When it comes to successful enrollment marketing for K-12 schools, I often hear admissions officers say, “If you can just get them to visit the school, we will dazzle them from there.” Since getting families to campus is half the battle, target marketing for an open house is a must-do for independent schools. But in this ever-changing digital landscape, it’s becoming harder to know who to market to, what to say, and how to measure the highest return on investment.
Here are 3 common marketing tactics to avoid when marketing your open house this year.
1. Don’t Spray and Pray
Run targeted Ad Campaigns Instead
At one point, reaching all adults with school-aged children within a 50 mile radius may have been a strong approach. Blanket digital campaigns, newspaper ads or a spot on the local radio are great for a brand-lift, but aren’t ideal for conversion-driven goals (like qualified open house registrations). With data available through platforms like Google and Facebook, marketers can ascertain what people do for a living, their affluence, marital status, friends, interests, hobbies and more. That means it’s easier than ever to run targeted, smarter campaigns in order to yield a higher return on your investment.
Before going to market with a digital campaign, narrow down your audience in the following ways:
- Leverage Enrollment Data. Instead of targeting entire towns, evaluate the most common zip codes of current families. This will help to reach prospective families in the same zip codes that hold the highest propensity of converting students. Layer in Household income and relevant other demographic data to help steer Social Media campaigns. Top the campaign off with lookalike targeting to attract similar audiences.
- Analyze Google Analytics. Your Analytics hold the key to identifying new target demographics that are geographically based. Mine the data for interests, top pages, and abandoned pages. Then, steer your online display campaigns towards these demographics, interests and trends.
- Conduct keyword research through Google’s Keyword Planner and your website’s Google Search Console to understand what users are looking for before they click on your website. You can also see where you rank with those keywords. These insights will help you understand what keywords you should bid on in order to implement a successful paid search strategy.
- Retarget: Who better to market to than the people already familiar with your school? Retargeting (also known as Remarketing) fosters the relationship between you and your current website visitors in order to ensure they know important bits of information - like your upcoming open house!
2. Steer Clear of Outbound-Only
Incorporate Inbound Marketing
According to a HubSpot Study, 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. This means schools can’t just put up a blanketed advertisement (no matter how targeted it appears) and expect prospective parents to engage with them. Even when it comes to digital outbound tactics, another study shows that consumers are more likely to engage with advertisements as long as they feel they haven’t been intruded upon. Messaging in a way that provides relevance and value is a great start. But how do you know what your users want? First, we must discuss the value in incorporating an inbound marketing methodology.
What is inbound? Inbound is a form of marketing that aims to provide value and relevance to customers, in order to encourage them to seek you out and take desired action. This is the opposite of throwing advertisements out to the right people and hoping someone will see it at the right time, then just so happen to click. While that has its place, trends point towards an increased effectiveness when audiences seek out products and services themselves.
How exactly does one do Inbound? Giving parents a reason to come to you can be as easy as creating blogs and other content you can share on your website and social channels. Make sure that it contains solutions that are reflective of the needs and concerns parents have for their children, parenting, and education in general. It is also important to showcase this knowledge in a way that is natural, so visitors don’t feel like they are seeing advertisements. Here are some tips for doing so:
- Research: Be a thought-leader by conducting surveys around current parent concerns, and research what topics people are looking for using keyword search tools. Some great surveys have already been compiled by reputable independent school associations such as The Association of Independent School Admission Professionals, Enrollment Marketing Association, The Association of Boarding Schools, and The National Association of Independent Schools.
- Blog: Compile those findings in articles and blogs by addressing the concerns of parents. For example, maybe after researching Montessori Philosophies, you discover parents are not sure what the value of a Montessori-based curriculum will do for their child. A member of faculty or staff could write a blog about that topic and compile links to various articles and resources.
- Share: When this content is published on your institution’s website and social media, the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and popularity of these articles will grow, which will increase chances of your school being recognized when parents are looking for these topics. This means they are able to seek you out through relevant content while also learning about your offerings, and be motivated to potentially share the content with their friends. The link-building and SEO expands, and so does your brand.
- Call-to-Action: Don’t forget to keep your eye on the ball. Since open house registrations are at the front of everyone’s mind this time of year, ensure you promote it somewhere within the blog or elsewhere on your website, once you’ve brought them there through inbound marketing. Personalized web content such as overlays, sticky bars, pop ups or chat windows are great for this! Platforms (such as HubSpot) can help you execute this.
3. Avoid Ambiguity
Set SMART Goals for each effort
Data-driven marketing can sound daunting, as if you need a bunch of fancy, expensive tools to get the job done right. In reality, you don’t. You just need to have a strategic plan in place before running marketing campaigns to ensure you are able to execute and measure them. Schools can begin creating SMART goals for each open house marketing initiative by checking off these 5 things when setting a goal. Ensure the goal is:
Let’s break this down.
Maybe you’ve determined the goal of a particular facebook campaign is to have 50 families register for your open house. That is a specific goal. It’s not ambiguous, like “Have a successful social media campaign that impacts open house attendance”. You’ve defined the goal specifically, with a number of registrants. You’re off to a great start!
Next, you want to make sure those 50 registrants are measurable. Do this by ensuring you have a way to track how many registrations occurred as a result (either directly or indirectly) of the social media campaign. There are a number of ways to measure, and it will depend on the platform. But for any digital tactics, it is recommend that conversion tracking is in place. For facebook specifically, you can measure conversions based on the number lead-generation forms generated, how many RSVPs were indicated on a facebook event, or how many sign ups were tracked on the dedicated landing page from facebook sourced ads. Most importantly is to measure them in the most accurate way possible to determine if the campaign’s specific goal is being met. You will also want to qualify these leads later by matching back actual open house attendees.
Next, ensure your goal is attainable by having a dialogue between your marketing and admissions team as well as any vendors surrounding that goal, and establish the platform or tactic to effectively reach influencers. Also make sure you have enough time, budget and resources to achieve this goal, and also evaluate how it compared with last year’s numbers. The last thing you want is to set a goal for the same number registrants as last year, when you have less marketing dollars or resources at hand, in a more competitive landscape.
Next, you will want to make sure your goal is relevant, in that it relates to the overall growth initiatives of your school or organization. For instance, ask yourself: “Will running a Facebook Campaign result in higher enrollment?” If you unpack this question, the answer might be yes. First, determine if Facebook is a platform your target audience actively uses, and if you have the resources to market your event there. Then, once registered for the event, will there be a strong likelihood of them showing up? And then, is there a good chance of them applying and ultimately enrolling after they’ve attended the event? If the answer is yes to these questions, then this SMART goal is relevant, and it will benefit your organization.
Once everyone is on the same page with a specific, measurable, attainable and realistic goal, it’s time for the final step - The goal needs to be time-bound by setting forth a specific timeline for achieving milestones or benchmarks for each marketing goal. For an open house campaign, consider going to market 6-8 weeks in advance of the event (longer for families expected to travel far). Set up KPIs (key performance indicators) along the way to measure the progress. This could be a certain number of registrations by a specific date, a number of ad clicks, views and shares of the campaign, etc. These time-bound KPI’s will help ensure your campaign is on track, and avoid any last-ditch efforts to improve registrations in large numbers just days before the event. For help creating a strategic marketing goal for your fall open house, download this template that EMG created with HubSpot.
With SMART goals in place, going to market with targeted outbound and inbound strategies, incorporating relevant and valuable content, will lead to an insightful and successful open house. By the time the big day arrives, you can focus on the most important part - dazzling those families and nurturing them to the real goal: Enrolling them for next year.