.
What makes the difference in a DIY success versus a DIY train wreck?
The answer is having the right foundation and tools.
There’s a big difference between the resulting product from do-it-yourselfers who have done their homework on “how to update your old table” and those who grab a can of paint and just go for it! The prepared do-it-yourselfers know they need to spend time and energy sanding, removing residue, and priming (that’s the foundation) before they start the fun part of painting. They also know the best sandpaper to use, the best primer to apply, and the best paint to buy (those are the tools). In other words, they take advice from the professionals and use it to their advantage. And the resulting projects are something to be proud of.
The goal of this blog is to help you gain the foundation and suggest the tools you need to undertake do-it-yourself school marketing … and avoid a DIY train wreck in the process.
The Right Marketing Foundation
When we talk about marketing your school, we’re not just talking about marketing collateral (brochures, flyers, newsletters, website, etc.), we’re talking about the theory behind the collateral—your branding, your messages, your strategy.
You want your audience to know, like, and trust you. To develop trust with your audience, what your school says and what your school is should be inseparably connected.
Yes, your school provides an education—but all schools provide education. Your brand relates to the unique opportunities your school provides in addition to an education. What you market is going to be your school environment, community, pedigree, network, and reputation—this is your brand.
By focusing first on your brand, you’ll be able to attract your ideal students. We’ll save the discussion for “how to determine your school’s brand” for another day and just say here that your brand will drive the messages of your marketing campaigns.
The first step in developing a marketing message is to identify your target audience. In your marketing campaign, your target audience is most likely your ideal students and their parents.
Once you know to whom you are addressing your message, your school’s marketing messages should do one or more of the following:
- Present the solution
Your target audience has “pain points.” A pain point is a problem, real or perceived. Your school has the solution to those pain points. And not just “a” solution—THE solution. Keep in mind how the pain points make your audience feel. Identifying your audience’s problem, empathizing with them, and giving them the cure is a great way to communicate your message.
- Explain how you’re different
How is your school different from other schools? Why should your audience choose you over other available options? To successfully market your school, be sure to include these characteristics in your marketing messages.
- Tell a story
Why should you focus your messaging on storytelling? Because as humans, we are hardwired to respond to stories. Our brains remember a story much better than we remember facts and figures. So while you’re brainstorming messages, attach a story to those messages. Your audience will respond better to hearing how one student was able to succeed in your classroom than it will to hearing how your classroom methods improve student test scores by 70%.
There are hundreds of ways to market your school. What will work best for you depends on what kind of school you are—public, charter, faith-based, boarding, etc. But you don’t have time to get a marketing degree just to figure out what will work best for your school, so here are a few strategies that we find work best for all schools.
- Online marketing
We cannot overstate the importance of your school’s website presence. Simply put—your school must have a website. That website must be up-to-date and accessible. There is a lot to consider when it comes to your school website. Graphics, copy, SEO, and the list goes on and on. To learn how to make your website into your star school marketing tool, download our free e-book, “How to Create an Exceptional School Website.”
- Public relations
Some people would argue that PR is not a marketing strategy and technically marketing and public relations are separate areas of study. However, according to the American Marketing Association, marketing is defined as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers…” The key word there is communicating. Communication is the foundation for good public relations, and PR strategy should be included in your school marketing strategy. For a crash course in public relations for schools, download our free e-book.
- Social media marketing
The key to doing social media marketing well is engagement. Engagement means interaction and participation, and that takes time, consistency, and patience. The pay-off is a community that is involved and invested in your school. Download our free e-book “#Social4Schools” for tips on how to get your social media marketing started.
- Word-of-mouth marketing
Word-of-mouth marketing is the passing of information from person to person through conversations online, on the phone, or in person. People love to share their favorite products and services, and your school should be something they are raring to talk about. Check out our blog on how to apply word-of-mouth marketing principles.
We don’t want to overwhelm you, so we’ll stick to these four strategies for now. Use our free resources to give yourself a solid foundation to start on your school’s marketing plans.
Tried-and-True School Marketing Tools
Considering school’s budgetary, staff, and time restraints, it’s no wonder a majority of schools simply ignore their marketing and communication needs. A good place to find a few tried-and-true marketing tools is our free e-book “How Successful Schools Market Themselves.”
If you just have time for a few tools to get you started, we recommend the following:
Your school website.
There is a lot (really, A LOT!) we could say about using your school website as a marketing tool. To keep this actionable on your end, here are some tips to make your website a great tool for marketing your school.
Have clear page navigation
Whenever you have the opportunity on your News page, write attention-grabbing headlines
Make sure your website highlights your benefits throughout your site
Consider how you want your audience to act, and motivate them with clear “call to actions”
To aid their marketing efforts, schools need to have everything in one place—the theory, the ideas, and the step-by-step tools to get it done. While we can’t communicate it all in one blog post, we can tell you that School Webmasters offers a service line that will handle all your school communication needs. We’ve also created a DIY version that is sure to fit any budget.
Marketing Your School: Strategic Communications Calendar & Workbook
The “Marketing Your School Calendar” is a year-long workbook to help your school manage its marketing and public relations one day at a time. Each week covers a communications theory or principle or addresses a common school relationship or event. We provide the professional knowledge, research, and training. In addition to practical, actionable steps, we have created a complete online resource with templates, examples, and ready-to-use forms to enable success in your DIY school marketing efforts.
We mentioned social media marketing as a strategy. To ensure your social media pages are a successful tool in your marketing tool belt, they should be clearly branded with your school name and logo. We advise you to leave your “profile” picture consistent (it should be your school logo) and change up your banner. It’s also important to plan your social media postings in advance. If you’re planning all your social media on your own, we recommend a tool like Hootsuite to help schedule and plan your postings.
Use graphics on your website, newsletters, brochures, social media—wherever you can! We have become a culture of skimming, scanning, and short attention spans. Avoid long blocks of text in your marketing materials, and communicate your message with images instead. For more information and tips, read our blog post that explains why you don’t always need 1,000 words—just a few good images.
Remember we talked about being the solution to your audience’s pain points? A testimonial is proof that you have the solution. A testimonial can also prove that your school is different from other schools. A testimonial is a form of word-of-mouth marketing, and sharing testimonials on your website, social media, and other collateral is a great way to build trust and connect emotionally with your target audience.
This is not an exhaustive list of the tools that are available for your school marketing efforts. Other great marketing tools include videos, newsletters (when done right), brochures, administrator blogs, calendars, and more (all of which are covered in detail in our “Marketing Your School Calendar & Workbook”).
To be honest, the DIY version of things never turns out quite as well as the version completed by the skilled and trained professional—hence the emergence of the phrase “Pinterest fail.” But with the right foundation, the right tools, and the time to commit to a job well done, your DIY marketing efforts are sure to succeed.
Katie Brooks, Public Relations Specialist