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So, you think you communicate effectively?

| September 15, 2010
Part Two – By Angela Carr Lambson

If you think measuring an indeterminately long piece of string is a challenge, try measuring the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. The good news for school marketing practitioners (and those responsible for approving school marketing spend) is that it can be done and, says communications consultant Angela Carr Lambson, if it can’t be audited, you shouldn’t be doing it. Here she looks at the imperatives for measuring effectiveness and ways to make it meaningful.

In the educational sphere, the core marketing function is to generate and sustain positive perceptions of an institution through the positioning and promotion of its:

  • uniqueness (ethos, culture, ‘personality’)
  • offering (academic, sporting, cultural, outreach)
  • achievements (of the institution and members of the key stakeholder community, chiefly students, staff, parents and alumni).

Audits useful for marketers

The challenge is to audit performance against these attributes in a way that accurately reflects the results attained and satisfies the people who hold the purse strings. Not easy, as there’s often a disconnect between the marketing and finance departments. Yet, while the tactics we employ are not easily reflected on an Excel spreadsheet, the results must be tangible or they have no place in a marketing strategy.
One reason for auditing marketing and communications performance is to provide school boards and management teams with tangible evidence that the funds they are investing in marketing their institutions are well spent. We need their buy-in, so it’s critical they have a level of comfort with our activities, but the primary purpose is to ensure we’re ‘on brand’.

How long is a piece of string?

Marketing efforts can only be effective if we operate within the context of our school’s business goals, develop a strategy that supports these goals, and implement tactics/initiatives that support the strategy. So we audit to find out what works – and what doesn’t. Typically this happens at the end of each marketing intervention, but deciding what to measure – and how to do it effectively – must be determined at the very outset. The first step, once your business objectives and market positioning are
clear, is to clarify the desired outcomes – and, before you roll up your sleeves to formulate your marketing strategy or brainstorm initiatives for the year ahead, two questions need to be answered:

  • What is your marketing strategy expected to achieve?
  • What is the output you demand from each marketinginitiative?

The degree of success in delivering on these expectations is what needs to be measured. The tricky part is working out what form that evaluation should take.
Outputs cover everything from simple, short-term goals (like having an interview with your Headmaster published in a reputable international education magazine) to longer-term outcomes (such as determining whether your messages were received, understood and retained by your audiences) or even more far-reaching ones (such as shaping or changing perceptions about your school).

Make your audits meaningful

Depending on the activity and the audiences at which they have been aimed, we can monitor media coverage and analyse content, track attendance figures and visitor profiles at events and exhibitions, run surveys and mini ‘pulse’ polls, conduct focus groups, monitor the volume of subscriptions and downloads of school prospecti and other marketing literature, analyse web traffic and, most compelling and tangible of all, we can track enrolment (and withdrawal) statistics.

Whatever you audit, make it meaningful. Instead of counting website hits, for example, monitor how many online enrolment enquiries you receive from visitors to the site. Instead of counting the number of press releases you sent out, quantify the coverage they generated, and whether it was positive. (If it’s negative, it’s not delivering the output required to meet your business and marketing goals.) What’s the bottom line? Relevant measurements enable marketers to assess their effectiveness. Did X initiative yield Y result, as hoped? Did it exceed expectations? Or did it fall short? Focus on results rather than tactics, and you’ll know the precise length of your piece of string.

Find part three in our next issue.
Angela Carr Lambson is a consulting partner at Curveball Consulting and developer and presenter of the ABC – About Better Communication workshops for independent schools and tertiary institutions on ways to maximise marketing through more effective communication. Contact her at Tel: +27 (11) 465 8195, or
Email:, or visit

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Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2010 Edition

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