The biggest opportunity I see for school marketers as we move through 2019 is to recognize and nurture the alliance of brand, customer experience, and collaboration. Each is important in its own right. Taken together, they are powerful. When the bases are loaded with these three, it makes a marketing grand slam possible!
To hear some marketing gurus tell it, however, the latest trend in marketing is to pivot from promoting your school’s brand toward being engaged in deploying exceptional, memorable customer experiences. We’re hearing a lot about the customer “journey” these days. Having “experiences” is the latest catchphrase, especially for Millennials.
I don’t know why the trend is to separate “brand” and “experience.” (More on collaboration in a moment, and also in Part 2). This is not an “either/or” a “zero-sum game.” Brand and experience are dependent on each other. How your customers experience your school defines your school’s brand in their eyes.
In fact, I would say your brand exists only behind the eyes of your customers. What’s more:
- In the minds of the people you are trying to reach, influence, and move to action, one aspect of brand is what you stand for, and how joining your educational cause and becoming a member of your tribe would benefit them. Schools need to be seen as a cause, not just an institution.
- Brand can be an ephemeral promise and expectation of what they buy or invest in.
- Your brand is how your customers position you in relation to their other choices.
- Your brand is how your customers personally experience your school before they even step on campus. It’s how you make them feel when they visit your website, or discuss it with a current parent, a teacher, or an alum. They are looking for clues, and much of the subtext is emotional rather than rational. Will my child be happy here? Will I fit in with the other parents?
- Essentially, your brand is what people say about you after you’ve left the room. You can’t control every conversation involving your brand. You can’t tell people what to think about you. They define you.
But there is a solution, best accomplished through a neutral third party who can listen to your customers confidentially. An Image (Perceptual) Audit. Why is it important?
We know that brand exists solely in the heads and hearts of your customers, not in yours. So, before you pull the trigger on a new marketing campaign, or design a new website, or prepare a fusillade of podcasts, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts, slow down, take a deep breath, and tell your own mind (and the minds of all the decision-makers in your school), “Be still.”
The first rule of marketing is not messaging. The first rule is to listen to those you seek to serve and, once sold that yours is the best solution, keep listening to reinforce and validate their decision! For those who aren't sold, listen even more carefully and objectively. Every good marketing strategy starts with respectful listening to meet an often-unspoken need. To listen effectively, a third-party, confidential Image (Perceptual) Audit is the best first step that will help your school prioritize the most important messages for particular constituencies.
Listen to what’s in-between the lines of their responses. Follow up, dig deeper. What motivations or experiences are your constituents trying to convey? What deeper psychological factors are responsible for decisions to persist or not persist along the journey to enroll, or to donate or not to donate to annual giving, capital campaigns, or endowment? What internally systemic levers at the school are influencing the school’s brand for your customers? You can’t sell someone on your school. They have to feel it. In order to make that happen, you need to get inside your target audience’s heads. You have to understand their motivation, even if they don’t.
In Part 2 tomorrow, we'll discuss the most important audiences for you to periodically monitor (there are more than you think!), and how school marketers can become the "connective tissue" for all internal audiences at your school.