Why schools need strategic marketing

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 10, 2003

EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS TODAY face more challenging times.

Competition, globalization, changes in the curriculum influenced by technology and industry, a more demanding student clientele are bust some of the developments that suggest an urgent need for educational institutions to have a strong marketing orientation.

Schools, if they wish to survive, need to do some drastic changes and shun the traditional belief that students and the business sector will always accept what schools produce.

Many schools today may not recognize the fact that they have come under intense scrutiny from their primary customers that include the students and the industry, the latter being the natural reservoir of graduate students.

The students and their families who pay the bill are seeking a more solid return on their educational investment. Too often, the question that lingers in the mind would be, “which school can provide me the best education with my available financial resources and personal goals?”

Likewise, the emergence of many schools across the country with quite a number under foreign religious orders or with foreign principals, have given consumers more choices. With exacting consumers and greater competition, schools need to become marketing-oriented and embrace the discipline’s philosophy of concentrating on customers.


It starts from the top. The institution’s president and its board of trustees must be the highest-level marketing advocates. With leadership understanding and espousing how important it is to serve the needs of its customers, the school can offer programs and put in place policies that respond to and anticipate its market’s needs and wants.

Likewise, it becomes easy for all the institution’s departments to think customer. All things being equal, a school that is customer-centric is likely to attract and retain students and donors than one where faculty and staff are cold and indifferent.

Create a brand vision. The onset of competition has stressed the need for schools to create a clear brand vision or identity in the minds of the student market and the business sector.

Much of business complains about the shortage of quality that fit the personnel requirements of the industry. Perhaps, this may be because majority of companies source only from the country’s perceived select prestigious schools.

Not surprisingly, these schools must have over time invested in creating a strong identity in the minds of the business sector. Creating a brand vision is a step in owning a position in the minds of one’s target market. The brand vision must be responsive and meaningful to the customer market as it is deliverable by the educational institution.

This can happen if the vision is grounded on qualities and values present in the organization. With a clear brand vision, a school can focus its resources and activities on what it can do best. This becomes the basis for the distinctive positioning in the minds of its target market. A school driven by wisdom is quick to realize that it cannot offer all programs and be the best school for all students.

Understand your customers. A clearly defined brand vision helps the school identify its customers. With an established target market, the school can use marketing research tools to create a dialogue with the representative consumer and in the process use the findings to develop a new or improved curriculum and programs that are creative, distinctive and at the same time responsive to the needs of the target market.

Build your school’s image. Schools have traditionally taken a conservative stance when it comes to image-building activities. Its effort in the area of generating public awareness is limited to a few admission ads or obscure publicity on a memorandum of agreement (MOA) or contract signing activity. Unknown to the general public, within schools and universities are a multitude of newsworthy events.

Faculty, insightful lectures behind professorial chairs, meritorious assignment of administrative chairs, book launches, grounded and empirical research studies, etc. are but some of the events that can lend intuitive value to media publication pages and credibility to a school’s brand vision and identity.

Unfortunately, most of these events are kept within the academic community. Notable too, is that very few local schools have embarked on a thematic image-building campaign much less sustain one.

Through marketing communications, creating awareness among the target market is one of the more important ways to gain the confidence of the present and future market. Establishing a distinct positioning in the minds of consumers can only be achieved through effective use of marketing communication tools.

Establish a permanent relationship. A school’s relationship with its students should not end on graduation day. Your graduates are your best advocates. Maintaining contact with them is your best and most cost-effective investment ever. Today’s technology has made it easier to develop a loyalty program.

A well –maintained, updated database allows a school to keep tabs with a graduate on special occasions like birthdays, Christmas and other momentous events. Recognize the endless possibilities that a good loyalty program can bring the school.

Marketing is an investment. One of the greatest barriers in developing a marketing orientation in a school environment is the perception that marketing is expensive. This should be qualified.

Marketing may not be cheap but in today’s time, it is a necessity. The good news is, there are much more marketing options today than in the past. Moreover, alternatives like direct marketing, e-mail broadcast, mounting special events, etc. provide a much more efficient way to get to your customer market.