Are you looking for innovative marketing strategies to grow your school?
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Rick Newberry, founder of Enrollment Catalyst, regarding marketing and enrollment strategies for schools. Rick is seeing a shift away from traditional print outbound methods to more inbound, web-based, word-of-mouth marketing approaches. At conferences he surveys admissions directors to identify the top two ways that a prospective family finds out about their school, and it’s always the same answer: Word-of-mouth and the web. Consequentially, this is where admissions and marketing should be directing their focus.
Innovative Strategies in School Marketing
In response to a question about innovative practices in school marketing, Rick shared these two examples:
- Free Webinars - One school reviewed their data and saw that open house numbers had declined dramatically, so obviously something about that method wasn't working in their community. They decided to use an innovative strategy that used technology - online webinars - to showcase the school. The benefit was two fold: not only could people sign up and participate in the live editions of the webinars, but the recording could be posted on their website, giving them a library of web-based content available to prospective families. (GotoMeeting and Google Hangout offer useful tools for this purpose.)
- Viral Video - In a word-of-mouth marketing effort, the Out of Door Academy in Sarasota, FL conducted a campaign this last year called “Pass It On.” The campaign encouraged parents to take their message and experiences from the school and pass it on to their community. One way they did this was by putting together a video that gave viewers a genuine feel for the school. Their goal was to make a video that would emotionally connect with moms, and they accomplished it! View it here.
This term is used more often in business marketing than in the admissions office. The term goes back to the founders of Hubspot who wrote a book on the subject and coined the phrase. The idea is to pull people into your conversation and have them engaged, as opposed to pushing your message out into other people’s lives. The power of a social media site like Facebook is that you can tell your story often and people can peer in to see what your school is all about, and then come in and engage in your conversation. It provides an opportunity to have build engagement with the market you are trying to reach. You’re not just trying to run ads and have a one-way conversation; rather, you’re trying to dialogue and build relationships with your network. (Michael Hyatt’s book Platform is a great resource on this.) The head of school, as well as administrators and faculty, should be actively involved in sharing your school’s value story in a way that is compelling to your community.
Schools know that word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective way to draw prospects for their school, but most have no strategy for harnessing that as a strategy. Rick believes the #1 book for every school leader to check out is Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz. The admissions director and marketing director are obvious people who should be looking at resources like this, but Rick often directs entire school leadership teams through such material. The head of school and board chair especially need to in unity with the marketing strategy for the entire school.
How Admissions Directors can Engage School Leadership
- Showcase what you’re learning - Share what you’re learning at conferences or through blogs with the leadership at your school so they can get a feel for strategies that are working and those that aren’t.
- Feed your head of school - Identify resources that will useful for the chief administrator. Feed him/her information on what’s working in your community--for schools and for other organizations.
Creating the content and maintaining a social media platform takes a lot of commitment from the school. Some schools choose to partner with School Growth to coach them through best practices or to outsource part of this process.
Looking to the Future
From Rick’s perspective, the predominance of your school’s marketing budget should be allocated to inbound, web-based and word-of-mouth marketing strategies. Much less should go towards traditional print marketing. It is important to still have something to give to prospective parents, such as brochures, and to also send them something in the mail, but 75% of your budget could be focused on inbound and 25% or less could go towards outbound marketing. People can go to a website 24/7, so you want to direct your resources there because you never know who will be viewing your site. One of the failures that Rick sees in school websites is taking the information from their brochures and tacking it directly to the site, rather than using it as a platform for sharing stories about people.
Education is always changing. Schools are going to look vastly different in 10 years than they do today. Rick believes we need to approach school growth with an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset--which is a big transition for boards and administrators. There are techniques used in the business world for generating interest and leads that can transfer to the education world. Schools generally don’t function from this type of viewpoint, but they really must make the transition in order to be successful in this increasingly competitive market.