Marketing in the time of COVID

Spoorthi G K

Marketing is not a one-stop solution for all. It has to be designed in a way that it reaches your audience effectively with a message that is relevant for them.

“Parents are unable or unwilling to pay fees”, says Mr. Ramakrishna, a school owner who has been struggling to reach out to parents and keep his school running. Despite trying several strategies, including door to door campaigning and repeated phone calls, parents seem to be distancing themselves from his efforts and he is failing to engage with them.

“It has been really challenging to retain students by running online classes.”, says Mrs. Savitha, a school owner who has been struggling with student engagement and retention. Even though she has tried several different strategies to engage with parents like repeated phone calls, virtual meetings and events for students, parent and student engagement has been extremely low as parents do not see the value in online education.

“There is a huge risk of losing students to government schools.”, says Mr. Prakash Shukla who runs a private school in the rural part of India. He is finding it extremely challenging to differentiate his school from the surrounding government schools, who are providing free books and online classes.

Schools have traditionally printed flyers, run door to door campaigns with their teachers and conducted events a few months before the admission process begins. So, in the given context, does it then even make sense for schools to “market” themselves?  After all, their focus should be on retaining existing students and recovering fees. 

We argue that now, more than ever, schools need to focus on marketing.

Schools in India have always thought of marketing as a short-term activity to increase admissions. However, marketing is not just the art of advertising and selling, but is also the art of communicating with your existing customer base to improve brand loyalty and customer retention. We believe that the number one priority for schools in the current context should be to ensure that they do not lose their existing parents. 

Marketing is not a one-stop solution for all. It has to be designed in a way that it reaches your audience effectively with a message that is relevant for them. In the rest of the article we explore a few simple strategies that should help schools engage meaningfully with parents.

1. Identify your customer segment

It is very important for schools to understand who their customer or audience is before engaging with them. Identifying their customer segment will help them understand what to communicate. Based on Varthana’s extensive research and work with affordable private schools, we have categorised parents into three board categories

  1. Quality conscious parents– These parents are driven by the quality of the school and they put in extensive research before deciding the school. They are least affected by COVID. They are worried about their child’s learning and expect schools to provide quality education through online learning. 
  2. Brand conscious parents– These parents are driven by the reputation of the school in the community. They are moderately affected by COVID. They are worried about keeping their child occupied at home and expect schools to support them to keep children occupied.
  3. Price conscious parents– These parents are driven by value for money. Their decisions are constrained by budget and circumstances. They are highly affected by COVID. Many of these parents have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. Their focus is to sustain during these difficult times and interact as little as possible with the schools. 

A school can have a combination of all three customer segments. Being aware of this split will help schools decide their message and communication channel.

Parent Segmentation

2. Leverage your influencers to reach a wider audience

Every school has parents who appreciate the efforts the school takes and have a strong voice in the community. People in the community often turn to them before making a decision. Identifying and leveraging these influencers can help schools communicate and engage with parents through them. Schools can involve influencers in parent engagement using several strategies like organizing events facilitated by influencers, host virtual parent meetings co-led by influencers, one-on-one parent phone calls etc.

3.Select appropriate communication channels

Using the right channel to communicate is extremely critical. An incorrect channel could lead to the message not reaching your audience. Having a website or an active social media presence is irrelevant if parents do not have access to the internet. Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, direct phone calls to “Quality conscious parents” could be perceived as being overly intrusive.

4. Create a sense of urgency around learning

Schools need to create a sense of urgency amongst parents to bring back the focus to student learning. Parents must understand that neglecting student learning can not only lead to substantial learning loss but also have a long-term negative impact. Schools should reinforce the importance of online learning and how it is customized to fit the needs of every child. This will also provide a competitive advantage over government schools. 

5. Use positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcements will motivate parents to engage with the schools frequently. To maintain motivation and interest, schools should be creative in the types of positive reinforcements used. Schools can use a wide variety of reinforcements like student awards, parent awards and weekly events.

These are unprecedented times. Several parents have lost their sources of income and several others are trying to balance working from home in potentially unproductive environments. Parents should feel valued and understood by schools. There should be a shift in focus from fee collection to highlighting benefits of online learning and student engagement. The COVID-19 pandemic has, almost overnight, completely transformed the landscape of education. Schools must be proactive and creative to remain relevant and essential during this crisis.

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Note: All names have been changed in the article

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