The idea of marketing makes many private school leaders a little uncomfortable.
They don’t see themselves as running a business, after all. They’re not chasing profits or eyeing the bottom line for investors or board members. They went into teaching and school administration because they love kids, they love learning, and they want to make a difference.
However, smart school leaders understand that marketing can provide the means for those educational objectives.
Marketing improves parents’ perceptions of your school, which can boost funding and enrollment, which in turn can improve engagement and educational outcomes. That’s why schools that ignore marketing tend to suffer as a result.
It may help to think of the process of marketing not as trying to get more sales, but as telling your school’s story honestly and in a compelling way. Marketing is all about helping your school’s character shine through to prospective parents.
Thanks to new digital tools and technology, great marketing doesn’t mean having to pay for expensive billboards or glossy magazine ads. Some of today’s best marketing tactics are very cost-effective and deliver great returns if you take the right approach. Here are a few of the tactics all private schools should consider.
A Dynamic Website
It’s not uncommon for administrators to think of their schools’ websites as little more than the modern-day digital equivalent of a phone directory listing: They know they need one, and they know it needs to be updated, working correctly, and looking nice.
But in reality, that’s just the beginning. Your website should be one of your school’s most important marketing tools. It’s helpful at every single step of the enrollment process, from increasing the odds that people will find your school in web searches, to helping them understand your mission and priorities, to directing them on how to apply for admission.
Plus, thanks to user-friendly and affordable web builders like Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress, even schools with the smallest budgets might be able to afford a serious upgrade.
Your website’s primary job is to make a fantastic first impression visually, then make it easy for visitors to find exactly what they need through clear navigation and carefully crafted content. But your website also needs to track which pages visitors look at, which websites visitors came from, and which keywords they used to find you. You can find all of that information using a free tracking program like Google Analytics.
Understanding how visitors find and use your website will give you the information you need to plan the rest of your marketing efforts.
You can combine the analytics data from your website with real-life conversations with students and parents to figure out what’s really important to potential enrollees. Then, you can publish content that meets their needs in order to get their attention (and help them in the process).
The term “Content marketing” typically refers to blog posts, whitepapers, or other informative articles that are published to help attract readers online. These days, content marketing may also go beyond the written word to include podcasts or other media content.
Posting helpful, in-depth content to your site regularly has plenty of benefits. First, it shows website visitors that your school has a productive, efficient staff that keeps their website up-to-date.
But it may also help your website show up more prominently in search results.
Search engines tend to prioritize sites with quality content over those with fewer pages. And publishing more content on a wider range of topics will increase the quantity and quality of search terms that your website is a good fit for — which increases the odds of new families finding your site for the first time.
Content marketing can also be an especially good way to connect with potential students and parents. In-depth, thoughtful pieces help readers get to know the people writing them and give them a sense of your school’s personality and distinct voice.
Content marketing isn’t necessarily cheap. But unlike magazine ads or even search engine marketing, almost anyone in your school community can be enlisted to help. Parents, teachers, admin staff, or even students can write or at least help with the articles.
Email marketing is one of the simplest, most cost-effective ways to stay in touch with prospective students and their families.
Software for email marketing programs abound. Many are free for organizations with smaller mailing lists, which is the case for many private schools.
Most private schools have already embraced the advantages of email marketing, usually to send simple, semi-regular newsletters about school events. However, the big opportunity that many private schools miss is segmenting their email lists and approaching different groups of subscribers differently.
For most private schools, segmenting your list into groups like alumni, current families, and prospective families can go a long way toward tailoring content to be more effective. Yes, a lot of the information you want to publish will be relevant to people in all of those groups, but you may be able to send the groups more specific content occasionally.
Specifically, potential students or people who are on the fence about enrollment have a lot of questions that the others don’t. Consider sending new subscribers in this group a special series of emails introducing them to your school, answering common questions people have, and explaining the next steps and timelines.
Today’s powerful email marketing programs come with forms that are completely customizable and easy to insert into a web page. They let you categorize user data many different ways, from a response to a certain form field, to the page they were on when they opted in to the emails, to a link they clicked on a previous email. These features are often available even in the free versions of email marketing software and could make your emails highly relevant.
You might segment potential enrollees even further, using factors such as their kids’ ages (parents with kids considering enrolling in grade 1 will have different needs than parents enrolling their kids in grade 9, for example).
Before You Start
Remember that the foundation of any successful marketing effort is a clear understanding of who you’re trying to reach and learning their needs.
Consider using tools like student personas and marketing funnels. These can help you think through where your ideal students, parents, and families spend their time and attention, and what kind of content to cover at each stage of their relationship with your school.
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Take the process seriously. Prospective parents and students need to hear about your private school. It might end up being a life-changing option for them, and it’s your job to make sure they know about it. Don’t rely on word-of-mouth alone. Great marketing ensures that you’ll be noticed where the right people are looking and get them off to a positive start.
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