A marketing strategy is a map that gets your program where you want to go. It gives you a plan to promote your program, target the right students and allocate your resources wisely. They say that trying to grow your program without having a plan is like going on a road trip without a map. You may get somewhere, but will it be where you wanted?
Marketing strategies are useful in any organization dedicated to generating revenue. In the case of language education, they’re also useful for recruitment purposes and increasing enrollments, even if you’re not expected to make money. Some people may tell you that you need a program degree or a marketing expert to prepare a strategy. While these things may help, you can outline a basic plan yourself, even if you don’t have a program background or the resources to hire a consultant. Common sense, a clear head and a vision of where you want your program to go can do wonders for helping you prepare a good, solid marketing strategy. In fact, the process of creating that vision can create marketing opportunities you would otherwise miss, simply because you are able to clearly describe your program anywhere, any time.
Here are 7 essential elements of a successful marketing strategy.
1. Define your program. What are you offering? Define it clear, simple, objective terms. Depending on what it is you are selling, your definition may be one line or several paragraphs. You want to be able to concisely answer the question, “So, what programs does your school offer?” If you fumble for an answer – or don’t have one at all – your marketing efforts may never be sufficiently focussed to help prospective students decide on you. Depending on what you’re offering, your definition may be one line or several paragraphs. If you offer more than one type of program, consider having a broad, but concise definition for all of it, along with brief definitions of each individual type of program.
2. Highlight the benefits. How will your student benefit from your program? This can be tough to articulate. One way to do this is to ask yourself, “If I were a student, what would I get out of this program? What good is it to me? Why would I want it?” Another way to think of it is, “For what problem does this program provide a solution?” For example, if you manage a small language program benefits to your students may include personal attention and a friendly atmosphere. If you offer specialized courses in pronunciation, that is another benefit for students.
3. Be clear about the strengths and weaknesses of your program. Let’s be clear. Every program has limitations. Trying to be all things to all people may hurt you in the long run. We may like to think that the market for whatever we offer is limitless, but the reality is that the better we know exactly what we offer, the more likely we are to attract exactly the right student.
4. Know your competition. Take the time to find out who else is offering similar courses. In today’s world, there are very few totally new ideas, products or services. It is in your best interest to know who else is offering something similar to you. Remember these tips to success: “First, best or different.” If you are the first one ever with a new idea, product or service, lucky you. If not, you want to either be the best at what you do, or offer something slightly different from your competition.
5. Determine who your market is for your courses. This may seem self-evident, but all too often, program managers say, “Well, everyone is a potential student!” That’s not true. After you define your program and assess its strengths and weaknesses, then you are in a position to ask yourself, “OK, who needs this most?” Whoever needs it most is your best target market.
6. Establish a budget for marketing, promoting and advertising. This is often the hardest part. Some people say that 20% of the gross annual earnings of a program should be funneled back into promoting it. Often, language programs are reluctant to put a number on how much they want to spend on marketing. In this case, one of two things often happens: either you overspend or you miss excellent opportunities to promote your program.
7. Keep track of what you spend on promotions and the results. This takes time. The idea is to track what works for your program and what doesn’t. You can speculate all you want, but unless you have numbers in front of you, the idea that you have is just a hunch, not fact.
A final reminder: marketing and sales are not the same. I like to say that marketing is about people and sales is about dollars. Marketing takes place over a longer term is closely tied to building relationships. This takes time. Even if you don’t have huge dollars to invest in marketing your program, the time you spend developing a strong, effective marketing strategy is an investment in your program, your future and your success. Write your own road map to success and then enjoy the journey!
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.