As one admissions cycle draws to a close, thought turns to a new cycle starting this fall (…well, there’s summer break in between, but we know School Admissions Marketers never really stop thinking about the admissions cycle!). One school’s admissions marketing professional put it this way… admissions marketing is like farming, if you want something to harvest in the fall, you’d better be planting in the spring. How true! Even the best marketing takes time to work its magic. The question is what should you be planting?
Have the results of this admissions cycle signaled a need to go beyond your comfort zone or are you planning more of the same marketing activities this fall? Do your objectives include growth, maintaining the status quo or reducing your cost per applicant? (check out our free admissions marketing enrollment calculator) These are some of the questions we ask during an initial assessment of a school’s admissions marketing program. We track and measure these metrics together with our clients to determine whether admissions’ marketing is working. So what are your planting options? Here’s a sample of the activities that may be in your admissions marketing mix.
You may recognize this as direct mail, radio or newspaper advertising, billboards or school fairs. Whichever outbound marketing technique you choose, the principle is the same – getting a prospect’s interest and your message to line up at the exact same time and then give the prospect a way to satisfy their interest – come visit our campus, go to our website etc. Schools try new tactics like QR codes, personalized images or text messages, but the basic challenges for outbound marketing remain.
The obstacles to effective outbound marketing are being in the right place at the right time to catch a prospect in the moment, and the high level of indirection (the fact that a person reading a postcard has to get to a computer to visit your website or schedule a campus visit etc.). As a result response rates tend to be low and the cost of “carpet bombing” a group of likely prospects with your message is relatively high.
You probably have some annual postcard programs, newspaper or radio ads that you run at specific times of the year to try to increase the chances your message will meet up with someone’s interest but the reality is, there’s little you can do to get beyond that 1 – 2% response rate. As a result, our schools admissions marketing customers are increasingly moving budget from their outbound activities to other marketing techniques to decrease costs per applicant or increase the size of their application pool.
You may have dabbled in this one. Many of our school admissions marketing clients have a Facebook page and some are using Twitter. Facebook pages in particular are a great way to extend your school’s brand beyond general web traffic and increasingly parents as well as prospective students spend considerable time on Facebook looking for referrals for just about everything – including schools. But a social media program without a good blogging foundation (see: blogging, the front door to social media) or a website optimized for moving a prospect from interest to application won’t be effective. You may have a good time. You may even get a few phone calls but social media without a coordinated inbound marketing strategy is really just socializing… it’s not about lowering your cost per applicant or increasing your application pool.
Inbound marketing is an activity more and more schools are catching on to. Think back to the principle of outbound marketing… matching your timing and your message to a prospect’s interests and timing. Inbound marketing flips this upside down; here’s how.
You create great content about your school and optimize that content so that Google finds your content when a person is looking for, say: private K-8 schools metro west massachusetts. The only reason a person is going to put that search into Google is because they are interested, at that moment, in K-8 schools in suburban Boston. If that’s your school, you want to engage with that person. They’re looking for you. Inbound marketing uses Google to make the connection. Sounds too good to be true, but it works just like that.
Inbound marketing works even better when you coordinate regular blog posts about your school and social media in order to constantly give Google fresh content to present to searching prospects. Once you have great content and coordinated social media, the key to optimizing your inbound marketing for your audience is a great analytics platform. Hubspot offers the best inbound marketing platform available and you can read about the success of some of their schools marketing clients here.
Many of our schools marketing clients use content management systems like Wordpress, Whipple Hill or the Genesis Framework to host their content (website). The Hubspot analytics platform can be added to any of these, which means schools marketing professionals can bolt inbound marketing on to their existing websites, without any website migration or new blogging tools required. Very cool.
Summer Isn’t Far Off And Fall Is Sooner Than You Think
So back to the original question… what will you be doing for admissions marketing in this coming cycle? If you haven’t thought about it, I encourage you to do so. If you don’t know how well your current marketing is working, or how it could improve, Innovative Marketing Resources will give your program a free checkup – we do it all in the background so you won’t even know we’ve done anything until you get our report. If you want a checkup, just fill in the request form here.
If you’re only looking for a suggestion about where to start improving your admissions marketing and have limited resources I would begin with your school blog. Blogging allows you to create great content for your current students as well as content that attracts new enrollees. For some tips on creating blog content optimized for Google, these free resources will get you started. In any case, start planning and planting your admissions marketing activities this spring so you have a really great admissions cycle starting this fall.