Tuesday, December 8, 2015

49 Independent School Content Marketing Topics

Here are two facts. First, content marketing has been proven to be an extremely successful means of differentiating and driving results for businesses and organizations. Fact number two – independent schools should be doing way more content marketing.
Stop. Let’s make sure we understand what content marketing is. According to the Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
In very simple terms, content marketing is providing parents or prospective parents with information or experiences (think video) they will consider valuable and will share with others. The real point is that by providing this content, a school demonstrates both its expertise and its ability to relate to the interests and concerns of parents. Great content can make a school’s website or social media platforms a hub for those seeking valuable information or expert opinions.

To be clear, content marketing is not news about the basketball team’s big win, your school’s state-leading performance in standardized tests or a video from the latest science fair.

Content can be delivered from a resource section on your website, through blogs, in e-newsletters, videos, prezi-type presentations, via social media platforms, Vine videos or even apps if your school has one. Content is most effective when it’s written or developed by people within in a school – heads of school, educational leaders, faculty, administrators, lay leaders, staff people and maybe even students. Content marketing also works best when its themes align with your school’s brand or experience and when its part of a plan. This post provides some useful perspectives.

If you think about content marketing as a form of knowledge transfer, you would think that schools, which are wells of knowledge, should be overflowing with ideas for content marketing. And yet, when I talk to schools about content marketing the response I inevitably get is “what would we talk about?”

So, in the interest of making it easier for schools to get going with their content marketing planning, here are 49 suggested content marketing topics for independent schools.
  1. Pre-literacy activities you can do with your child
  2. The pros and cons of standardized testing
  3. How to help your child with homework
  4. How do you know if your child is gifted
  5. Age/grade level book recommendations
  6. How to prepare a pre-schooler for Grade 1
  7. Activities at home to build fine motor skills
  8. How do know if you should hire a tutor for your child
  9. How to talk to children about terrorism
  10. What exactly is critical thinking?
  11. Humorous conversations overheard at school
  12. Suggestions for educational apps
  13. A teacher’s view of parent teacher conferences
  14. Is being perfect a healthy goal?
  15. The school day from the perspective of a front office staff member
  16. Until what age should you read to your children?
  17. The most outrageous rumors heard in the parking lot
  18. How to watch TV with your children
  19. What does 21st century learning really mean?
  20. How to help your child build self-confidence
  21. What your children really does with the lunches you pack
  22. The pros and cons of teenage cynicism
  23. When is it too early to talk about college prep?
  24. How to help your children learn from receiving a poor grade
  25. The pros and cons of student competition
  26. A teacher’s perspective on managing teenage angst
  27. What’s better? – Summer camp or summer jobs
  28. Do students need to know cursive writing anymore?
  29. Strategies for improving SAT scores
  30. Managing the transition to high school
  31. How you can help your child find a school/career path
  32. Is it really bad to be a helicopter parent?
  33. The academic benefits of participating in athletics
  34. How to help your child cope with the stress of exams
  35. The best ways students can study for tests
  36. The best excuses for not having homework done
  37. Is it ever ok to complain about the mark your child received on a test?
  38. How to argue with your teenager
  39. The synergies of STEM
  40. Where do teachers go to learn?
  41. How do you know if your child is over programmed?
  42. The differences between bullying and arguing
  43. What to do when your child says, “I have no friends”
  44. The challenges of raging hormones in a high school classroom
  45. The funniest excuses students have used for being late
  46. Some school-related signs that your child needs glasses
  47. How students are using their phones in the classroom
  48. Do students really need to know how to tell time?
  49. Strategies for surviving car pool
 You can see that topics don’t always have to be serious. They just have to be interesting or of value. I figure that if I could come up with 49 topics, there must be thousands more that you can write, blog, video, prezi or talk about.

What do you think?
Have you used any of these for your content marketing? Which ones do you hate? Which do you love? What’s the state of content marketing at your school?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.netPhoto 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are you ready for a whole new generation?

There’s something going on with your prospective parents and some of your newer parents. You may not know exactly what it is by I bet you recognize some of the symptoms. The diagnosis is that we’re on the cusp of a generational shift.

Here’s just a bit of background. Demographers categorize generations by year of birth. Each generation has unique characteristics shaped by the social dynamics and world events of its time. Knowing that, consider this.

Age in 2015
Gen X

You can see that over the past five years, more and more of your prospective parents have become millennials. They are very different than the GenXers that preceded them. So, what do you we know about millenials? Here are eight distinctive qualities.

  • Entitled. They have always been treated as special and important.
  • Sheltered.  They were highly protected as children.
  • Confident.  They are motivated and goal-oriented.
  • Collaborators. They are team-oriented and like to share
  • Achievers.  Grade point averages and other success markers are rising with this generation.
  • Pressured.  They are trophy kids and feel pushed to work hard, plan for the long term.
  • Conventional.  They are very respectful of their parents’ opinions.
  • Digital Natives. They were raised on technology.

Is this starting to ring a bell yet? Parents that are driven, expect high levels of attention and are prepared to tell the world when they receive it – and when they don’t.

But wait. There’s more. Here’s some interesting marketing data on the millennial generation.
  • According to a recent study, millennials said they trusted the reviews of peers (68%) more than professionals (64%)
  • Millennials trust product information from user-generated content (social networks 50%; peer reviews 68%; conversations with friends 74%) far more than from traditional media (TV 34%; Radio 37%; Print 44%)
  • Another study found that this generation is heavily reliant on crowd sourcing to make brand purchase decisions. 94% said they use at least one outside source to make a decision and an incredible 40% said they use four or more sources.
  • And it works both ways because 74% of millennials believe that they influence the purchasing decisions of others.
So, what does all this mean in terms of your marketing and recruitment efforts? Here are some approaches to consider.
  • It’s all about ambassadors. Your most prized educational leader or the praise of a recognized educational expert doesn’t stand a chance against what other parents are saying about your school. Inform, engage and inspire your current parents to use all of their networks to say wonderful things about your school. Many of them crave the opportunity to do just that.
  • There are no secrets. You can’t play the game of telling parents only what they want to hear because they are so connected that they are going to hear about everything else anyway. And you can assume that any shortcomings – whether staff, program or facilities related – are well known to your prospective parent community. The only solution is to be open and honest. Many times, parents are more interested in how you are addressing challenges than the fact that they exist.
  • Meet them on their turf. If your prospects do most of their research and make most decisions online, then be a facilitator. Yes, this means you need to have a robust social media strategy to capture the crowdsourcing potential. But it also necessitates a strong content marketing plan. Provide valuable resources to engage and empower parents. And make sure that parents can take immediate action through online applications and registration. 
  • Demonstrate results. There’s nothing like the success story of an alum to appeal to parents who are true achievers. Deliver that story in a way that makes it easy to share (like video) and you can magnify the impact. Take a data driven approach and post empirical results on your website. That doesn’t necessarily mean standardized test results. Transform assessment data that you are using into information that is of interest to prospective parents.
  • Involve grandparents. This is a generation that admires and respects their parents. You can bet they will consult them when making a decision about school. Grandparent and special friend days only happen once grandchildren once the sale has been made and students are in the school. But grandparents are important influencers for this cohort. It could be worth considering a recruitment campaign targeted specifically at grandparents.
  • Accept them for who they are. There’s no question that parents who always feel that they are deserving of special attention can be a pain in the butt. But trying to modify their behavior is an exercise in futility. They are paying significant amounts of money to send their kids to your school. Treat them like the customers they are.
As it relates to prospective parents, millennials are just coming of age and you are going to be dealing with them for many years. Now’s the time to develop your millennial strategy.

What do you think?
Are you seeing the millennial shift in your school? What are you doing about it? Let me know.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My Stupidly Simple Explanation of Branding

Branding is complicated. It’s time consuming. It can be damn expensive. So, selling your boss or your board on the idea of engaging in a branding project can be a monumental task.

But here’s what makes it even harder. Most people don’t know what a brand is. In part that’s because marketers create a whole language around branding that is totally unintelligible. It’s also a result of the way words get re-purposed and often misused – particularly in social media.

So, as a way of helping organizations, schools and businesses understand why branding is really important and with deference to the many, many marketing experts and authorities who know way more than me, I offer the following rather simple explanation of branding.

Have you ever had a conversation with a significant other that goes something like this?
“Do you love me?”
“Yes, I love you.”
“Why? Tell me why you love me.”
For most people that results in a big gulp and a desperate stalling tactic like, “What do you mean?”

But if you were able to provide an honest answer to that question, it would be complex and multi-layered. It would involve the way someone looks, thinks and acts, particularly when those acts are directed at you.  The answer would be revealed in your experience with that person or perhaps in what others have told you about him. It would also be based on how you imagine your loved one would react in certain circumstances – perhaps as a spouse or a parent.

Now, imagine you want to replicate that relationship many times over. Let’s say you want more people to love you, or those who already love you to love you more. You are going to need an accurate and effective answer to “Why do you love me?” – one that reflects the many ways in which many different people can love you.

And guess what? The answer to that question is your brand. So, based on all that, here’s my definition of a brand.

A brand is an expressive representation of the complex relationship that customers and other stakeholders have with an organization.

It's a simple concept but I think that some of the words need explaning.

Expressive – Brands have to appeal to the head and the heart – and even more, they have to motivate, inspire and incite action. You want people to be excited about telling other people about you.

Representation – It can be words, photos, videos, graphics, events, and yes even a logo. A brand can be communicated in a myriad of ways.

Relationship – If it isn’t already obvious, just like relationships are two-way streets so is your brand. You can’t unilaterally decide what your brand is. In branding, perception is truly reality.

Customers – Many organizations don’t traditionally think about constituents as customers but the reality is that people have choices about whether they affiliate with your organization. For example, parents at independent schools pay a small fortune in tuition and deserve to be treated like customers. Fundraising organizations would also be wise to look at donors from a customer centric perspective.

Stakeholders – I know this one of those words that gets used too often but the point is that many people other than customers have important relationships with your business or organization. Think about previous buyers, suppliers, employees and alumni. All of those people have something to say about the nature of your brand.

By the way, I know the “love” thing is going to be a bit much for some people. If it makes you feel more comfortable you can substitute “respect” or “admire” for “love” and ask, “Why do you respect me?” I would argue however that the most passionate (and therefore successful) ambassadors for your organization are going to be those that can say, “Let me tell you why I love XYZ school.”

At a branding workshop for independent schools that I led early this year, the person opening the session said, “This morning we’re going to talk about the big, bad ‘B’ word.” One of the reasons that branding is a pain in the butt is that people don’t know what it is. Hopefully, my simple (some might say naïve or mushy) explanation is a step in the right direction.

What do you think?
Is a lack of understanding getting in the way of branding projects at your organization?
What definitions of branding have helped you?
How are you advancing branding projects in your organization?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Heads of school are the key to marketing success

More than ever before, it is critical that heads of school become integrally involved with marketing.

Why now, you ask? Because marketing has morphed from being a fixed set of activities that emanates from a particular office to something that now touches every department in a school.

When parents register their children at your school, they are buying way more than an education. What was once a product has become an experience. And parents – as customers – now see their relationship with a school through the lens of that experience. A whole new imperative for school marketing has been established.

This is what the people at McKinsey have to say in a brilliant article called We’re all Marketers Now.

In today’s marketing environment, companies will be better off if they stop viewing customer engagement as a series of discrete interactions and instead think about it as customers do: a set of related interactions that, added together, make up the customer experience.

So, every interaction a parent has contributes to the quality of her overall experience with your school. The implications of that are far-reaching. As McKinsey puts it, “To engage customers whenever and wherever they interact with a company … marketing must pervade the entire organization.”

Putting that into practice, marketing has to be part of every department’s plans and the way that every staff person conducts himself. Interactions with the front office, teachers, educational leaders, the business office – even custodians – all contribute to the parent experience. Everyone now has some responsibility for marketing.

Now we get to the hard part. How exactly will the marketing department extend its influence and provide direction and support throughout the whole organization? And as the McKinsey article asks, “ … if everyone’s responsible for marketing, who’s accountable?"

Realistically this is not something that school admissions or marketing professionals are going to be able to deal with on their own. Even directors of enrolment management or advancement don’t have the implicit authority to put marketing on every department’s agenda and demand accountability. You don’t have to be a clairvoyant, to see, as McKinsey does, that, “Behind the scenes, that new reality creates a need for coordination and conflict resolution mechanisms within and across functions ...”

Enter heads of school. It is only with their involvement, influence and authority as well as their knowledge, experience and judgment that a positive and pervasive parent experience can be established.

Want to understand why that’s true? Who else can persuasively speak to faculty about the ways in which they can meaningfully contribute to the parent experience? Who is going to have the conversation with the people in the business office about ensuring positive interactions with parents?

How else can we ensure that the people who guide parents into a school – the admissions department - remain part of the parent experience and, in that way, contribute to retention success? And finally, who will speak with trustees and lay people about the ways in which their actions contribute to the parent experience and positive enrolment results?

Only heads of school have the reach and the credibility to raise the prominence of marketing and the parent experience. It is only heads of school that can demand marketing accountability from every department and every staff person.

I understand that the last thing that heads need is more on their management plate. Ultimately, this may be a responsibility that can be jointly assumed by heads and trustees or perhaps the appropriate authority can be conveyed to someone else in the organization. However, it seems inescapable to me that the head will have to maintain some increased involvement in marketing.

In the past year as I have spoken at admissions conferences about independent school marketing, I inevitably have encountered professionals who are confounded by how they are going to affect the necessary formidable change in their schools. As incredibly competent and well meaning as they are, the answer is that marketing’s effect on enrollment (and other) results will only be fully realized with the involvement of heads of school.

What do you think?

Am I wrong? Can this kind of change happen without the increased involvement of heads? Have you had some relevant, noteworthy experiences. I’d love to hear from you.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Let's hear those amazing independent school customer service stories

I’m betting that there are some independent schools that have “knock your socks off” customer service stories.

Exceptional customer service is increasingly becoming the most effective way for companies and organizations to differentiate themselves from their competition. Even so, there are some customer service stories that stand out as being truly remarkable. As an example, you can read this story of how someone from the Morton’s Steakhouse in Hackensack NJ personally delivered a meal 24 miles away at Newark Airport. Not surprisingly, social media channels lit up with this story being told and retold.

The potential for outstanding customer service to impact on organizational results is the reason that this past fall representatives of a number of colleges and universities attended a three-day conference with representatives of Ritz Carlton, Disney, Kimberly- Clark and Southwest Airlines.

Increasingly delivering outstanding customer service is becoming a necessity for independent schools. That’s why I’m currently working on a number of publications and presentations detailing the benefits to independent schools of focusing on the customer experience.

But I would also bet that there are dozens of great independent school customer service stories – occasions when a teacher, administrator or someone in the business office went absolutely above and beyond to solve a parent’s or a student’s problem. And I’d love to hear about them. If you have an amazing story that you would like to have retold, you can include it as a comment below or email me directly.

I’m looking forward to being blown away by your stories.