We know how hard education marketers work, so if we are able to pass on some wisdom and practical advice and tips to make life a little more straightforward then we are happy to do so!

If there is a particular topic you would like to see covered on this page, please  let us know and we will find a suitable expert to share their knowledge.

Open day snooping: competitor research or industrial espionage?

You know the Autumn Term scenario – a competitor school is holding an open event and you’d just love to know what they’re saying to the same families your school is also working hard to recruit. Do you:

A: Style your hair differently, put on some glasses and pose as a prospective parent, whose fictional son or daughter (loves cooking and rugby, hates languages, borderline dyslexic, keen to learn a wind instrument, have a role in the school play and take part in overseas residential trips) is looking for a place for Year 7?

B: Send a friend to pose as the parent of the fictional child and report back afterwards in return for a large G&T?

C: Call in the professionals to do a mystery shop?

Whichever option you choose, competitor research is a valid business activity, so snoop with confidence whether in real life or virtually, says MTM’s Managing Director James Leggett.

Keeping tabs on competitors is essential for any business wanting to hold on to its position in the marketplace and, while there may be a gentlemen’s or ladies’ agreement on not poaching each other’s prospective families among schools in your neck of the woods, the chances are your competitors have already broken it.

At the end of the day, if it comes down to a choice between seeing your school struggle or upsetting your neighbours, then you know where your loyalties lie.

Open days – whether in-person events or online – present an ideal, if not unmissable, opportunity to get a parent’s eye view of what competitor schools have to offer. But sneaking around a competitor’s corridors (either real or virtual) under a false name, trotting out a well-rehearsed backstory and making copious notes on your phone during the head’s address often sits uncomfortably with school marketers.

It shouldn’t however. Market intelligence and competitor research is acceptable in any business sector and a school that is confident in its offer shouldn’t mind who knows about it.

Phone a friend: That said, the mystery shop element of open day espionage can be ruined if the competitor school staff recognise you as an opposite number, so it’s worth either engaging a third party researcher, or phoning a friend to act as your snooper.

Not only will they find out more about the education on offer at the school, its facilities and the opportunities available to pupils, but you can also pick up some useful intelligence on the school’s approach to communicating with visiting families, collect their marketing collateral (prospectuses, leaflets etc) and find out how they stage and run their open days – with a view to doing it better!

Points of differentiation: Before you send your friend or trusty professional researcher into the fray, make clear to them the aspects of the open day you are most interested in finding out about. These will usually be informed by the points of differentiation between your school and the competitor. It might be the range of academic subjects taught from the entry point up, any setting or streaming, average class sizes, support for pupils (such as wellbeing, pastoral, SEND, EAL, LGBTQ), and any future plans. You will also be keen to find out about facilities for sports and the arts (including how much access the pupils have to them on a daily basis, the age and general state of maintenance). Ideally, you’re looking for the level of detail and insight that can’t be found on the school’s website.

What’s the buzz? If you’re keen to make sure your own school’s open days really stand out in the memories of prospective parents burdened by the choice of schools on offer to them, then a few notes on the atmosphere of the competitor’s event will not go amiss.

Did it run smoothly and professionally like a well-oiled machine, or was it a jumble of staff, parents, tour guides and children all squeezing past each other in the (real or virtual) corridors and forgetting to visit the drama studio?

Did your snooper have to book in advance and were visitors’ contact details taken on arrival? Did members of staff remember your snooper’s name and the name and interests of their fictional child?

How impressive was the head, and other members of senior staff? Were visitors informed of the next steps in the admissions process? What was your snooper’s overall opinion of the school and the event?

Further analysis: All of this information can be recorded for later analysis and, for best results of course, compared to a mystery shop of your own school’s open event.

And don’t forget a fun office sweepstake on who will be first to spot the snooper.

If a large G&T isn’t enough of an incentive for your friend to pose as a prospective parent, just chat to the friendly MTM team about competitor research and mystery shops. We’ll be happy to help.

Burning questions

‘Nosiness’ is the reason MTM Qualitative Lead Researcher Kate Siddall first became interested in carrying out surveys, she says. Here, she explains why qualitative research in essential if you are to understand the behaviour and attitudes of your school’s prospective parents and shape the education you offer to their children.

For over 20 years I’ve enjoyed exploring and understanding people’s behaviour and attitudes. My desire to become a qualitative researcher started with my university dissertation, which asked ‘why boys tend to be more disengaged with reading versus girls’. This spurred on my nosiness to find out more about why people behave the way they do.

A couple of decades on, and I have researched an array of subject areas with various audiences – from ice-cream testing with children in Mexico, to understanding the lives of those with alcohol dependency in the North West of England.

Whatever your business, qualitative research is invaluable to understanding your audiences and shaping the services you provide.

In-depth understanding: Qualitative research gets under the surface of the quantitative data and statistics to provide reasoning and understanding. Although you can learn a lot through the analysis of data, qualitative research gives you a much richer and more detailed insight into the views and behaviour of the people your business is seeking to reach. In the case of schools,  this is usually means engaging with current, prospective and past pupils, parents and even staff.

Third party: Respondents can be wary of taking part in research and are usually far more comfortable, honest and open with us as a third party because they know their identities will remain confidential and their responses anonymous.

We use specialist qualitative techniques to uncover the answers to your burning questions. Speaking directly with respondents allows the researchers to build rapport, and to put the individuals at ease so they are comfortable expressing their feelings and experiences. In some instances, respondents are put so at ease that a 10-minute discussion can last an hour and experiences are shared beyond the original questions!

Positioning and planning: All this is extremely useful when you are tailoring your organisation’s offer, positioning it in the market and planning your marketing and communications strategy and the best messaging. Qualitative research insight is beneficial for schools in a variety of areas, from understanding ‘what current parents or pupils consider to be the strengths of the school’ to ‘why parents chose another school and not yours’.

Other questions commonly asked of current parents or pupils include what they would like to see improved in the school and how they feel about the quality, frequency and tone of communications. Our researchers drill down to uncover the answers, not just accepting those that are top of mind but questioning further to understand other influencing factors.

Differing approaches: The qualitative approach we utilise differs according to the research objectives, what you want to find out and also the target audience we wish to speak to. The most commonly used approaches at MTM are in-depth telephone or online interviews and group discussions, and we also conduct mystery customer research

Valuable insights: The insights we gain through our qualitative research are hugely valuable to organisations, they help to guide decision-making and developments for the future, crucially meeting the expectations and needs of their customers. They also improve recruitment and retention of both staff and students and therefore help to achieve success and a market edge versus competitors.

If you’d like to find out how MTM’s Qualitative Research could provide valuable insight into the views of parents, staff or students at your school or other education organisation, just get in touch with the friendly MTM team, who will be happy to help.

Social media marketing for schools: the 5 As that can help recruit and retain

Social media is often thought of as ‘something for the kids’, but when we look at social media demographics it becomes very clear that this is not (just) the case. Different platforms appeal to different markets and it can be tricky to know where to begin. Emma Fell, Founder and Director of Attenger Digital, a specialist social media marketing agency for the education sector, explains how to choose the best social media channel for your school.

When I talk about social media for schools I am not talking about ‘what the pupils did today’ posts. That is not social media marketing, rather simply posting. Social media marketing has a strategy, a purpose, is clearly executed and reported on. It is an amazing tool for both student recruitment and stakeholder engagement.

With this in mind, how do you know which social media channel is right for your school? Introducing the 5As of Social Media Marketing!

Audience: If you are currently using social media, ask yourself which of your accounts has the strongest audience. This is not just which platform has the most followers, it is also which is the most engaged. To find this out you will need to delve into your page/account insights.

Perhaps you have 200 followers on Instagram and 500 on Facebook, but your Instagram engagement rate is much higher.

Engagement is where the magic happens, so always prioritise this over other metrics.

Age: Looking at the age of your students will help you work out the age of your parental audience. Platform demographics suggest that older parents are likely to use Facebook, whereas the parents of younger students are probably on Instagram.

We do not need this to be an exact science, but a bit of analysis goes a long way – work out your average parental age and use this to inform your platform choice.

Aim: Without an aim, social media is just posting. Do you want to recruit new students? Retain existing ones? Reach international audiences? Think about your business goals and how social media can support them.

One thing to be aware of is regional restrictions. For example, to increase international recruitment from China, you would not use Facebook, but WeChat.

Ahead: Think ahead. Consider who your target audience will be in the future. You may be focusing on senior school recruitment right now and therefore using Facebook. However, in a year or two, Millennials will make up senior school parents and Instagram is where they are.

Analytics: Combining social media insights with data from Google Analytics allows us to see if our social media posts are driving traffic to our websites and converting into enquiries and enrolments. By looking at the big picture, we can see what is working. Social media isn’t about reinventing the wheel – take note of what works and replicate the formula behind it.

Using social media in your marketing is so much more than just posting pictures of students. With a little bit of research, you can identify where your audience is and target those people in a meaningful way,  resulting in increased engagement and  ultimately more enquiries to your school.

For help analysing your school’s parents, their profiles and their lifestyles, get in touch with the friendly MTM team. Find out more about Emma at www.attenger.com

Best years of their lives

On their last day of school, most pupils walk out through the gates for the very last time with a handful of qualifications of course, but they also take with them several years’ worth of very happy memories. To help schools keep in touch with past pupils and offer them welcome opportunities to give back to the place that gave them so much, MTM has introduced a new suite of alumni, development and fundraising projects, explains MTM’s Director of Communications, Nicky Adams.

There is something very touching about seeing your school’s past pupils chatting and laughing with their classmates in the school hall as if they were sitting together in assembly only yesterday and not four or five decades ago. Undoubtedly, memories of school days remain strong throughout our lives and friendships even more so.

Opportunities for your school’s old boys and girls to get together and giggle about old times are precious and most schools are now excellent at keeping in touch with alumni and putting on a regular programme of events for them to take part in.

But how do you grow your network and make the best use of the support alumni are often so willing to give to enhance the education of the pupils who follow in their footsteps?

MTM Alumni Engagement: MTM’s experienced researchers can chat to past students to find out what would encourage them to stay in touch with their old school and the kind of events they would like to attend, and where. We also help schools to keep in contact by asking alumni to update their contact details via our own third-party platform, which we find has a greater chance of success than a direct request.

MTM New Alumni: How do you encourage recent school-leavers to join your alumni organisation? Our researchers find out how past pupils would like to be involved in their school’s community well into the future. We also make sure contact details are up-to-date and find out by which methods alumni prefer to communicate with their old school.

MTM Fundraising Intelligence: Alumni are often very happy to support school fundraising initiatives, but identifying who is most likely to be in a position to do so can be challenging. Traditional tools often only show the most affluent, but MTM Fundraising Intelligence profiles all of your school’s stakeholders to suggest people who may be delighted to make a donation. Research may extend to current and past parents, staff and other members of the school community too.

MTM Feasibility Study: Would your school’s current and future pupils benefit from a new facility – perhaps a sports hall, drama theatre, music school or state-of- the-art teaching spaces, for example – or perhaps some new opportunities to broaden their education? MTM Feasibility Study gives school leaders and development professionals the information they need to make decisions on the future expansion of the school, and to identify capital projects that may be suitable for support by fundraising. After establishing a demand, our researchers drill down into the costs and calculate the potential return on investment in terms of income, but also in terms of the potential for increased admissions and enhanced reputation, to make sure that all donations are put to very good use and donors can be proud of their involvement.

Alumni are a real asset to a school and the concept of making sure past pupils remain part of the school community forever is one that all involved are usually keen to embrace.

We are very happy to support schools’ alumni, development and fundraising professionals – all MTM products and services are bespoke, of course, so please do get in touch with our friendly team to discuss your school’s particular situation, and to find out how MTM can help your alumni to stay in touch. Just chat to the friendly MTM team for more information – email Daniel Cohen or call Dan on 01502 722787.

Home sweet homeNew kids on the block?

At the end of last year, we offered a free MTM new homes report to our clients and were inundated with requests from dynamic marketers who wanted to know about the new residential developments being planned in their area – and it’s easy to see why they were so keen.

Knowing where target market families live gives you a great opportunity to tell them all about your school and how it might be just right for their children to attend. But what if these families are moving into a new home that isn’t even built yet? Don’t let that stop you! There are many opportunities to communicate with new residents even before they have packed a box or arranged to have their mail redirected.

Boom year for house building: 2021 is expected to be a boom year for house building in the UK. The government needs to catch up on its pledge to deliver a million new homes by 2025, after delays to building work due to Covid restrictions during 2020, and is in consultation with the construction industry on an overhaul to the planning permission system that will make the process much smoother and quicker.

Major developers: New developments of homes will be popping up all over the country, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for the diggers that are likely to be moving into your area. Commission an MTM New homes report, if you haven’t already – it will give you all the information you need. Alternatively, do some sleuthing yourself by searching major developers’ websites – try Barratt’s, Bellway, Berkeley, Countryside, Crest Nicholson, Galliford Try, Persimmon, Redrow and Taylor Wimpey. You’ll see the types of houses to be built, and it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the kinds of families they are aimed at. If the profile you have in your mind’s eye of the new residents matches that of families that have already chosen your school, then your new development is officially a hot location for recruitment.

But before those new families have even set foot on the building site that will be their future neighbourhood, there are ways to let them know your school exists.

Property brochures: Residential developers are always keen to publicise their new developments – particularly if the homes are pricey – with glossy brochures for any prospective home owner who enquires or visits the sales office. Selling a home today is more a case of selling a lifestyle – you only have to tour the showhome yourself to see that the developer’s aim is to help prospective buyers to imagine what their lives could be like if they were to purchase this new home – and where new owners send their children to school is a vital piece of the lifestyle jigsaw. So, if you contact the developer to explain that your school is nearby and perhaps suitable for their potential house-buying customers, they are fairly likely to bite your hand off for a print- quality image of your school building or an aerial shot of the playing fields and a little information about your age range, facilities and exam results. This is a great way to begin building familiarity with your school before the new residents have even seen their brand-new homes.

Sales office: Similarly, it may be worth a call to the developer’s area marketing manager, or even a lunchtime trip to the sales office, to ask if it would be helpful for potential new home- owners to pick up one of your school prospectuses when they visit. Invariably the answer is ‘yes’. As long as your school has a good reputation, there is no reason why the developer wouldn’t want to align itself with you, and sales office staff are always keen on local knowledge to share with their customers.

Bus routes: Making sure your school is convenient for the new residents is important, so there’s no harm in running one of your existing bus routes past or through the new development – even before you have recruited any of the residents. Seeing a liveried bus in the area on a regular basis is a great advertisement for your school.

Leaflet drop: During your phone call or your visit, take note of when each phase of the new home development is scheduled for completion. Keep an eye on the house types that are most likely to be owned by your target market families and, once the ‘sold’ sign has been stuck in the window and the removals lorry has been and gone, it could be time to pop a leaflet through the letterbox to let the new residents know more about your school, or perhaps suggest they attend an open day?

Roadshow: If the development is a large one, you might even feel it’s worth stationing yourself or a small team in a public area – the development’s pocket park or the community centre – to run a play and information session for prospective new families, to publicise your school and give away some branded freebies.

Being aware of new residential developments is extremely valuable – you can begin marketing your school to new house owners even before they know themselves that your area will be their home.

If you’d like to find out about residential development in your area, why not ask for an MTM new homes report? It gives intelligence on where new homes are to be built and whether or not the new residents are likely to match your target market. MTM can also help with bus route planning. Just chat to the friendly MTM team for more information – email Daniel Cohen or call Daniel on 01502 722787.

goalKicking goals – the truth about KPIs

How do you set realistic goals for your business and make sure you reach them? We put MTM’s Head of Business Development Daniel Cohen on the spot.

KPI – three magic letters that can make the difference between success and failure for a business. Key Performance Indicators are how most businesses measure the achievement of their staff and keep their business bank accounts in the black. Used effectively, they are the backbone of a strategy that leads to success; so why do so many businesses set KPIs that are arbitrary, ill thought-out and lead their staff to the Career Opportunities page of their competitor’s website?

The secret is to set KPIs that are actually realistic – for your organisation and for your colleagues – put in place a strategy, and measure its effectiveness as your organisation heads towards achieving its aims.

As with nearly every factor that contributes to success in business, it comes down to understanding your organisation’s market, as well as your organisation’s position in the market and how your organisation came to be in that position. This is information that needs to be understood by the people setting the target – the KPI – as well as the people expected to hit the target. This is an aspect often over-looked by the KPI setters of this world – clear communication unsurprisingly is important, but unfortunately quite often lacking (another article for another day).

Of course, it’s all very well having big goals and fluffy statements of intent, but are they achievable and, if so, how are you going to make them happen? Is it realistic that your school could add an extra hundred pupils by next September, and be the leading Independent school in the area? Maybe it is – then it’s time to put in place KPIs that will let you know when you’re on the way to hitting your target.

Planning your KPIs may go something like this:

  • What’s the desired outcome? A hundred extra pupils on roll by next September (you will want to specify the sections of the school or year groups)
  • Why? To improve the school’s profitability
  • How will we measure progress? We’ll analyse admissions enquiries and conversion rates
  • What will influence the outcome? A solid marketing strategy – communicating effectively with the target market and a robust admissions process to convert enquiries to acceptances
  • Who’s responsible for this outcome? Senior Leadership, Admissions and Marketing teams
  • How will we know when our outcome is achieved? One hundred additional students added to the roll for the next academic year
  • How will we keep track of progress towards our goal? Monthly analysis of admissions data and adjustment of marketing and communications strategy (and possibly budget) to suit

This is simplistic of course, but there is a thought-process behind all successful KPI setting. Get it right and a winning strategy will be formed around it.

To get the ball rolling, MTM can help you find out more about your organisation’s market and its position within it, as well as how it came to be there and where it could realistically be in the future. Our business experts can even assist you as you set your KPIs, put in place a workable marketing and business strategy and measure your progress as your organisation heads towards kicking those goals.

Ask the question

‘Excellent marketers are those who constantly ask questions,’ says MTM’s Head of Marketing Strategy Sophie Braybrooke. Here she advises on the questions marketers need to ask and when to seek help to find the answers…

Whether you are the person responsible for marketing at your school or part of the senior management team providing direction to the admissions and marketing team, the sense of being overwhelmed at the scale of the task in hand is a common one. Layer on top of this the massive upheaval and uncertainty that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented, and there has never been a more important time to take a good look at the health of your marketing function. Do you have the right skills in your department? Is your budget being spent in the right way? Are your goals and expectations realistic?

There’s always the next great marketing idea – blogging, email, Instagram, Pinterest, pod-casts, articles, Facebook ads, video marketing and so on – and the danger is that you jump from one to another, never really giving it the time or the budget to see if it actually works.

Doing a little of everything makes you a master of nothing and you simply will not get the results.

In general, 80% of results come from 20% of your efforts: do what you know works and you will get more bang for your buck.

So focus – crystallise your vision and set clear goals that all your stakeholders have bought into.

When setting these goals, the key questions to ask are:

  • Where are we now? 
  • Where do we want to be?   

If you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, no road will ever get you there.

Data analysis, desk research and parent and pupil surveys will help you to answer the first question.

Consultation with stakeholders, an analysis of the potential market, exploration of opportunities and a review of current activity and procedures will certainly assist with the second.

This important background work will help you to make decisions, reduce risk, catalyse change, demonstrate that you listen to your parent body and care about their needs and concerns, enable you to measure progress, sustain competitor advantage and silence the critics.   With so many balls to juggle and time management one our greatest challenges, this may involve asking for help.

Once you have established where you are now and where you want to be,  ask yourself:

  • How will we get there?  

There are countless marketing strategies that might work but you simply will not have the time, budget and expertise to do them all.

Be realistic and focus on marketing activities that will have the greatest impact and where you have had prior success. Make sure that they  can be delivered using the skills sets in your team –  you will save time and energy.

marketing plan keeps you and your team on track. In a busy school environment where there is so much to promote, it helps you to streamline what you do and communicate why you are doing it.

Focus on strategies that help you to reach your goals – don’t just do what everyone else is doing. My advice would be to start small and build.

Your school does not exist in a bubble. Asking for help to benchmark your school – assessing its performance within a regional and nation context is crucial. Access to national data, competitor rolls, recruitment patterns, demographic predictions and market trends can inform your goals and your strategies and, importantly, remove any bias or supposition.

Excellent marketers are those who constantly ask questions.

By asking questions you can improve your parent experience, measure your brand impression, stay ahead of your competitors, track your performance and target your marketing efforts (restricted of course by time, expertise and budget).

Help is available to find the answers, so make use of it. As a result, you will be able to manage your time better, and focus your efforts more effectively and successfully.

For a FREE marketing health check and initial discussion, please contact Sophie Braybrooke by emailing sophie@mtmconsulting.com, or calling 07747 012533.

How to brief a designer

Whether it’s a prospectus, a website or perhaps just an invitation to an open day, the look of your marketing materials gives an all-important first impression. Unless you’re lucky enough to have an artist in your marketing team, you’ll probably need to commission a specialist, but how do you brief a designer to make sure the finished product does your organisation credit?

Design work is pricey and can quickly swallow up a chunk of your marketing budget. It also takes time to collate the content of a website or a publication – many hours go into writing copy, arranging photography and thinking about the structure and tone of your organisation’s marketing materials. So, it is well worth doing all you can to make sure your designer is on your wavelength from the start and can present you with an end product that does your organisation proud.

Although you’ll want to give your designer plenty of information to go on, it’s important to stop short of describing a design you have in mind yourself. Designing materials – whether printed or electronic – is all about team-working, and coming up with a design concept that suits you and your organisation is usually the result of a collaborative process.

The idea is that you present your designer with the background to the project, your hopes and dreams for it, and then let the professional do the rest. A good designer will be able to translate your brief into the design you didn’t know you wanted.

What to include:

Your brand: Your designer will want to understand the character of your organisation, what it stands for and who it’s aimed at. You’ll need to explain your market and the messages you’re aiming to convey through every aspect of your communications with the outside world, including the current project.

Your current style: Prepare a pack for your designer, including your existing printed materials, and send links to any online branded communications, such as your organisation’s website or e-newsletter. Make sure your designer has your brand guidelines, including colours, fonts and any other design requirements and explain to your designer how important it is to stick to them!

Style departure: If you are looking to graduate from your previous design style, let your designer how far you are willing to digress, including making clear any aspects that are non-negotiable and why. It’s often worth squirrelling away a few examples of design work you admire which you can pass to your designer for inspiration.

Project planning: Your designer will need to know the timescale, deliverables and budget – and if there is any wiggle room.

Regular assessment: Agree a timeline with built-in opportunities for assessment – that way, if the design or project is veering off-piste it won’t take too much work or time to get it back on track.

Roles: It’s important to be clear about the designer’s responsibilities and those of you and your team. If your colleagues are to be involved in providing any part of the project – written content or photography, for example – make sure they are also involved in discussions with the designer.

Objectives: Tell your designer what you want this project to achieve. Remember that objectives can be emotional as well as practical – how do you want people to feel when they see or experienced this piece of design work? And what do you want to encourage them to do next?

If you put time and thought into planning the brief for your designer, your project should run smoothly and result in a piece of design work that is admired by your target market and envied by your competitors!