Have you ever spent a lot of time and money developing a social media campaign only to end up with disappointing results? You targeted all the right demographic and interest groups but still had fewer clicks than you hoped for and definitely fewer inquiries. In the end, you scratched your head wondering what went wrong while others in the school questioned both the wisdom and the cost of the initiative.
The reason your messaging isn’t generating the needed results is that you’re focusing on ‘who’ but not ‘why.’ You’ve figured out all the right audiences but what you didn’t think about what motivates the people that make up that target or segment.
In marketing terms, it’s referred to as demographics vs psychographics. Demographics explain “who” your buyer is, while psychographics explain “why” they buy. To be effective, messaging must focus on the latter.
To make this clearer, let’s look at some examples of each.
In his book, This Is Marketing Seth Godin expresses the distinction like this, “Begin by choosing people based on what they dream of, believe and want, not based on what they look like.”
Before we go on, it’s important to recognize that messaging is more than just words alone. In fact, copy and images combine to deliver messages about your school to parents.
Create an inventory of messaging themes
Private school messaging can be made more effective by creating an inventory of themes that your messaging reflects. To do that, you need to think about what really matters to parents. And, admittedly that’s not easy.
A great way of putting yourself into the minds and hearts of parents is using personas. Personas are fictional characters created to be the archetype of parents in a category. We can give them names, and attach demographic attributes – age, address, occupation, income, and information about their kids. Then, by infusing our personas with priorities, values and beliefs, we bring them to life and allow them to guide our messaging efforts.
More specifically, we are looking for the beliefs that will lead our parent personas to choose independent schools in general and your school in particular.
By adapting The Buyer Persona Institute‘s 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ we can focus deeply on the psychographic and develop an inventory of messaging themes that reflect parents’ thoughts, hopes, dreams and beliefs.
Ring 1. Priority Initiatives
What are the priorities and values that motivate a parent to consider independent schools in general and your school in particular? How are they different than those that lead parents to choose public schools?
Develop messaging themes that reflect or reinforce:
- Beliefs about the value of education and what makes education valuable
- Faith-based, moral and ethical values
- The prioritization of character development and the acquisition of traits, mindsets and skills
- Belief that superior learning opportunities, resources and facilities lead to better educational outcomes
Ring 2. Success Factors
What do parents perceive as the benefit of their child’s educational experience at your school as well as how will they benefit from their own experiences with your school?
Develop messaging themes that reflect:
- Hopes for what parents want their children to achieve educationally
- Vision of successful educational outcomes for their children
- Parents’ hopes and dreams for what their children will become
- The value of being part of a community
- Perceptions of the experience of being a private school parent
Ring 3. Perceived Barriers
What concerns would keep parents from believing that your school is the best option for their children and themselves?
Develop messaging themes that:
- Affirm the financial value of the benefit provided by the educational experience at your school
- Confirm that the outcomes of their children’s educational experience outweigh the financial sacrifice required
- Allay fears of whether the tuition is or can be made affordable
- Dispel the belief that independent schools are elitist or that they lead to a loss of individuality
Ring 4. Buyers Journey
Who are the people and what are the sources that parents consider trustworthy as part of their decision-making process?
Develop messaging themes that:
- Allow parents to feel like they are making the right decision by choosing your school
- Reflect the opinions and choices of the people who are influential to parents (e.g. current parents, educational experts)
Ring 5. Decision Criteria
What are the competitive advantages of other schools and what it is about those attributes that parents value?
Let’s say a competing school has a better creative arts program. You need to think about what parents value about that program and what your school can offer that addresses those values. In that case, you would develop messaging themes that speaks to:
- The value of creative expression,
- The importance of nurturing students’ strengths,
- Promoting the individuality of each student
There is no question that creating messaging themes focused on why parents make their decisions will take a great deal of time and thought. But you can be assured that the increased clicks, inquiries and other results will make it all worthwhile.