In an increasingly crowded market, it's important to ensure your service is doing everything it can to attract new families. Gone are the days when families defaulted to the provider closest to them, or the easiest one to get their child into.
With more information, more options and high standards, families are happy to shop around until they find a provider that ticks all their boxes. To ensure your service can secure its slice of the pie you need to be actively promoting your business to the local community and other market segments you have identified.
Developing a cohesive and consistently applied marketing plan is the first step in promoting the unique benefits of your service. Here's how to do it.
1. Develop a unique value statement
Your unique value statement (UVS) is the reason a family should chose your service over another and it's incredibly important to have a very clear understanding of what that is. In early childhood settings a UVS can be anything that differentiates your service from your direct competition: Your bi-lingual staff? A vegetarian kitchen? A focus on sustainability? Or your physical location?
If you are unclear what your UVS is, ask parents why they chose your service, hold a brainstorming session with staff and research what your competitors are doing. Your UVS doesn't need to be complicated or extravagant it simply needs to demonstrate what you are doing that is different to everyone else.
Once you have determined and succinctly defined your UVS you need to communicate it widely so that staff, existing families and potential customers have a good understanding of your point of difference.
2. Apply and promote your unique value
Actions speak louder than words and it's important to live the values you espouse. For example, if your UVS is your focus on sustainable practices then this needs to be reflected in every aspect of your service, by all your staff members.
Your UVS should also be described and promoted in all of your inward and outward marketing material: your website, social platforms, brochure, enrolment pack, electronic learning journals, printed posters, newsletters and flyers.
Consistently applying your UVS in all aspects of your business will help to consolidate the positive opinion of existing families and build your reputation among potential new customers. Collect stories, case studies and examples of how you are living your UVS, explain how children and families are benefiting and use these examples in your promotional material.
3. Define and understand your stakeholders
Effective marketing requires you to communicate your message to everyone you hope to engage with your centre. This means current and future families, potential staff, the wider community, suppliers, competitors and supporters. Obviously, families with small children are an important financial market, but raising awareness about your brand and UVS more widely are also important. Defining and knowing your stakeholders and what they want and expect of your service will help you maximise the impact of your marketing efforts and expenditure.
4. Be strategic about your marketing mediums
Marketing mediums are the platforms, printed and electronic collateral and networks you use to disseminate your marketing messages. It's no longer necessary to print swathes of expensive glossy flyers as many families are equally as happy with an electronic version, while Facebook case studies and Instagram snaps are a great way of promoting your UVS in action.
Some easy ways to make quick marketing gains are to update your website regularly with pictures, news and updates. Maintaining a topical blog is an effective way of attracting traffic on a regular basis. Ensuring your centre has good street appeal is also important, first impressions count, and a neat and tidy exterior enhanced by an attractive well-maintained sign is invaluable.
Remember, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing mediums for early childhood services and you should make all interactions with potential customers, whether they are on the phone, via email, Facebook or in person, positive, constructive and as informative as possible. Remember, you only have one chance to make a great first impression so make it count!
5. Track your progress
Taking the time to create a marketing plan is only sensible if you also make the time to monitor, track and measure your progress. View your marketing plan as a work in progress and be prepared to tweak it based on the results of your follow up research.
Tracking the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is relatively straightforward, you can ask people over the phone/email how they heard about your service. Add it as a question on your enrolment form and/or monitor the number of people who like your Facebook / Instagram page when you add a new post.
Families and communities are different, a city-based early childhood service may find technology based marketing mediums are effective, while a service operating in an area with a high CALD community may find phone based communication to be a more effective means of converting leads to customers.
Taking a flexible approach to your marketing plan is the most effective way to ensure it delivers results in the long term.