Marketing for schools: Outperform your competitors by knowing who they are

Debbie Lawrenson
  • Debbie Lawrenson
  • Head of Digital

Whatever it is that you’re marketing, you know that one of the core aims of your marketing strategy is to outperform your competitors. But in order to do that you need to know who your competitors are.

Here at The Graphic Design House one of our specialist areas is education sector marketing, and in particular, digital and print marketing for private schools. When new clients come to us, whether for a school website or to create a school social media marketing strategy, the conversation often opens with some discussion about the nature of their competition.

And – PING! CLANG! DONG! A bell starts ringing as they realise that when it comes to identifying competition, they forgot to look in one very important place. That’s because when most private schools consider their competitors they’re usually thinking about their obvious business competitors and not their digital competitors.

What do we mean by that? Well – when it comes to business competitors we’re referring to things like other schools in the locality, or schools that share particular characteristics. Digital competitors, on the other hand, could be any school or similar institution that’s forging ahead with a well thought-out and executed digital marketing strategy.

What is a digital competitor in private school marketing?

Let’s start by looking at non-digital competitors. If you’re focussing purely on bricks-and-mortar local competitor private schools when you’re analysing competitive marketing strategies, you could be missing out on an essential part of the puzzle.

It may be that a competitor school is not active on social media, and this can lull you into a false picture of what successful digital marketing looks like. For example, you may have identified a big-name, long established private school as being one to watch because of the perception that it’s a market leader.

However, this could be misleading if you want to gather information on the best online strategies for the education sector. It may be that other schools, which you’ve overlooked, have been running successful digital marketing strategies for years, understanding the techniques and tricks of the trade and optimising their SEO for maximum impact. And by maximum impact, we’re talking about things like increased pupil numbers and market share, year on year.

Recognise the competition

The first step to outperforming the competition is learning how to recognise it.

Competition is good for business – it’s something that we hear often and that we say ourselves. But sometimes we say it between gritted teeth, secretly wishing that the competition would get out of the way so that we could grab a bit more of the market share. But competition IS good for business – because we can learn from it. When it comes to digital competition, those lessons are out there, online for everyone to see, and that’s a REALLY GOOD THING.

For successful private school digital marketing, the trick is learning to trawl widely and analyse effectively, when looking at other private school websites and scrutinising their activity on social media.

Find out what ALL the competition is up to. Think more broadly about who your competition is and start gathering ideas and inspiration. Look at websites and digital marketing across the education sector: that means social media and websites for secondary schoolsprimary schoolscolleges, and universities as well as the more obvious private school websites.

How to outperform digitally

Digital leaders are outperforming their competitors in growth and profits, and this applies to the private education sector just as much as any other. So, what is that performance made of?

Here’s what you need to look at when scrutinising competitor activity and what you need to attend to in planning your own brilliant marketing strategy.

A high-performing digital strategy is one that scores highly when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO). This not only puts you at the top of search results but will also get your message, your brand and your proposal out to a much wider audience. All this, while building your brand identity as a market leader and first choice for parents.

Here’s how you can make that happen:

Strategic social media

Using social media strategically is a big part of SEO. Don’t just bung out messages on Twitter and Facebook because something pops up in your mind or because you haven’t posted in a while.

Create valuable content

Valuable content means content that’s going to be read, and most importantly, shared. That might be something that shows your expertise in education or it could be showcasing innovative ideas and projects. Humour and strong imagery can also be part of the package.

Your school story

Encourage followers and build your brand with storytelling. That doesn’t mean that you need to create a novel to rival Third Year at Mallory Towers. It simply means that you need to show the character, features and benefits of your school in a human way. Make the school story strong and immediate.

Plan ahead

This comes back to the first point – being strategic. Quite often, social media is something that is left to a handful of people, to fit in around other responsibilities. If that’s what you’re doing, then expect a disappointed teacher to scrawl COULD DO BETTER in the margin of your workbook.

Designate someone to be responsible for social media posting. Make it clear that it’s a core responsibility, not an add-on. Be clear about what they should be doing and when.

If you want to outperform your competitors in the education sector, thinking digitally has to be part of your action plan.

Remember that your digital competitors are a tremendous resource; a resource that’s always available and easy to access. Digital marketing for schools is constantly evolving, just like any other sector, and you don’t want to be left behind. Be aware of what’s out there, absorb the messages and then use your knowledge to put your school ahead of the competition.