As we settled into the realities of the pandemic this time last year, it quickly became apparent that classroom learning would, for the most part, be suspended for the foreseeable future and education businesses were going to need a new strategy for 2020.
A pattern began to emerge, and we observed as education providers began to organise themselves into three camps.
- Pack Leaders
- Flexible Players
Each of these different education business types took a different approach to school closures.
A year on, and we’re revisiting the different business types to see how their strategies played out and what they’re doing in 2021.
Pack Leaders during the pandemic
In the weeks following the initial closures, the pack leaders wasted no time in resuming the hunt.
They adapted the portions of their business that weren’t compatible with closures rapidly and then sensitively set out to reassure current clients and win new ones.
They swiftly adopted Zoom, became flexible with meeting times, and began conducting site surveys via video link. They didn’t pack it in; they just got busy.
While schools weren’t functioning normally during the depths of the pandemic last year, 74% were still open, and a quarter of all schools aimed to keep staffing levels the same as before.
Pack leaders quickly realised, after a short interruption to their usual business activity, not only were they able to regain their typical sales figures, but there was an opportunity to win new business by filling the void left by competitors that paused their marketing activity.
When school budgets were released at the start of April, they doubled down on marketing spend, and the school leaders, whose priorities may have changed but whose research and buying habits remained steady as they were still in session, took notice.
Their target audience was spending more time in front of the screen, and their inboxes had space to spare.
Pack leaders in 2021
The pack leader skipped over hibernation and established a confident lead throughout the pandemic.
Some businesses are just now trying to regain their position in the market and gain momentum. The pack leaders have turned up the heat and focused on new customer acquisition and growth.
They learned a powerful lesson over lockdown: they don’t need to beat their competitors; they only have to compete with the customer’s previous best experience.
During the pandemic and now, that means little more than being visible, available, and flexible.
Once you’ve won your prospects attention with some killer marketing, they will expect the customer experience to be relevant, frictionless, and anticipatory.
Over the previous year, teachers will have experienced a rapid acceleration in the number of digital experiences they’ve had. They will have tried numerous new solutions, and will know precisely what they liked, didn’t like, and what’s essential for them going forward.
So, how do you check these boxes?
Know your segment.
With a year of experience and because they’ve had their finger on the pulse – pack leaders marketing messages will be relevant to the situation and values of the organisations they’re engaging.
Has it been a while since you were in the game? Do you need a refresher on your segment? Perhaps you’re just curious where your products are on schools’ lists of priorities?
Talk to us.
We’re the alpha, and we’ll show you how you can hunt down your next customer using Campus in-house. Take total control and access our database of 400,000 UK contacts on your terms.
Your future clients are on Campus, and it only takes 20 minutes to identify your segment and make initial contact.
The flexible players were the businesses that knew it was going to be tough to adapt, but they got on with it anyway rather than wait out the storm.
Imagine having to digitise your whole catalogue of CPD courses? Or bring your touring Anti-Bullying theatre production online? Or turn an NEC event into an online exhibition?
It was hard going, but their efforts were rewarded as the months wore on, and educators and students got used to interfacing via their computers.
Salvaging as much of their original content and marketing materials as possible, they quickly discovered that what seemed like a daunting task at first was a worthwhile pursuit.
The flexibility of streamed seminars, online resources, and content that could be delivered and accessed from anywhere provided them with a new USP.
Audience size and participation were up for online events that could be held more frequently, efficiently, and cost-effectively.
Flexible Players in 2021
With a new set of clients and capabilities – our flexible players are now free to decide whether to return to their old ways, continue with new ones, or take a hybrid approach.
They have a wealth of material they can now use in their email marketing to promote products and services online and in person.
Many flexible players are taking their new resources and material and are reestablishing old ties with schools. They made necessary changes at the time, and are optimistic about the future and are ready to get back to pre-pandemic times.
Others are happy to carry on with their new models of business. Not entirely confident they’ve seen the back of the pandemic, but also not bothered, they want to keep the changes that have been made since COVID struck and aren’t looking back.
In either case, it’s going to be important for both businesses to use messaging that resonates with schools’ and teachers’ values and priorities.
With attitudes toward the future split, they’ll be left with deciding which side they’ll pitch or if they’ll try to trend the line between both.
Most importantly, whichever way they go, it’ll soon be time to move away from COVID-specific advertising completely.
Are you feeling flexible? Unsure which trend line you’ll follow? Will you offer a bit of everything?
Read up on The State of Schools of Selling to Schools 2021.
In our comprehensive, annual report, we’ve polled over 2,600 teachers and nearly 300 businesses from across the UK to determine what will be on the mind of schools, teachers, and education businesses as we move forward.
It’s a great place to start if you want to know what schools are prioritising this year.
Okay, it’s not the most flattering term, but it fits the motif.
Some businesses had no choice but to sit this round out. Our friends operating in travel, events, and workshops were hit hard. Our research showed 100% of education travel and trip providers saw sales performance drop more than 50%, and there’s wasn’t much they could do to pivot without changing the business model entirely.
That said, benchwarmers aren’t the businesses whose hands were tied but the ones that opted to remain on the sidelines as a strategy.
It’s a smart move to wait for clarity before pressing ahead with a course of action.
However, some businesses failed to dust themselves off and get back in the game.
Our report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Marketing to Schools, showed a drop of 68% in traffic to teachers’ inboxes.
So, while the benchwarmers pulled back on their marketing and hoped they could wait out the storm, the pack leaders swooped in and stole market share while winning points just for being visible and supportive when the going got tough.
Benchwarmers in 2021
A year on, and it’s great to see many benchwarmers now feeling confident enough to get back in the game.
Now is an excellent time to reconnect with schools.
This year’s budget was released in April, restrictions are easing, and there’s a great deal of optimism looking toward the autumn term.
Where should you get started?
Even if you’re not ready for full market participation, it’s time to start communicating. Begin by raising awareness, put out some free resources, let your audience know you’re back and what to expect.
Review and revamp your pre-existing strategies to suit new service lines and behaviours that will have emerged over the previous year. Tailor your content and CTAs to the current climate. Begin planning post-COVID messaging. Be sensitive to the current situation, but have your emails ready that explain new processes regarding reopening and updated COVID protocols where necessary.
It’s time to get relevant education products and services in front of your captive education audience and provide them with valuable and engaging information.
Watch the pack leaders. Their agility and ingenuity over the pandemic mean they’ve likely been trying different tactics, and they’ll have discovered what works and what doesn’t.
If you want to get back in the game and up to speed, talk to us about a launch plan.
With one of our lead generation strategies, you’ll have your momentum back by summer and be game ready by autumn.
Marketing to Schools