Identify your target market

March 31, 2010

Identifying your target market is a key piece of the marketing puzzle. If you don’t know who you’re promoting to, how can you promote your language or literacy program effectively? How do you, as educational leaders and program directors, identify your target market?

Start by asking yourself, who do you want to register in your program? For example, if your program caters to students 18 years of age or older who have completed high school, then that’s your target audience. You need to appeal to both them and their parents, depending on who is footing the bill. In such a case the actual “target market” would include both the prospective students and their parents, since both may be involved in the decision-making process. You’ll want to gear your marketing materials to both groups.

If your programs are filled with workers sponsored through workplace learning programs, your target market would include both the workers (your prospective students) and the companies who sponsor them.

Most language school owners or managers intuitively know who they’d like to have in their programs. The trick is to let everyone on your team in on your vision – especially the people who create your marketing materials. By clearly articulating – even in writing – who your target market is, you’ll make it easier for everyone at your school to promote your programs. The act of writing it down will also help you stay on track when tempting, but ultimately unproductive opportunities come your way.

When it comes to marketing materials, rarely does one size (or shape or colour or format) fit all. Once you have identified your target market, the next step is to create marketing materials designed for each group.  For example, if you have a program designed for seniors, it is unlikely that your web marketing will be the most effective tool for them, unless they are a particularly techno-savvy group of elders. A good, old-fashioned brochure, printed on good quality paper and placed in libraries and seniors’ centres, may be an excellent marketing tool for that group.  But for students and young professionals, web marketing is essential.

Also, you may want to consider the language you are using for different groups. A group of high-achieving professionals may be more interested in the end result of registering in the program, so using words like “results”, “benefits” and “achievement” may be appropriate. On the other hand, students looking for a holiday tour with a language study component may be more interested in the “experience”, the “immersion” and the “fun”.

Once you identify your market, you can tailor your marketing materials to that target group watch how it impacts your registration.

This post is adapted from Idea #4 in Dr. Eaton’s book 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program

The Plight of the ESL Program Director

March 29, 2010

Are you a frustrated ESL program manager?

I presented a paper a few years ago at the University of Prince Edward Island called The Plight of the ESL Program Director.  It reveals findings of a research study I did about English as a Second Language program directors and managers at the university level.

Here are the two main highlights:

  • Many English as a Second Language (ESL) program managers, are charged with the responsibility of marketing their programs and recruiting students internationally, often with little or no training (Eaton, 2005).
  • Not only are they set forth ill-prepared, the repercussions for insufficient revenue generation may be harsh, including having to fire instructors or having their programs may be closed by the very institutions they serve (Mickelson, 1997; Soppelsa, 1997; Staczek, 1997), many of which regard such programs as lucrative (Rubin, 1997).

Building on the work that has been done in this field to date, this research adds in the voices of three language program directors that I interviewed for this study. All of them directed different ESL programs, housed in different academic units at the same university. They offer commentary and insight into matters of importance for ESL administrators.

At the end of the paper, I offer some recommendations on how things may be improved for the future.

The full-text paper in .pdf format is available free of charge through the ERIC database.


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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) Please visit my speaking page, too.

Language schools and Facebook: Just do it

March 26, 2010

Recently a colleague (someone whom I respect very much) told me that as far as social media goes, she has a “Just say no” policy. She claims it would take up too much of her time if she “did Facebook”. I felt like jumping across the table at the restaurant where we were enjoying lunch and strangling her.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of social media. But me being a fan of it means nothing and that’s not why anyone should explore it. There is a one good simple reason why language programs should have an online presence, including a Facebook page. It is this: If you’re marketing something, you need to “be” where your prospective students are.

I have a client who runs an adventure language learning school in Europe. I’ve suggested to him that he focus his marketing efforts on finding students who are already into the adventure lifestyle. He’ll probably get more traction at outdoor expos than he will at a traditional language fair. He wants to “be” where his students are. He’s also looking at online marketing, and rightly so.

Why? Because his learners are young people, aged 18-25. And where are those folks? They’re on line. This age group rules the Internet. In particular, they’re on Facebook.

My adventure language learning school owner has it right, folks. If you’re marketing to 18-25 year olds, you don’t just want a website. You want an entire online presence that includes a Facebook page.

This means a Facebook page, at the very least. Don’t know how to get one? It’s easy and it’s free. I’ll give you an example. Here’s my company page:

I’m not offering that up as shameless self-promotion, but rather to make it easy for you. On the bottom left hand side of the page there’s a link that says, “Create a page for my business”. Click on it. Make a page for your school.

See? Wasn’t that simple? 10 minutes of your time increases your online presence.

When you’re done that, send a note out to all your current and past students, asking them to become fans of your page. Yes, ask. It’s not cheesy. It’s how it’s done. Being a “fan” of someone’s FB page is code for “I think these folks are all right and I’m happy to be part of their community and support them”. (By the way, since I believe in practicing what I preach, why don’t you become a fan of my FB page while you’re there?)

Hopefully you already have a Facebook account for yourself and your students are your friends. If not, get yourself an account. Keep it professional. Search for a few student names and start adding friends. The term “friend” on Facebook can be your actual real, live friends and they can also be customers, business contacts and others. I keep my Facebook page fairly neutral and don’t mind if colleagues and former students are friends. It’s a good way to stay in touch.

If you go onto Facebook and do a search for groups using the term “language schools”, the results may surprise you. There are businesses listed who have hundreds of fans. Who are all these fans? Their current and former students, of course! The students use the school’s page as a place to post photos and exchange messages. It creates a hive of online activity, led in a large part by the students themselves. This is pretty much the perfect low-cost, high-impact marketing and promotion I am a big fan of.

When you’ve got your FB page, send me a note or drop me a comment on the blog and I’ll become a fan of your page. Why? Because I am way more of a “Just do it” kind of girl than my colleague in the restaurant. That is to say, when “just do it” is good for you, of course. When it comes to marketing it is definitely good to “do Facebook”.

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