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A Marketing Crisis in the Making: Are Schools Prepared?

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Mastercard, was recently interviewed by Carolyn Drebin for the “Questions for…” section of Rotman Magazine. The interview is an insightful one, and has me wondering about marketing in schools. Let’s examine some of what he shared and consider some questions around that, as a way to think through this, with an eye to the not-so-distant future.

  • Five Paradigms of Marketing. “Marketing has always been practiced by organizations in some rudimentary form, and it has continuously evolved with cultural and societal shifts. The first paradigm, product marketing, was all about the product itself and the decisions buyers made based on logic and rational thinking. Next came emotional marketing. Through behavioural sciences such as Psychology and Sociology, stories were brought to life on radio and television. Then came data-driven marketing. The invention of the Internet and data analytics were revolutionary watershed moments that totally changed the face of Marketing. […] The fourth paradigm began in 2007, with the first-generation iPhone. […] When this was combined with the emergence and scale of Facebook and other social media, the way we market was forever altered. The fifth paradigm is Quantum Marketing. It represents the future of marketing and how it needs to adapt to the tsunami of technology and data coming at us.

  • Deluge of Technology. “With over 2,000 technologies currently emerging, we are on the precipice of a deluge. From artificial intelligence and augmented reality to holographic projections and smart appliances—the list of new marketing opportunities is endless. This isn’t merely a futuristic sci-fi scenario. These technologies exist and are being commercialized with each passing day.

  • Privacy-First. “If marketers don’t have the aptitude for understanding all the technological tools, they need to surround themselves with people who do. Data has been hugely effective in enabling marketers to understand consumer behaviour and subsequently offer them relevant and compelling [messaging], but ultimately we must be respectful of people’s privacy. […] Going forward, everything must be designed within a privacy-first framework in order to maintain customer-centricity.

  • Brand Loyalty. “A customer-centric brand is not about the consumer being loyal to the brand, but rather the opposite: it’s about the brand being loyal to the consumer, and I call this the Preferential Management Platform. Whether through information, incentive or motivation, the goal is to have the consumer choose your brand above all others. This calls for a new kind of architecture for managing consumer interactions and engaging in them without being intrusive or annoying. It honours the customer first and foremost as they make a choice.

  • Advertising as we know it is dead. “Advertising as we know it today will very soon be obsolete. When ads suddenly ‘pop-up’ on our screen or we are repeatedly interrupted while watching a video, it is a horrible consumer experience. […] In a world where people hate ads this much and are willing to spend to keep them away, marketers simply cannot persist with the old model. We need to dramatically change. In a way we already have, by reverting to the old days and using word-of-mouth as the most powerful form of marketing. This time around, however, we can create and credibly amplify that word-of-mouth. The need to communicate about products to consumers doesn’t go away—but the method evolves and changes.

  • Describe a Quantum CMO. “A Quantum CMO [chief marketing officer] must have incredible curiosity and a love of learning. They should not merely be marketing specialists, but general managers who understand multiple fields. They should be able to connect the dots between data, technology, finance and public relations as they pertain to marketing and the business overall. They also need to change the perspective on marketing itself. People need to view marketing as something different than manipulation. Consumers are increasingly feeling distrustful—of companies, politics, even the news. They no longer know who or what to believe, and as a result, marketers must perform at the highest levels of integrity to build consumer trust. The ability to achieve this will be a huge differentiator for Quantum Marketers and their brands. Globally, there has been a real cultural shift. People are more community conscious and environmentally aware, and brands and marketers who tap into these dynamics and operate with a sense of purpose and social good are the ones that will prove ‘you can do well by doing good’—which I call ‘purpose-driven marketing.’

What might this development mean for marketing in independent and international schools? How might schools be more effective at being loyal to the family that is paying school fees for one or more children? Relationships are undoubtedly at the source of this work, including the need for marketers to exhibit a strong blend of IQ, EQ, and what Rajamannar calls CQ (creative quotient) and DQ (design quotient).

Marketing, either as a function or a department, will require our full attention, especially in highly competitive markets where parents tend to see a plurality of schools as monocultures, meaning that they all have values, mission statements, curricula, price tags, and more, that are in a narrow trading-range. In an age of distrust, schools would do well to focus first and foremost on how best to support and influence word-of-mouth marketing, then build around that, in an effort to show ‘presence’ to families—the human touch. To be sure, digital technologies could be helpful here, but to my thinking, we need to aim for meaningful relationships and engagement. Technologies will evolve, but our job is to ensure that relational elements are strong, so that we always have the best foundation upon which to build, no matter the pace of technological evolution.

Marketing needs to be represented at the leadership level of the school. I’m still mystified when marketing and admissions are absent from school leadership teams. This is where we learn the most about why people are (or aren’t) choosing our school, and it’s where we earn revenue. If one of the things we value is strong relationships with current and prospective families, given their role in our institutional endurance and sustainability over time, it would be difficult to justify relegating marketing to a middle-management layer with oversight by someone who is not proficient in marketing.

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