Creating Authentic Marketing Messages and a Value Proposition to Build School Enrolment.

Dr Stephen Holmes B Ed, MBA, M Ed Admin, PhD (School Marketing and Reputation)


Creating Authentic Marketing Messages and a Value Proposition to Build School Enrolment.


For so many international schools, the economic reverberations of the world health crisis have rapidly translated to a confronting enrolment and marketing challenge for Boards, owners and leadership teams.

In many ways, it has put centre stage something that was already a building problem for so many schools – weaknesses in the authenticity and impact of their marketing and marketing messages. While there has been increased recognition of the potential importance of marketing in schools, they still find it difficult to define and communicate points of difference in compelling and cogent ways to audiences. A precondition to build enrolment is an authentic, cogent and compelling identity driven by marketing messaging that impacts.

A quick search of international school websites continues to suggest that creating authentic, differentiated marketing messages is beyond most schools. Straplines and slogans on websites (i.e. integrated into brand schemes), have become commonplace to try and convey a distinctive school identity. In general, they are illusionary, and expensive. Despite improvements in the public ‘look and feel’ of schools, a systemic weakness in schools is the continued lack of influence and impact of marketing messages on parent choice and the authenticity (originality) of marketing messages. Hence so many schools have weak value propositions (USPs). We live in a world of fake news, rejection of logic, illusion and instantaneous sharing. Marketing messaging of reputable institutions like schools surely has to take all of that into account and do better!

And it’s not just problems with the actual marketing messages, schools typically have far too many messages – they tend to be too inclusive and say something about almost everything in the hope that something will connect.

A narrow and deep set of messages explained in terms of actual benefit to the student/parent, why they are valuable and matter both in the short and long term, and proof that they are a reality across the student/parent journey is a far more compelling narrative for school audiences. In this regard, we can learn one lesson from the corporate world – top brands are usually associated with a very small (not more than 2-3) set of attributes in achieving penetrative and attractive identities.

To impact on public perception and enrolment, school marketing must be more than ‘lots of activity’ pushing out similar messages that aim to connect with increasingly diverse audience preferences and expectations.

Marketing Messaging: Pitfalls to Avoid and the ‘To Do’ List

For the foreseeable future, we think that the quality of marketing messaging in schools will be a tipping point and catalyst for market success or failure.

How can schools effectively address the challenges they face in the search for the ‘right’ marketing messaging in a time of enrolment pressure?

Our work with schools on marketing over 3 decades manifests in 6 crucial guidelines for action to review and enhance marketing messaging.


Schools struggle to distinguish or differentiate themselves, nor explain compelling and cogent reasons to choose them (enrol) over other alternate schools.


Clear points of difference in messages, and or messages that may be common but are known to be highly valued by parents/students (prospective, current and past).


A sameness (generic) in the way schools project themselves that does little to create a sustainable identity, or connect well with diverse audiences/expectations.


Marketing messages that are not generic (e.g. a current or possible future innovation or theme) to build a clear school identity and trajectory. Parents/students being able to consistently 1-2 words they would assign to the image of the school that is aligned with the actual espoused school identity.


A lack of messaging and understandable communication on differentiation at the classroom/pedagogy level, so essential for effective and persuasive marketing messages.


More said about staff quality, teaching and pedagogy in marketing messaging. Illustrating authentic school wide pedagogies, how it is of benefit, what is genuinely being done to genuinely enhance and monitor it.


Weak links between the School Vision (and or Mission) and the marketing messages..


An inspiring and ambitious School Vision sets the scene for messages that can be marketed successfully. That is in demand everywhere.


Lack of connectivity in marketing messaging to specific audiences.


Minimising disconnect between what schools are saying (messaging) and the realities and consistency of the holistic parent/student journey is core to building reputation.


Do not over-rely on corporate models to build school identity. Credible high value education messages are what the market most wants here.


Effective marketing messages must override slick mottos which often creates cynicism, not enhanced reputation in school communities.


Flowing from the above, schools need an organising framework to see where and how build a messaging narrative that is consistent and deep. From our experience, a market messaging development action framework should span the below working from left to right:

Such a framework will take schools on a better path toward:

  • More precise marketing messaging definition, and explanation.
  • A narrative for the future identity of the school to align internal strengths/capabilities with external audience preferences.
  • Credibility in marketing messages/value proposition.
  • Formation of Performance metrics to support whether or not market messaging truly impacts on perceptions of the School.


The process of reviewing marketing messaging has a wider benefit and implication.

Starting with the end goal in mind (a compelling and cogent set of reasons to choose your school), the process should inherently inform 3 big strategic issues:

Strategic Issue 1: How Should Your School Compete?

Agreement on what basis (which messages and value proposition) your school can primarily engage to appeal and be seen as attractive.

Strategic Issue 2: Where to Compete – Which Audiences/Which Messages?

In terms of where (what audiences or profiles), explicitly define the audiences the various messages are most likely to attract and the most appropriate marketing messages for each persona. This will assist in targeting and creating specific examples/proof points that would resonate with specific audiences.

Strategic Issue 3: How to Refine your Education Offer to Align to Marketing Messages?

Almost invariably, our diagnosis of schools is that with market challenges are partly a ‘product’ and alignment matter (what a school offers including services), and partly messaging (how a school externalises and communicates that offer). So, a messaging review is best when it is informative from this perspective also.

In conclusion, impactful and differentiated marketing messages continues to be an elusive problem for schools everywhere we look. In the times we now live in, the interrelated questions of what is ‘best’ to say and how ‘best’ to say it can no longer be considered merely prosaic for schools seeking to survive and thrive. Crafting impactful marketing messaging in schools requires a process that includes robust market analysis – it is not merely an act of creativity or imagination.

Please contact Dr Stephen Holmes at for further details.


Dr Stephen Holmes is the Founder and Principal of The 5Rs Partnership ( Based in Singapore, The 5Rs Partnership is a global consultancy specifically for schools in strategy planning, marketing and market research, reputation management, and governance, established in 2004.  Stephen is the only full-time practicing consultant in the world with a PhD in marketing schools. LEARN MORE

1 reply
  1. Georgie
    Georgie says:

    Thank you so most Stephen for this very information and considered article. Certainly relevant to all our international schools as they approach this difficult new term.


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