You Are NOT Your Target Market: Three Steps to More Effective Communications
Vol. 15 No. 2
When working on advertising materials and donor stories, sometimes a specific headline or case study piques your interest more than the others. However, when you show it to a parent representative you trust, they don’t react to it as strongly as you had hoped or anticipated—thus changing the course of your prospective marketing or advertising campaign.
This example illustrates the need to have quantitative data to back up your marketing decisions. You, as the administrator of a private school, are not (necessarily) your target audience; neither is every family with a school-aged student or every philanthropic business person in the neighborhood. To ensure the solicitation of mission-appropriate donors and prospective families, you must put yourself in your audience’s place while identifying (and acknowledging) personal bias.
Step One: Understand a broad versus narrow appeal to your prospective audience.
Marketing works best when you aim for a specific target segment that matches your most desirable client. Conversely, it is not effective when trying to reach every potential audience and praying that something sticks.
Trying to open up your prospective audience beyond the narrow segment of mission-appropriate families will also open your school up to dilution of your school’s current mission-driven community. Do not sacrifice the quality of your school’s education merely to attract more students to your doors!
Step Two: Identify your REAL audience through surveys and focus groups.
It’s all well and good to say that every family with a student isn’t your market, but that raises the question: Who is? That question can be (comparatively) easily answered through a survey of your school’s current population.
In this way, you narrow down your potential families into a set of definable, relatable demographics whose likes, dislikes, and qualities you can directly appeal to through your communications.
Focus groups of trusted parents and donors who embody the sort of person you’d like to see more of in your school’s community will also increase your knowledge of your preferred audience. Invite them for an informal meeting to ask them questions about what they think of the school’s current materials to determine what resonates with them and what’s forgettable.
Step Three: Leverage your insider knowledge.
Sometimes, surveys, focus groups, and other quantitative data sources will return information that you already knew, which means that what you’ve done in the past and currently plan for future campaigns holds true. Congratulations!
Other times, however, this information will show you changes in your current community that, over time, will lead to sizeable shifts in consumer beliefs and behavior. (That’s part of the reason why ISM recommends yearly surveys, so that these shifting patterns can be identified early.)
Maybe the data indicates a need for a change in communication style, which means you learn to use a platform for which you currently have little understanding. Perhaps you need a change to your school’s style guide to reflect the voice and tone most appealing to your donors—even if you personally hate writing that way.
Most of all, leveraging the data from unbiased sources that represent your target audience means a move away from gut instinct toward a quantifiable “best course” for your school’s communication.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Advancement Vol. 14 No. 5 Two Reasons Why Families (Might) Leave Your School
The Source for Advancement Vol. 14 No. 5 Four Steps to Donor Personas
Additional ISM resources for Gold members:
I&P Vol. 34 No. 3 The Link Between Internal Marketing and Demand in Excess of Supply