Schools face an incredibly difficult challenge today, especially in regards to admission. Schools need to convince a frugal and savvy marketplace to forgo a free product and instead consider an expensive product that requires a significant annual investment.
We seek to convert these potential customers into viable sales leads that will then become paying customers for a total of four years. How does this work? Marketing departments work to locate these target audiences and nurture them until they make contact with us. Once marketing is able to convert these leads into qualified leads, they are handed off to the sales department to further develop relationships, answer questions, guide them through the application process in order to qualify them as a customer and ultimately get them to sign a sales contract for an expensive product that we call education.
Products, leads, customers, sales, marketplace: these are typically considered business terms. The truth is, private school is a business. I see colleagues grimace every time I use the term lead to describe a prospective family, customers to describe our paying constituents, sales to describe admission, and product to describe education. However, if we don’t think about the business of private education, our schools will lose out on paying customers and the teachers won’t have full classrooms.
Gone are the days of being able to send static information out to the masses and wait for someone to knock on our doors. Today’s world is much more sophisticated than it was at the turn of the century, and marketing best practices change almost daily in order to meet the growing needs of an increasingly savvy and sophisticated marketplace. The challenge is growing each year, with schools not only facing declining enrollment rates, especially as public schools work to improve, but also declining birth rates overall, meaning fewer students nationwide. If schools only work to recruit those customers who are already sold on private school, they are going to face grave consequences in the future.
We now need to create calculated communication and marketing strategies designed to find and develop new target audiences. We must study digital behaviors and first and foremost work to attract them to private schools in general. We need to nurture them until they convert into soft leads, interested in our general product, and work to encourage them to opt for our particular brand of education by investing in content marketing tailored to meet the needs of our desired customer base. This is what we call inbound marketing, a term that in today’s competitive market, you need to know, understand and embrace.
At Cheshire Academy, we produce daily content to power our inbound marketing strategy. Our daily Cheshire Academy website article, weekly informational blogs for prospective families and educators, weekly student blogs, and photos and videos all work towards a common goal of educating users about private school, boarding school, and Cheshire Academy. Once we’ve caught their attention, we aim to convert them into leads using short Hubspot inquiry forms asking only for name, email, and one drop down menu question.
What we have done is added a step to the traditional admission funnel. We work closely with leads, sending them targeted email marketing pieces based on their lead form responses, and promoting social content we know they will like. We do this with the ultimate goal of getting them to complete a detailed inquiry form, at which time we hand over these qualified leads to the sales department (admission) to seal the deal. What we do at Cheshire Academy isn’t the norm at most private schools.
Schools, and heads of schools, in particular, have to change the ways in which we operate. Schools pride themselves on offering cutting edge learning opportunities for students, but the same is rarely true for how we are working to find these students in the marketplace. Many schools still rely on the same marketing and communications techniques that worked 20+ years ago that are driven by the wants of the institution, not the wants and needs of the consumer. Is this truly the best model for us to use to promote our schools?
An abbreviated version of this article was printed in the November 2016 issue of “The Head’s Letter” newsletter published by Educational Directions, Inc.