How to Use Storytelling in Your School Marketing

October 1, 2018 Emily Cretella

It’s one thing to be told, “Just tell a story!” and it’s another to follow through effectively. (Trust me: I have a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, and let me tell you, it’s nearly impossible to come up with a new, entertaining—or even just coherent—tale each night.)

Why? Because as soon as we are told to tell a story, we tend to get caught up in the details rather than in the feelings. (What should we say? Where should we focus? What style should we use? What is the outcome going to be?)

The thing to remember about storytelling—even when we’re using it as a marketing tactic—is that the goal is always to please and interest the listener or the reader. It’s less about what YOU want to say, and more about why THEY want to hear. Yes, the details are important, but what’s more important is how those details connect with your audience.

“They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
—Carl W. Buehner

So how can you use storytelling to please and interest the school's audiences? How can you both tell a story and convey the details? There are a variety of ways to transfer story elements into effective marketing and advertising:

#1: Turn the Home Page Into a Tale

Think about the last book you purchased at the store. Before you selected it, you were most likely intrigued by the title and the cover design. From there, you probably flipped the book over to read the synopsis on the back. Perhaps you even opened the front cover to read a few reviews, or to learn details about the author.

Then, you bought the book so that you could dive into the story.

The school's website home page is the cover of the story. It needs to draw people in, give them a solid sense about what the school is all about, and convince them to continue reading.

Depending on the school's website capabilities, there are easy ways to add storytelling elements to the home page. I recently worked with Sanford School to revamp their Blackbaud website home page and add storytelling elements. Here’s what we did:

  • We opened with a bold, intriguing headline that supports the brand story.
  • We featured the school’s positioning statement in a prominent spot right below the hero image.
  • We introduced Sanford’s differentiators, speaking directly to the audience.
  • We incorporated strong testimonials (more on that below).
  • We featured real student stories and news.
  • We included social imagery and a strong hashtag campaign.

By adding bite-sized storytelling components throughout the home page, Sanford’s website “cover” is now the perfect introduction to their complete school story—and it invites readers to jump in for more.

#2: Make Enrollment Materials Speak Louder

Instead of creating a viewbook or admissions kit that simply houses school housekeeping details, use these important communications point to draw readers into the story of the school.

What can you do to boost creativity…to paint the picture of the experience…to stand out from your competitors? Consider incorporating strong testimonials, or writing your materials from first-person perspective, or bringing in rich details to add personality and life.  

Girls Preparatory School (Chattanooga, TN) took this approach in their viewbook, which won gold in the 2017 InspirED Brilliance Awards. Notice how the smaller brochure insert invites the reader directly into the school experience. I especially love the “Day In The Life” feature, which states: “Here’s an idea of what YOUR day might look like if you come to GPS.”

Rather than getting bogged down in the details, this kit focuses on the differentiators. It speaks directly to the audience. It uses unique design to support the story. It takes something that could have been standard and made it special.

#3: Put Bragging Rights in Perspective

When you say something great about yourself, it can sound like bragging. But when someone else says something great about you? It instantly becomes a believable, grounded compliment—especially when that someone else is good at telling a story.

Rethink your approach to testimonials and treat each one like it’s a story being told in the first person. Can you “brag” about the school’s new initiatives, or latest wins, or biggest differentiators using someone else’s voice and perspective? Allow the school's brand champions—the students, families, and alumni who love the school most—to tell the success stories.

And remember: testimonials do not need to be in text format. Take Forman’s “Love, Mom & Dad” video for instance, which puts a twist on the parent testimonial by delivering them in letter format, as read aloud by their own children. It brings human emotion and life into their words.

Think about the unique ways you can use student and parent voices to help tell the school's story, and you’ll increase credibility in the process.

These are three simple ways to boost the school’s storytelling efforts—and effectively market to your audience. How are you incorporating storytelling into your school marketing? Share your ideas with us on Twitter @emilycretella / @blackbaudK12. And for more information about school storytelling, visit Cursive Content Marketing.

About the Author

Emily Cretella

Emily Cretella is a marketing strategist and copywriter who helps her clients create and share stories that make audiences take action. As owner of Cursive Content Marketing, Emily provides consulting, copywriting services and workshops to independent schools and higher education. Read her stories at cursivecontent.com.

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