Marketing Space were asked to provide insight and advice about how childcare centres should market themselves for a publication called Belonging, for private Childcare Centres throughout Australia as part of the Australian Childcare Alliance.
Here is our full Marketing Q&A for the Belonging publication – and a link to the Belonging online publication itself with excerpts (click it to get an enlarged view, and you can find the marketing article on pages 61 to 63 of the online magazine pdf).
1. In the childcare industry there are a lot of small operators, often operating in a close proximity to their competitors. How can one business try to distinguish itself from the rest?
There are a lot of childcare centres around, but there always seems to be pretty good demand out there as well. To stand out from the crowd of other childcare centres consider the following:
- Create a ‘why our centre is fabulous’ type booklet or section on your website – ensure prospects who are considering your centre and comparing it to others can feel what you are about, not just get the facts like your fees and opening hours
- Build a profile of your centre: good signage, high visibility to locals (maybe billboards or banners in different locations around the area, not just at your centre), consider advertising in your local paper and gaining PR through helpful articles you could submit to you local paper on child issues/ tips etc
- Ensure a happy customer base: people ask other people what the childcare centre they use is like, where they send their kids, and so on – so ensure your parents are happy with your centre to increase your chance of gaining positive referrals from them. Research surveys are a great way to capture customer feedback and satisfaction levels. Marketing Space offer custom research surveys as one of our key marketing services for small business.
- Be welcoming of new business: ensure your website has a clear ‘apply now or register for care’ type button; always respond to enquiries and don’t forget to point out your strengths (use the ‘why your centre is fabulous’ content)
- Open your doors: Encourage and invite local parents to come to your centre and experience what you have to offer (for example: have an open day like a morning tea for pregnant mums to allow them to see what childcare is like)
- Encourage your Staff to spread the word and talk about what’s great about ‘their’ centre, always be mindful of their work satisfaction and seek to have happy staff who are proud of where they work, over & above other centres
2. What is the best way to target the local market?
Understand your local demographic as best you can, and specifically the people in the market for childcare - are they pregnant, or already parents, or newcomers to the area. Think about how these people would identify a childcare provider – will they mostly ‘see’ you via local signage or advertising, ‘find’ you via referrals from friends/other parents/ mothers groups or indeed ‘look’ for you via community lists in local community centres, early childhood baby health centres, via local council childcare lists or an internet search.
A combination of marketing activity, profiling and registering your business in the right places such as local council childcare and perhaps an online childcare directory like www.careforkids.com.au is essential to connect with your target market.
3. Childcare centres are dealing with the most prized possessions that people have. How can they increase the strength of their reputation within the area?
Childcare is a highly personal service, and appealing to your audience on an emotive level is critical. This means you have to connect with peoples feelings, not just with their practical requirements. No parent is going to choose a childcare centre that doesn’t FEEL right.
Building a reputation starts with the way you make people feel from their very first impression of your childcare centre, through to any and all interactions they have over time, what they hear from others and how your childcare centre might be talked about in the media.
Gaining a positive reputation can be approached both from the inside and out. Inside activity could be:
- The way your staff behave and talk to parents – do they smile and show excitement to be at the centre looking after a child as he/she is dropped off in the morning or picked up in the afternoon?
- Does your centre look tidy, clean, safe, healthy to a visitor?
- Do you have visible examples and demonstrations of learning, fun, supportive activity that would enable a childcare centre to be known to have these capabilities and strengths?
Outside activity could be:
- Gaining stories or articles in the local paper or in a child related publication or magazine about a great learning program your run at your centre for example
- By showing support for various causes like SIDS, or ActiveKids or CanTeen or similar
- Being active in the local community such as sponsoring or getting involved in a school fete or local sports club weekend event
4. If a new centre opens up, what are some of the initial steps they should be taking to market their business?
Some of the essential marketing foundations would include creating great branding and signage, a website, registering to be on the local council childcare centre list, registering a local google listing for your centre (google places). Also consider forming a pre launch campaign to attract applicants, which could be as simple as a billboard at your site saying ‘opening soon, apply now’ and some small local ads or a letterbox drop. Also consider having a launch event to officially open your centre, invite some key locals such as complementary businesses who also work with parents and kids and build a great impression of your centre from the start!
5. What about older businesses, do they constantly need to be marketing themselves too?
Maintaining a core marketing presence will help keep a business in the minds of the market as a key service provider. Become invisible and so too will people forget about you. Older businesses may not need the same amount or type of active marketing, but certainly core aspects like a website, good signage at the childcare centre and fundamentally ensuring your customers are happy and willing to spread word of mouth will go a long way to helping a centre stay viable.
If you are in the childcare industry, please share this on to any industry contacts. Also please provide feedback on these tips or suggest other useful marketing activities you've used for your childcare business.