Six ways to fail at education marketing

Six ways to fail at education marketing…

Maybe it’s just me, but many otherwise-enlightened education administrators seem to view marketing as something grubby and best avoided.

They prefer to focus on the ‘real business’ of education, neglecting marketing altogether. Or they treat it like a fire extinguisher, to be called on only in times of crisis.

The truth is, marketing has become integral to the education industry, and it is foolhardy to pretend otherwise. The competition for students and funding has increased on all fronts, and will only continue to do so.

For education professionals, there is often conflict between the cut-and-thrust demands of business versus the desire to perform a greater social good. But disrespecting and misunderstanding the role of marketing is counter to both interests. Good marketing, on the other hand, contributes to a better education industry.

Here are six marketing fails that are all-too-common in the Australian education industry:



To paraphrase Al Ries, marketing is not a battle of products. It is a battle of perceptions. While the obvious end result should be sales, this is not the core role of marketing.

Marketing is about managing and shaping perceptions to deliver a consistent experience – the one you want your brand to be known for.

This requires commitment and processes to really understanding the market, your audience, where your brand sits, where you want it to sit, and determining what you need to do to get it there.

Most education institutions have undertaken this kind of work at some point. But it is often as sporadic and varied as the individuals who have filled the marketing directors chair. Very few commit and stick to a robust brand planning process over time.

Instead we see inconsistent strategy, and expensive re-inventing of the wheel, time and time again, due to strategic amnesia.

It just shouldn’t happen – and it doesn’t when the executive demands a consistent, measurable brand management process over time.



A lack of marketing process will almost invariably lead to cosmetic branding initiatives that don’t stick and don’t last.

This is the ‘launch and abandon’ approach, and Australian higher educators could as well have written the play book: It begins with a great big, inspiring campaign line, perhaps a variation of ‘Brilliant Future’, launched to much fanfare.

Fast-forward 18 months and it is nowhere to be seen. Cue a new Vice Chancellor or new marketing director, and new strategy. Then brief a new ad agency and, six months later we see, launched with much fanfare, ‘Be Inspired!’

Compare this with a consumer goods company like Toyota, who endlessly launch new products, yet manage to stick with “Oh What A Feeling.” for over 30 years.

Great benefits accrue to brands that establish a consistent positioning and campaign theme over time.



A management that does not effectively hold its marketers to account is a management that does not take marketing seriously.

How does one hold marketers to account? Well, first you ask them to present a marketing plan, demonstrating how marketing will contribute to short and long term business objectives. This must include a communications calendar containing objectives, timings, budget justifications and metrics. You then negotiate and agree on the resources and actions needed to deliver on the plan. Once all of this is agreed, marketing commit to their plan.

Finally, you require marketing to deliver post analysis report at the end of the agreed marketing period, with results, learning and recommendations for future refinements.

It’s as simple as that.



There are many methods you can use to determine a marketing budget. The wrong way though, is for management to slice up the pie, and then allocate an arbitrary budget to the marketing department.

This approach usually leads to the situation, some time in the future, when marketing is asked to explain why they have not delivered their numbers.

Marketing should be viewed as an investment, not en expense. Done properly, it is the lifeblood of growth and revenue. The marketing budget needs to cover the minimum level of resources required to meet the agreed objectives.

In fairness, any good marketer should understand it is their responsibility to actively ‘market’ and sell their plan and budget to management.



 Consumers today have no tolerance for bad service.

A brand is a promise and you need to keep it. Great brand communications, if not backed up by a great experience, will only increase the disappointment.

Universities in particular, are full of silos. A sound marketing strategy needs to have influence on all areas where there is consumer interaction.

What this means is allowing marketing the authority to shape and influence all consumer touch points. It means encouraging and embracing consumer feedback, and relentlessly seeking improvement when you are not delivering on the promise.



 Oh God, do we have to do Open Day again?

Yes, you do.

An Open Day (or any consumer event) is a very important experiential branding exercise that must showcase your vision, culture and purpose in a way that inspires. It needs to be designed to make people think and feel what you want them to think and feel – in ways that differentiate you from your competition. No, it’s not just another Open Day!

Of course, you have to know your brand personality to project it – which is another reason why a sound, documented brand strategy is so important.

Open Days are social events designed to make people want to join your tribe, so a good event strategy will encourage and reward audience participation and leverage social media amplification.