Marketing as community building

I’m running a seminar next Friday for a group of independent schools in England. This is something I’ve been doing for a number of years and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve come to think lately that some of these schools already have a great intuitive understanding of effective ways to do marketing in today’s environment. It’s just that they don’t see it as marketing. In some ways, they may be better placed to market effectively than many commercial organisations with large marketing departments.

That’s because successful schools implicitly understand the challenges of creating community. They have never fallen for simplistic notions such as “the customer comes first” because their professional ethics and beliefs mean there are limits to what they will do just to make pupils – or parents happy. So good schools have learnt how to create respectful relationships with all their audiences in which there is an exchange of duties not a simple buy-sell exchange.

Schools are learning communities. A lot of the motivation of those involved is based on the innate human desire to learn, which is not about immediate, sometimes not even long-term, financial rewards. So good schools also have a better sense of how to value intangibles than a great many businesses – which tend to get trapped in the processes and disciplines that were better suited to an industrial economy than today’s network and knowledge economy.

Certainly, there are some marketing basics that schools can benefit from. But more and more, I think my seminar should focus on helping them do better what they’re already naturally good at… creating positive learning relationships and extending these beyond the classroom into the wider school community.

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