Storytelling for Schools Marketing

Customer-centric marketing has forever changed the structure of how marketing works, particularly for schools.  Parents are looking for a more emotional connection between themselves and the school brands they wish to engage with.

This isn’t a blog aimed at your school librarian. Up until six or seven years ago, ‘storytelling’ meant sitting a group of children on a carpet and reading to them from a story book or gathering around a campfire to make up wild ghost stories.  But for several years now, marketers have been thinking in terms of stories, as the rise and rise of the term ‘storytelling’ on professional channels show us.

Brands and businesses have started to see their interactions with their customers in terms of what story they tell about themselves. They recognise that our brains are hardwired to understand and retain stories, with the best and most memorable ones tapping into people’s emotions.  Digital channels allow us a huge increase in the ways brands can tell their stories; from blogs, case studies and first-person narratives on websites, to short, temporary but regular interactions on social media platforms. Instagram have capitalised on this by calling their new, rampantly popular feature ‘Stories’.

So how does this relate to marketing for schools?  Parents are looking for a place where they think their children will fit, a school which shares their priorities and ethos.  In this sense, independent schools are a lot like membership organisations; parents are prepared to make a huge investment in the fees, and in return they really need to feel like they, and their children, belong.  As well as the concrete facts about facilities, activities and results, your customers want to know what the story of the school is. Not every detail of its history, but how its ethos has been developed and what this means for its students.  School marketers need to tell a story which makes parents want to belong to their club.

Making the most of your assets

As living, breathing organisms, which are also a ‘product’ in themselves, schools have a huge wealth of storytelling potential within them.  Naturally, their biggest asset is the students themselves.  Students talking about how they arrived at a school, or how they’ve developed at the school are great opportunities to tell a school’s story. This might be in the form of a profile of a recent scholar in a scholarship brochure, or an advertising campaign which showcases students and their interests.  Millfield school have taken this approach on their website, and this same narrative feeds through to their social media and offline marketing as well as school events; individual stories shine through.

Video marketing is an opportunity to tug on an audience’s heartstrings.  From the sweepingly powerful, like the ‘Unlimited’ campaign by Western Sydney University, to the more intimate ‘journey’ of pupils told anonymously but powerfully by Stamford Endowed Schools’ #thisiswhere campaign.

Your school site, your teaching, pastoral and support staff, all represent ways of telling the story of your school, too.  Avoid voiceless school videos which just show beaming faces and showy grounds (and beware the hackneyed drone footage!) set to bright music.  Parents want to know what the beating heart of a school is about.  Some clever ideas and a strong strategy are key to telling a clear, compelling story.

Photography

Another strand to your storytelling is in your photography.  Parents rightly expect virtually everything that goes on at school to be photographed these days, but make sure you’re capturing children doing stuff, not just groups staring at camera.  Tell a story by inviting the onlooker in; make them wonder what’s being said by that physics teacher, capture the look of engagement on students faces in a drama workshop.  This isn’t always easy for school marketers; you can’t always be there yourself to take photos but train your staff; get them on board with the storytelling idea and get them to take PLENTY of photos for you to choose from.  Provide them with a decent camera to be used around the school; the dividends on this investment will be huge.  Take the time to tell your students that’s what you’ll be doing, too; they’ll be your best asset with their creative ideas.

News Stories and Blogs

Your website is more than just a straightforward news platform. Makes sure your news stories aren’t just dry reports of facts about a trip or event. This doesn’t mean that every post should overtly be selling the school; current parents will soon get tired of the idea that every story you tell is with one eye on the customers of the future. Sales pitches don’t make good news stories. Be clever with your content, taking your reader on a journey, get input from staff about what their thinking was behind taking students to see a particular production of a play, or what how an event reflects the values of your school. Including as many voices as possible in a piece means your news pieces will build together into great storytelling about your school.

When it comes to blogs, strategy is key. The kind of inbound marketing opportunities well-written blogs can generate are not to be dismissed; according to the CMI, content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less. Creating a calendar of monthly topics will not only give you an opportunity to showcase your institution’s unique story and to differentiate yourself from other schools and colleges, it will help bring you a steady stream of loyal followers. This is where the work you’ve done on properly understanding your customers will pay dividends; relevant content will explain to them how your school solves the challenge they need solving- that’s your story.

Prospectus

Finally, the prospectus; these glossy brochures will never be irrelevant, and the opportunities of a well-put-together print campaign will pay dividends for years. Here, we return to the traditions of storytelling; compelling, well-written, and faultlessly executed.  Balancing the ambitions of your school with its budget, can be challenging, but a distinct narrative which is easily associated with your brand is exactly what will convince parents that you’re the club they need to belong to.

A Fresh Pair of Eyes

Good brand storytelling relies on a good strategic narrative – one that shines through countless executions across various channels, sometimes over years. Showcasing your vision and getting parents to understand your school’s distinct personality has never been more important. Engaging an external agency for website or prospectus development, or the branding and launch of a fundraising project, can put a fresh pair of eyes on the problem of telling your unique story.  Expert outsiders with school marketing insights have the unique advantage of understanding your intentions but being far enough removed to objectively see things from your audience perspective allowing them to offer completely unbiased feedback and guidance.


If you’re looking to improve your school’s storytelling skills, from short social media workshops, to digital or strategy audits and project-management on new campaigns, why not get in touch?

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