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.

2 comments:

  1. I completely agree, Chuck--on all fronts. And I would add that of equal importance is the careful attention Heads of School pay to the way that STUDENTS experience the school.

    Parents are loath to move happy, successful children. Much of what parents know about school they know from what their children tell them.

    Figuring out what is compelling about the learning experience--and asking students to tell those stories in their own voices helps school leverage their most compelling difference makers, while allowing prospective parents to imagine what it would be like for their child to be sharing stories of exceptional learning.

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  2. Great points Amy and thanks for your comments. Considering the student dimension to the parent experience is essential but it's also a little complicated. Really its a situation where the customer isn’t the user – but the experience of the user will have profound impact on the perceived experience of the customer.

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