The Education Sector in the UAE
After over a decade of fast growth, many Private Schools in the UAE are suddenly facing increased pressure, where supply of school spaces is finally outstripping demand in terms of the number of children looking for schools. While this highlights maturity within the market and in many cases presents parents with a wider choice of schools to select from, this may also impact the financial performance of businesses within the sector.
It's widely accepted that businesses in competitive industries have to work hard not only to win new customers but also retain them. For over a decade, private schools in the UAE were fortunate enough to be in a position where demand for school places were often higher than actual availability. Whilst the governing bodies introduced new regulations and grading systems designed to maintain and increase teaching standards, items such as schools fees and payment terms, despite regulation, were often dictated by market conditions where parents had to swallow increasing school fees on an annual basis or risk the threat of their children not being placed in desirable schools. But things are changing fast.
As new schools offering different curriculum continue to open, we are already seeing change within the market. A number of high-profile schools have already decreased school fees for this academic year, with many more set to follow. But is this enough? All businesses understand that cost plays an important part of the decision making process, but for many customers, cost, quality and value for money combined is a bigger contributing factor.
Helping parents make better education decisions for their children
Let's look at this in a logical way.
An increase of supply within the education sector means that parents now have a wider choice of schools to potentially choose from. A direct consequence of this is that the amount of time that parents will need to spend researching the options available and understanding the right personal fit. Having spoken to a number of parents in an informal research study, the following considerations were highlighted by them when deciding on a school:
- The Curriculum on offer
- Reputation of the school
- Tuition Fees
- Payment Terms
- Location of the school
- The Principal and leadership team
- Cultural fit
- Student demographics and profile
While this makes sense, it's often difficult for parents to find much of this information without engaging directly with a school. This presents our first challenge.
The Zero Moment of Truth
In 2012, Google and Forrester Research published a research study to help businesses understand the customer buyer journey and decision making process in today's modern, digitally connected world. The results were staggering.
They found that most customers, were at least 70% of their way through the buying process BEFORE they reached out to a business. In education terms, what this study showed was that parents were already 70% decided on potential schools for their children before they contacted the admissions team, visited a school or open day or engaged in any form of communication with a school. Think about that for a second.
The Zero Moment of Truth is the exact moment when a potential parent will make themselves known to a school.
How do Parents get to the 70% stage?
The simple answer is research. Today, all of us have access to more information that at any stage of our lives with the internet being the main facilitator for this. How we shop or make purchasing decisions today is vastly different from even 5 years ago. As consumers, we're much more prudent about how we spend our money. While this may not be the case for daily household consumer items, it's fair to argue that for more important or high-value purchasing decisions, we spend more time researching products or services. The education sector and choice of school for a child certainly fits this for most parents.
What the research study also showed is that most people will not have made a firm decision at this (70%) stage but most likely will have created a small shortlist from which a final winner will be selected.
If your school is not on the final shortlist for a parent, you have virtually no chance of recruiting their child. Therefore, being visible during the 70% research stage is absolutely critical. It's therefore important to understand how you can be visible, remain front of mind and 'help' parents make this important decision.
Being visible and staying front of mind
If we accept the findings of the research study, it's important that schools are visible and remain front of mind when parents are researching potential institutions for their children. But how do schools achieve this?
It comes down to careful planning and making sure that your marketing strategy is fully aligned with the research process that parents engage in. The chart below highlights a possible research journey undertaken by parents during the research stage.
As previously mentioned, parents will look to 2 main sources of information when researching a new school, namely recommendations from friends, family and peers or the internet. However, with so much information available to parents, it's likely that even recommendations from others will result in first hand research by parents.
Once schools have been researched, its likely that a shortlist of 2 or 3 schools will be shortlisted for further review. At this stage (the zero moment of truth), parents will most likely reach out to schools to arrange interviews, appointments or tours.
Is this the only way to reach parents?
No. Social media such as Facebook or Instagram and other digital marketing tools also allow us to reach parents using highly sophisticated, yet easy to deploy, campaigns based on following types of targeting criteria:
- Location data
- Age, gender and nationality
- Family status and age of children
Using this data, schools have the ability to target parents within specific locations in order to increase their visibility and awareness and promote the school in a more social and news-driven way. If a school has student transfer programmes in place, social media presents an opportunity to raise awareness of this and target parents who have already place their children into other schools but are not satisfied.
It therefore makes sense to make sure that schools must integrate both search engine and social media marketing within their digital marketing strategy. It also makes sense to ensure that the school's website is the best it could possible be - after all, this may be a parent's first impression of a school.
It's clear that a strategic marketing methodology needs to be employed if schools are to remain visible at the most important time of the student recruitment process - that moment when parents start the research process.
If you are interested in seeing how your school could market itself better to prospective parents, please complete the form on this page.