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Posted by Emma Mulder on 20 January 2017

How to collect parent insights to inform your school's marketing strategy and increase admissions

Did your school recently convert to an academy or are you in the process of converting? Do you need help maximising your schools potential? Inbound marketing is the perfect tool to help you boost your online presence, make your school stand out and attract the right people. That is why in this article we'll be discussing an essential component of your school's inbound marketing strategy: parent personas.

Discover the wants and needs of potential customers

Choosing a school for their children can be one of the most difficult decisions parents have to make. In order to aid parents in their decision process it is important that schools and academies find ways to diversify themselves and effectively communicate their unique selling points to the right audience at the right time. In an earlier blog post we already mentioned that, in a competitive market, effective branding is as important for a school as it is for a business.

If you want to effectively market your academy to parents, it is essential that you understand their needs, frustrations and behaviours during the selection process. Parent personas can provide you with these insights and can serve as valuable tools to inform your academies' business strategy and create stronger marketing campaigns to drive enquiries and applications. 

What are personas and why are they important?

Personas are fictional characters used to represent key audience segments. They bring your audience to life and help gain a better understanding of their behaviours, needs and preferences. Personas draw on customer insights gained from qualitative research and ethnographic studies and often consist of (but are not limited to) a picture, a quote, demographic information, personal characteristics, tools and resources, attitude, goals, frustrations and concerns. 

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5 steps to creating parent personas

In this article we will describe 5 important steps you have to take in order to
create valuable and data-driven parent personas that can help inform your academies' marketing and business strategy.

1. Collect insights from your staff

As they get to deal with parent enquiries on a daily basis, members of staff such as teachers and school administrators can often provide you with important parent observations. Your employees will be able to give you valuable audience insights based on their interaction with prospective customers and parents of children who are already enrolled at your academy. Audience insight workshops with members of staff can be a very useful way to collect and further structure this information. They can help shape and visualise data and identify important topics you can use to structure the questions for your audience research.

2. Define your key audiences

Once you have figured out what your target audience looks like, it is time to define your key audiences. Depending on your goals, it is often useful to make a distinction between parents who are looking for a school (prospective customers) and parents whose children are currently enrolled at your school (current customers).

Prospective customers: the school selection process
Parents who are in the process of looking for a school can provide you with important information about the school selection process, such as what information they need, where and when they start looking for information, what decision strategy they use, what their struggles and concerns are and what influences their decision. As it is sometimes hard to reach prospective customers, you can also gain a lot of insight by speaking to parents who have recently enrolled their child. 

Current customers: parent involvement and satisfaction
As parents are finding new ways to speak out and share their concerns and frustrations online, it is increasingly important that schools actively monitor and improve parent satisfaction. Your academies' marketing efforts shouldn’t just focus on attracting new parents – it is important that customer satisfaction is monitored to make sure that your offer is in line with expectations you have set at the beginning of the journey. Make sure to speak to parents who have been at the school for a while and try to find out what concerns they might have and how they would like to be involved in their child's education. 

3. Select a research method

Personas are mainly based around qualitative research data. Qualitative research data will go beyond plain audience statistics and will give you more insight into why your target groups behave in a certain way. Two popular research methods are interviews and focus groups.

Interviews and focus groups

If conducted by a professional and experienced interviewer or moderator (e.g. a user experience designer), interviews and focus groups can be great methods to collect in depth responses from your target audience. Parent interviews are one-on-one conversations with parents who represent your target group (this could be either done face-to-face or via telephone). 
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In a focus group (also called a group interview), you talk to multiple parents at the same time. The advantage of a focus group is that the interview process is less time consuming. However, managing a group discussion can be challenging and the results of group interviews can be influenced by more dominant parents. If you choose to conduct a group interview, it often helps to ask parents to write their answers down before discussing them, as this will help minimise the influence of other group members.

Surveys

In addition to the qualitative research data it is sometimes helpful to include online surveys, as it’s a quick and easy way to reach a larger sample. Surveys can be used to further explore your qualitative research findings but provide you with less depth, as you won’t be able to collect information about the underlying motivations and reasons behind the responses. Therefore, surveys should mainly be seen as an extension and never a replacement of interviews or focus groups.

4. Review your data

Once you have collected all your data is it is time to review your findings. Analysing research data can be a time-consuming process and should be done by an experienced data analyst. When analysing data, it is important to look for patterns and similarities within the responses. One way to do this is by writing the responses down on a whiteboard or sticky notes and grouping them based on similar topics (you should do this for each question or topic separately). You can then use this information to create your persona templates. 

5. Create personas

Once your data has been collected and reviewed you can start to create your parent personas. The number of personas you create depends on your target audience and research findings. Start the process by creating one persona for each key audience group and then look if within those groups there are any important subgroups that significantly differ from each other.

It could for example be that one parent group has a strong focus on classroom technology and extracurricular activities whereas other parents are more concerned about safety and a stimulating learning environment. Some parents might think it is important to frequently interact with other parents whereas others might be more concerned with parent-teacher contact.

Make sure you go into detail and make your parent personas as human as possible. This includes naming them and adding a picture and quote which you think best represents a member of that specific target group. If you want some examples of what a persona could look like, have a look at this Pinterest page.

Use parent personas to guide your schools marketing & recruitment strategy

Now that you have a clear picture of what your target audience looks like you can start using this information to inform your marketing and recruitment strategy. Parent personas will make it easier for you to tailor your content, messaging, digital touchpoints and services to the specific needs, behaviours and concerns of parents you want to attract. Making sure your services and strategy are aligned with the wants and needs of your target customers will help you increase admissions and parent satisfaction.

Need any help?

Hopefully this blog post will have provided some practical, useful advice to help you take the first steps to creating a compelling, informative marketing strategy for your school or academy. If you need any help with collecting audience insights, data analysis, creating parent personas or aligning your marketing and recruitment strategy to your users' needs, our team is here to help. 

Status Digital has years of experience in the education sector and a hands-on user research and digital marketing team, ready to take your academy marketing to the next levelIf you need any advice or support with your schools inbound marketing or want to learn more about how you can use customer insights to increase admissions, please get in touch. 

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