How to Uncover & Leverage Your School’s True Differentiators

Private Schools Marketing

Every school has at least one – or sometimes many – noteworthy things that they like to highlight and feature when marketing to prospective parents. That thing is often the deciding factor for families choosing a potential new school for their kids – and it can affect or influence so much more, from parents’ loyalty to community reputation to advancement and alumni relations to hiring, and so much more. 

In today’s market, we see that many schools are putting forward the same or similar messaging, claiming to have the best faculty or the best programs. However, if many schools use those as their unique differentiators, they stop seeming truly different and blend in with their many competitors. We want to encourage your school to get real about what your unique advantages and differences are (you can’t ALL have the very best basketball program… that’s not how math works). 

In our NAIS study last year, we heard from schools across North America about the things they see as their differentiators. When private & independent school marketers were asked about their school’s key differentiators:

  • The top 3 answers overall were culture (“we have the best community”), staff/faculty (“we hire the best teachers”), and courses/programs/sports offered (“we offer the best academics / sports / arts programs / extra-curriculars”)

  • 93% of elementary schools, 88% of elementary-secondary schools, and 80% of secondary schools reported culture as their top differentiator

  • 76% of schools we surveyed felt that their people (teachers/coaches) were a key differentiator

  • 72% of schools felt their reputation was a key differentiator (elementary schools were the least likely to report reputation as their key differentiator)

It’s clear from this data that many schools are using the same or similar messaging to ‘sell’ their school to prospective families. You can leverage this information to help you better position your school’s brand and campaign messaging – and carve out a space and a message that is truly unique and memorable.

5 ways to identify (and market) your school’s unique differentiating factor

  1. One of the best places to start is to reach out to your current families, students, faculty, and other stakeholders and ask them about what they think makes your school different from all the others. This is also a good opportunity to ask them what types of people they think are the right fit for your school, what other schools they considered before choosing your school, what they perceive the strengths and differences of those schools to be, and how important those factors were to their final decision where to enrol their kids. You can use a mix of surveys, polls, and interviews. 

  2. Another good practice is to reach out to the families who inquired but did not apply or applied but did not accept/attend. These questions are harder to ask (and might be hard to hear the answers to) but they can provide amazing insights into how your prospective families compared your school to others. 

  3. Create a rich definition of your target audiences - who they are, what’s important to them, and what are their motivations when it comes to choosing a school. Also consider that different types of right-fit families will use different factors to evaluate your school against different competitors. Take all your target audiences into consideration when you identify their pain points when deciding between schools, and map out the journey they’re likely to take when doing so. 

    Learn more: 10 Steps to Understand & Define Your Target Audience

  4. Conduct a thorough audit of your competitors. What are they saying about themselves and why would one of your right-fit families choose them over you (and vice versa)? 

  5. Finally, when describing your school’s key differentiators, be honest about what you offer that your competitors can’t offer, don’t offer, or what they aren’t talking about. Try not to be aspirational - make promises you can keep. 

    Learn more: Shining the Spotlight on Your Signature Programs

By understanding how your competitors see themselves and what they consider their key differentiators, you can stay front of mind with your unique messaging and create campaigns that resonate with prospective families, future students, and other stakeholders.

At Metric Marketing, we develop measurable and practical strategies to help private and independent schools like yours to make the most of your marketing efforts. We'd love to discuss your private school's marketing requirements with you. Contact us today to speak with our marketing professionals or use the form below to sign up and receive more marketing tips in your inbox.


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