The Importance of Branding & Marketing in MAT Growth.
Blue Apple Education’s own Mark Davis recently made a special (he wore a suit) appearance at the MAT Growth and Merger Conference. His presentation on the importance of branding and marketing in MAT growth generated so many questions that Mark has agreed to let us share some answers here – as long as he can stay in his pyjamas.
- What are the basic principles behind marketing for growth?
a. Unearthing the remarkable: being sure that as you develop a brand it is an authentic reflection of who you are and what you do.
b. Producing results: ensuring that the efforts you put into marketing action have an impact, whatever it is you are aiming for.
- Why should a MAT bother with marketing?
a. Increased competition: other MATs are getting in professional help, even employing marketing managers – you need to possess the same persuasive powers if you are to attract interest and engage people with your Trust.
b. Increasingly, what makes a difference is having the loudest voice. You might do this literally by employing a town crier or Plácido Domingo or, more conventionally, by ensuring your brand sings out. Without an effective marketing strategy, people can get the wrong impression. You would hate it if people assumed you were a karaoke singer when you’re a rock star of regional fame (any similarity to Mark Davis is entirely incidental). So it is with schools and trusts; unless you take control of the messages people receive about you, they will take control of themselves.
c. MATs need to give schools a reason to engage, just as schools need to appeal to potential staff and students. To do this, you need to make sure your values are reflected in every scrap of marketing you do. Without grabbing and retaining attention with features that evidence your specific approach to education, your ideology and ideas, your communications will not reach the right places.
d. When a brand is strong and implemented effectively, it improves a Trust and its schools. Marketing works internally as well as externally, creating a feeling of togetherness, an integral energy and understanding. That buzz, that shared adventure is not only attractive to potential staff but increases investment by current staff and other stakeholders.
- What are the common mistakes that MATs are making?
a. A lack of experience. If you haven’t been a marketing lead before, or held responsibility for branding, if you have been concentrating on, say, teaching, you have no reason to have expertise in communications. A lack of experience results in a lack of trust in the power of marketing.
b. ‘Vanilla’ branding. There are lots of great website designers around bringing lots of great websites to the world of education. Pretty, witty, keen, clean – but vanilla. Branding for a school or MAT needs to have stand-out qualities and be specific to the organisation it is shouting about. There’s nothing wrong with a vanilla sponge but a yuzu mango or salted butterscotch cake is more likely to get talked about.
c. No strategy. Too often marketing activities are applied reactively rather than being part of a plan. Branding isn’t something that happens once and can be thereafter ignored; it’s an ongoing process with timetabled and creative undertakings.
- What do you mean by unearthing the remarkable?
The ‘remarkable’ is your MAT’s special qualities, your USP, your standout features. Schools and trusts can mistakenly think they are boasting about rare virtues when in fact they are repeating commonalities claimed by all educational establishments. Is there a school that isn’t nurturing? Is there a MAT that doesn’t centralise services? Unearthing the remarkable is about finding a way to present to the outside world the impression you choose. It is often said (well, Mark often says it) that a person makes a judgement within the first few seconds of meeting someone new – replace person with school or multi-academy trust, and you can imagine what a website, brochure or logo needs to do.
Consider the logo – just one small part of branding; have a look at your own or another logo. It can say so much, and that might be accurate – reflective of a nurturing and a family feel, but those features don’t differentiate between what’s on offer. (Examining a logo can reveal a lot about what needs to change in a rebrand).
- What do you mean about producing results?
What is the point of marketing if it has no impact? If nothing changes? Website analytics help us determine who is clicking on what and when – the customer journey. A website needs to be designed to accompany the viewer on that journey, directing them to where you want them. To do this, promotional platforms like websites should engage people and make it easy for them to navigate with user-friendly features and incentives – clicks, films, simple-to-complete forms.
A good result of any marketing strategy is getting the ‘business’ – for MATs this means schools approaching with a view to joining or merging; for schools it means interest shown by potential staff, parents or students. This kind of impact is achieved through engagement and engagement is achieved through techniques that appeal; techniques like straightforward facts that are easy to recall, and narratives that provide people with emotive and appealing characters and stories. Stories can be told with pictures and colours or phrases and suggestions. They must shout about what is genuinely remarkable in a way that captures those who sense a match with their own values and needs.
- How effective can marketing be to address scepticism of local authority-maintained schools towards the value of academisation?It’s not an easy job. It takes time. Your brand must provide consistent messages over time. Turn up the volume with honest, remarkable and coherent communications. Be heard but never forget also to listen.
For anyone wanting to learn more from Mark – or see him in a suit – his full presentation is viewable here in an Out of the Blue podcast. Alongside BAE’s Director, David Limb, he can be found delivering nuggets of wisdom every Friday – previous episodes available here. Another way to gain knowledge and expertise is to sign up to Mark’s Brand Identity Masterclass – details here.
Okay, Mark, get dressed now – those pyjamas don’t flatter you.