Marketing For Schools: Three Tips To Make Your Brand Stand Out As the market becomes more and more competitive, schools have to find ways to attract parents and to deliver on their promises.

By Shaun Robison

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School marketing is a highly competitive industry. Historically, schools relied on word of mouth, and took advantage of the imbalance of supply and demand within the sector in Dubai. Up until 2014, parents in Dubai had to fight for their first choice of school, but now it is schools who are fighting for them, as a raft of new schools have opened.

In the past two years, school marketing budgets have doubled, but unfortunately, some schools are still advertising in places that don't necessarily help parents decide or fail to get into the emotional space of parents to provoke their interests. At the same time, school marketing managers are under pressure to generate leads and to bring parents through the admissions funnel.

Here are my tried and tested approach that might be instigate a change of approach:

1. Messaging How distinctive is your message? If you glance over any of the print adverts that schools commonly adopt, and play a game of word-bingo, how many times can you see that the same words are being used to describe a school? My litmus test for messaging is to draft an internal messaging document and generate all of the key words and pledges that you intend to make to parents. Then, hold this up against your competitors. Is your message clear and distinctive? Educators tend to use a lot of jargon, and this sometimes shows up in adverts. Parents prefer simplicity and honesty. The challenge is to create a message that is distinctive and accessible.

2. Worst case scenario planning The tendency for a lot of schools is to spend money. Of course, this helps but it's not the golden ticket. I like to plan for the worst-case scenario and assume that we will not spend a single dirham on advertising. In this way, planning makes you think of the strategies and tools that can be used digitally and through bootstrapping to make the foundations very strong. If you didn't have a budget, your social strategy would have to be aggressive and thorough. If you didn't have a budget, you would have to optimize your website yourself and maintain a strong digital presence. Once you add a layer of spending on top of this, you create a framework to succeed. If you spend without having these things in place, you create a framework of complacency.

3. Digital strategy Parents in Dubai shop around because they have more choice than ever before. Schools need to have a digital real estate strategy to counter this. Similarly, parents often seek independent opinions and they check independent school reviews to see if the promises are being met. Schools need to ensure that they have strong relationships with the review websites, enabling them to keep track of what the reviews are saying. Another thing is that schools need to decide on where they want their brand to be located online so when parents seek additional advice, they look in places where they have a strong digital profile. Quite often, schools spend money on different forms of advertising without checking what their profile looks like in the public domain, and then wonder why the enquiries are slow. It is essential to manage this, as parents in Dubai now value independent opinions more than ever.

As the market becomes even more competitive, schools have to find ways to attract parents and to deliver on their promises. The school marketing industry in the UAE is a $10,000,000 industry and with more new schools opening, the figure is set to increase. I would like to see schools adopt more resourceful approaches and to engage parents in different ways rather than relying on lamppost advertising, and billboards around the city. Parents know they are in the driving seat, so this means that school marketing managers will need to be creative and resourceful in their planning and implementation.

Related: Infographic: Digital Vs Traditional Media – A Consumer Shift

Shaun Robison

CEO, GSM Education Middle East

Shaun Robison, CEO of GSM Education Middle East, is an entrepreneurial chief executive who has delivered exceptional results across the MENA education sector. Shaun has worked with investors, operating companies, consultants, teachers, and government regulators to plan, license, deliver and scale projects.

Shaun has published education research in a range of academic journals, covering the Middle East education sector, whilst also advising some of the region’s largest groups, such as the Adani Group in Ahmedabad, LIPPO Capital in Jakarta, The City Schools Group, and The Sobha Group in Dubai. Shaun has also been an Advisor to the Executive Council of Dubai and the Ministry of Finance, Oman.

Shaun holds a PhD in education, and he is a Governor for the IDEA Early Learning Center. He is also a regular contributor to The Business Breakfast show, which occupies the prime-time slot in the mornings on the Dubai Eye 103.8 radio channel.

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