How to Create a Basic Marketing Plan for your International School Part 2

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In a prior post , we introduced the concept of a small, yet effective marketing plan for your school. Rather than developing a large document that tries to anticipate everything that might happen during the year, we emphasized the importance of including just what is necessary to make it useable. The plan should be viewed as a dynamic document that can be modified as needed.

We listed eight important components that should be in your marketing plan. They were:

  • State the purpose of your marketing
  • Describe your target market
  • Describe the niche you serve
  • List the benefits of your school and competitive advantage over others
  • Clearly state your school’s identity
  • List the marketing tactics you will employ
  • Detail your budget
  • Identify new market opportunities to be investigated in the coming year

We also detailed components 1-3 in the prior post. Now, we turn our attention to the remaining ones.


What is Your Competitive Advantage?

Even among seasoned marketers, it’s common to confuse features and benefits. Features are factual statements regarding your school. Families, however, will determine where to enroll their children based on benefits, no matter how impressive those features may be. For example, a feature of your school may be that the teacher to student ratio is 1-to-10. The benefit – and the reason why the family would choose your school – is that their child will get the individualized attention they need to succeed. The benefit carries emotional weight.

Every school has benefits, even if they do not do a good job of articulating them. What will make your school stand out from the rest is if you provide unique benefits that families want. There are two parts to this statement.

First, your school should ideally have one or more benefits that (a) competing schools in your area do not, and (b) are difficult to duplicate. If other schools can claim the same benefit, then it doesn’t really count as an advantage. Alternatively, if those benefits can be easily obtained by the other schools, you will not enjoy that advantage for long.

Second, your unique benefits must be ones that your target market actually wants. This requires that you consult your buyer personas and make sure your benefits address the issues they truly care about.

A great way to get clear on your competitive advantage is to ask the families of your current students why they chose your school. It’s instructive to attempt to determine your competitive advantages before polling the parents. You may find that your assumptions of how parents see your school are incorrect.


What is Your School’s Identity?

A major part of your school’s identity is what you want families to remember and know you as. This is closely related to your competitive advantage. For example, Dominos Pizza started by being known as the one company that delivered “fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less.” Their identity was not based in the taste of their pizza. Or in using a traditional, secret recipe. And it worked brilliantly for them.

Note, that we use the term identity and not image. Your school’s identity is based on truth and honesty. All too often, an image is a phony representation designed solely to make sales. Further, your identity should be clear, free of confusion, and consistent. Refer again to the Dominos Pizza example.


What Tactics Will You Use and What Should Your Budget Be?

All too often, marketing is seen as an expense and the budget is either determined by whatever is left over in the overall budget of the school or by simply making a slight modification to last year’s budget. Doing either of these is a mistake.

To determine which marketing tactics to use and what your budget should be takes careful thought. Examine what tactics worked for you last year and which did not. Analyze your results and put more money into the tactics that proved effective. Marketing should be seen as an investment and you want to invest in avenues that have proven to be fruitful, not just those you do as a matter of habit.


Preparing For The Following Year

If you want to continue reaching your goals year after year, it’s a wise idea to plan ahead. This does not need to be a large section in your marketing plan; however, advance thought can help position yourself for success the following year. A small investment now could make achieving next year’s goals considerably easier.

And there you are: a minimal yet complete marketing plan for your international school. Make sure to include the eight components listed above, but also make sure to keep it short enough that you can complete it in a timely fashion. The sooner it is finished, the sooner you can start to implement the plan!

This blog was originally published in October 2017 and has been updated in August 2020.


Deborah Janz

Deborah is a true leader. Not only has she jumped through legal and regulatory hoops to launch a multi-million dollar US-based business in Canada, she also wears multiple hats at IMPACT. She's the researcher and strategist. She a learner and adopter of innovative practices. She's a speaker, consultant, and trainer. She's also building a dynamic team of experts through an awesome workplace culture. Prior to launching IMPACT, she was in the trenches of sales and marketing in the tourism industry. A globe-trotter by nature, her boots-on-the-ground approach to exploring new opportunities internationally is why IMPACT is successful. She's adventurous, hungry to travel the world, and is always willing to try different foods - bugs are not out of the question. When not working away to make IMPACT the best it can be, you can find Deborah climbing mountains, diving in clear waters, or mentoring female business owners.