Is your school different?

Marcia De Wolf, Director, Quisite Consulting

Your school is a wonderful institution that provides an excellent education to its students and is a place where students, teachers and parents feel at home. You know it and everyone in your school community knows it too. 

If yours is a typical international school, then many of your families move to their next posting after about 3 years, except for the locals and long-term expats who have settled in your country. The teaching staff is a mix of young, ambitious teachers who leave after two or three years to explore the next country, and longer term staff members who feel they have found a working environment they wish to remain in. Sounds about right? 

So why do families come to your school? Why did they choose it over other schools in the area? What do they enjoy most about it? Why do teachers apply to work at your school? Do you know? 

If I ask you why new families should come to your school, would you be able to tell me? Would you feel comfortable with your answer and confident that this is something new families or staff are looking for? What do you offer that “the school across town” does not? What makes your school unique? 

You will probably tell me that they should pick your school since it is obvious that you are the best school in the region! Is it obvious though, to people not yet in your community? And how are you the best, exactly? And if you are indeed the best, how can you prove that?  

In the ever-changing landscape of international schools, few schools have the luxury of waiting lists. If anything, there is more competition than ever and beating other schools in attracting new families is essential to reach your enrolment numbers.  

When you are ‘on the inside’, you often assume your school’s unique features are obvious to those looking at your school for the first time. The experience for those ‘on the outside’, however, can be quite different than you imagine 

Prospective parents want to find a school that resonates with them, that they feel will be a good fit for their children as they move to this new country, where they will need to find new friends and learn a new language. They will likely skip past your school, even if it shows up first in the results on Google, if you have the same standard language as any other school. To get a family’s attention and have a chance to be contacted for a visit, you must find a way to connect with these parents to make them notice your school and consider it for their children. You need to provide a solution to their concerns as they start the relocation process.  

Look at it from the family’s perspective:  

Let’s say a family has just been informed they will be moving to your country on their first expat posting. Very exciting but daunting at the same time, moving to a country they have never been to and where they speak a different language. They have two children (9 and 14 years old), who do not speak much English and need basic learning support. Where do they start? They make a list: learn about the country and city, find a house, a school, a moving company, get transcripts from the current school, and so on. 

They will do a Google search to see what international schools come up for that city. They find some options and continue to the various websites, perhaps checking the schools’ social media channels. What do they find? Very similar information on the websites, happy faces on the social media channels, mostly of classroom or extra-curricular activities. To them, the schools all seem alike and offer a very similar experience.  

I picked a random big city in Europe and checked the websites of three quality international schools. Here is what their sites want me to know: 

School 1: we offer an American education, international community, and exceptional results 

School 2: “we prepare our students to engage with and succeed in a complex world 

School 3: “we are the oldest international school in x, have a rich history of inclusion and diversity, and offer a warm welcome to children.  

These are by no means differentiators. In fact, most international schools in the world claim to: 

  • offer a great education and excellent results. 
  • provide a learning environment in which students thrive. 
  • have a diverse and welcoming international community. 

If these are the reasons your school uses to attract new families and expect prospective families to come rushing through the door, you may wish to reconsider as it does not differentiate you from any other international school on the globe 

Do you feel your website, for a first-time visitor who knows nothing about your school, effectively tells your story? Does it convey the features that make your school so special? The many elements that you and everyone already at the school know, but a prospective parent doing a search does not?  

Prospective parents do not care if you have a flashy website, with fancy features. They want to see that you are a good fit for their children and get the sense that you understand their needs.  

I suggest you take an objective look at your school’s website, but from the perspective of an expat family that does not know your school, your country or international schools. Review your website, especially the home page, and consider whether this is the information you should see if you are a prospective family.  

For most expats, school is home away from home, the support network that needs to take the place of family and friends. It must fill a big chunk of a new family’s life, so the choice is of huge importance to any family starting the relocation process. Look at it from their perspective, what do you want them to feel and what do you absolutely want them to know when they visit your website for the first time?  

Have you already considered and identified differentiating factors for your school? Great! See if they pass the test: are they true, can you prove them, are they relevant and are they well communicated?  

Have you not yet considered what makes your school special or feel you may not be communicating it effectively? No problem, you now have an excellent opportunity to increase the number of new student inquiries by looking at differentiating your school now 

Please send me an e-mail at mdewolf@quisite.org if you are interested in further discussing this topic and receiving some guidance on the process to follow 

In the meantime, keep up the great work and don’t underestimate all the seemingly small things your school does that can make it special and very appealing to new families! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marcia has been involved in branding and marketing activities for 26 years, both in North America and Europe. She started her career at CNN Headquarters in the Public Relations department for five years, before working in strategic communications at two leading PR agencies, Ketchum and GCI, guiding clients such as IBM, Nokia, Dell, and Sony.
She started her own consultancy in 2018 to focus on providing strategic services in marketing and branding. Her clients include the Justine Henin Tennis Academy, Bugatti, FIFA and UEFA. She also runs events for the Belgian national men’s soccer team, ranked number 1 in the world and manages a group of Belgian female sports legends, such as Tia Hellebaut, Kim Gevaert, Ann Wauters and other Olympic and world medalists. A frequent speaker and workshop leader at ECIS conferences, Marcia has successfully advised many schools in the area of effective marketing and branding over the past 15 years.

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