Independent school marketers work extremely hard to get qualified prospects, or “leads,” into their pipeline. Whether you’ve purchased lists, launched a digital marketing campaign, or planned an on-ground admissions trip, building a lead funnel is a huge investment. That is why keeping those leads engaged and moving through the funnel by way of email marketing is a critical tactic for schools.
According to data by Nutshell, it takes an average of three to four emails before getting a response from a lead—but with those long admission- and marketing-team to-do lists, sending each lead regular communication can be a challenge.
Here’s how your school can develop an email marketing strategy to nurture leads—for FREE!, maximize your efforts, and ensure prospects take those next steps to visit, apply, and enroll.
Step #1: Create Your Email Marketing Goals
Before creating the email marketing strategy, you need to establish goals. First, understand what your admission and marketing teams want to accomplish and build a strategy to achieve those specific actions. Some goals to consider include seeing an increase in open house registrants, a higher lead-to-application rate, or simply more touch points with mission-appropriate families over a longer period of time to stay ahead of the competition.
As you develop goals, make sure they’re “SMART”—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive—just as marketing platforms like HubSpot and Constant Contact recommend. More info on setting SMART goals is found here.
Step #2: Segment Your Prospective Students and Parents
Once you establish goals, the next step is to segment your leads. There are a number of ways to segment leads, including a position in the funnel, inquiry source, grade of interest, and more. Below are a few ways to consider segmenting your leads for email purposes.
- Purchased Lists/Directories: These leads are very top of the funnel, and depending on where you acquired the leads, they may not remember they opted in to receive communication from your school specifically. It is important to segment these leads into their own email marketing strategy to ensure they are not emailed too often, with calls to action that are too strong, which could negatively impact the open rates and thus, get caught in SPAM.
- Marketing Leads/School Fair: These leads are also top of the funnel, but they have done some preliminary research about your institution. They have specifically asked for communication from you and may possibly be reaching out to you and your competition. While these leads want to learn more, they may not be ready for admissions events, one-to-one communication, or a phone call. They also may not have spent a lot of time on your website yet, getting to know your school. It is best to provide these leads with regular information so that when they are ready to take the next step, they have all the information needed to move along in the admissions process.
- Direct Inquiries/Phone Calls: These leads are very warm, but still at the beginning of their journey. Many of these prospective families are familiar with your school and the admissions process. They may have experience with private schools overall and understand they need to build a relationship with the admissions team. These leads are already engaging in one-to-one communication, and the email strategy reinforces your brand and provides reminders about upcoming dates and deadlines. The goal here is to complement the personalized communication that an admissions person has with these families.
- These are positions in the “funnel” so to speak. For example, as a lead transitions to an inquiry, and then goes on to tour, apply, interview or get accepted, they are in a new a potisiton of the funnel and thus a new segment for email marketing. These will be highly dependent on your admissions goals, and the content they receive should be tailored to the stage they are in the process. For example, you don’t want to send an email to a group of users highlighting your Shadow Day to those who’ve already attended one! Sending these prospects irrelevant content could decrease open rates in the future if they start to dismiss your emails.
- The most advanced way to segment the audience is by persona. This includes interests, grade level, or student type, ability to pay in full, and more. Persona lists are the most targeted approach, and the goal is to provide families with a very personalized admissions experience and then send communication tailored to what they have identified as key value propositions which ultimately leads to higher media engagement. Personas should be developed in addition to, not in lieu of, position or source-based segmentation.
Segmenting the audience will take time. This process should evolve, and its sophistication might be dependent on your CRM. Start segmenting broadly, and then hone in as you get more data. That being said, you also want to avoid over-segmentation. In other words, if you start to determine that you are sending the same content to the same groups of users, or only have one or two prospects in a particular segment, it may be time to broaden your buckets. You want to use this data to work smarter, not harder.
Step #3: Develop a Content Strategy
After you’ve segmented your leads, the next step is to create a content strategy. Think of this plan as a roadmap through the admissions process and a guide for families to follow. It is also important to ensure the strategy aligns with the marketing and admissions goals you decided on during step #1. While every private school’s email marketing content strategy will be unique, there are three key components they all should include:
- Evergreen Content: For all families who have opted in to receive consistent communications from your school, there should be an email strategy that they all receive. But this should not just be a series of email reminders about key dates and deadlines in the admissions process. Rather, this evergreen content should include emails that address the problems and questions that parents have today when looking for the best school for their child. Think about your value propositions, and why they are important to parents, to begin with. For example, you might tackle topics like “How to Afford Private School,” “What is Project-Based Learning?” “Why an All-Boys School,” “How to Know Your Child Is Ready for Preschool,” and “Benefits of a Junior Boarding School.” To come up with content ideas, lean into keyword research, or just think about the frequently asked questions you get on tours. When parents light up at your response, you know it’s a great selling point—and something other parents are wondering about! The strongest evergreen strategies combine thought-leadership pieces, community information and news, and admissions content.
- Persona and Position-Based Email Marketing: If schools are able to segment their audience based on personas and position, layering in this personalization strategy can positively impact the results. The goal of this strategy is to provide information to families based on their specific interests. When thinking about persona-email marketing, think about some bigger brands you have received emails from and what they share with you based on your buyer journey. Examples for schools include emails about your athletics opportunities, learning support programs, your before-and after school care, carpools, study abroad options, new STEM facilities and more. Additionally, if they’ve attended an open house, but not toured, an email highlighting the benefits of a personalized tour to see the new fitness center in person, if you know they expressed interest in that, would be an appropriate call to action. Use data to your advantage. By asking questions about these things at events, or allowing families to indicate interest on forms, you have more data to tap into to build these persona-based emails to work them through the funnel in a personalized way.
- Lead Magnets for Purchased Lists or Third-Parties: These are gated pieces of content that require a family to provide you with information to download. These are the best ways to turn purchased lists and directory inquiries into opted-in families. Lead magnets are one-time emails that direct prospective parents to a call to action with a form needing information from them. Some examples of lead magnets include virtual tours, blog subscriptions, or downloadable PDFs about the importance of private school education. They might also include webinars or video recordings from admissions on the importance of touring the campus. Take a look at Search Engine Journal’s 10 examples of lead magnets to help you brainstorm ideas.
With all of these strategies, you must ensure they are timed to go out strategically and are aesthetically pleasing. The actual content and structure of the email are so important, and there are great tips on email essentials for schools here that you should reference when creating those messages. It's also wise to look into segmenting users, customizing templates, and automating processes and events through a CRM built for schools, like Enquiry Tracker.
Step #4: Analyze Results and Optimize Accordingly
After you have invested the time to segment the leads and develop a content strategy, how do you know it was successful? You will need to refer back to the goals and also check out these metrics as well:
- Email Marketing Platform Data: Look at the data where you deployed the email marketing strategy. While this will not usually inform event registrants or applicant volume unless you have an event management tool built in, it can provide insight into email engagement. Some basic metrics that are great indicators of engagement include open rates, scroll rates, link clicks, and email bounces.
- Google Analytics: Beyond engaging with the emails, what did families do after they clicked? Did they take the action you wanted? If you send them to a place on your website from the email, then Google Analytics will show the prospective family journey after they clicked an email link to help uncover if they are registering for events, viewing the application process page, watching the desired video, taking a virtual tour, etc. They can also tell you if users are not taking the intended action and instead reading about other value propositions and pages of interest. In either case, this website data can help inform if your content is what families want and also indicate other content ideas that you may want to highlight.
- Admissions Data: If your CRM does not show you where prospects are in the admissions process, get an update from admissions on event registrants, applicant volume, and enrolled families to help you see if the email marketing efforts are positively impacting admissions goals and moving leads through the funnel. Email marketing is not usually a strategy that will solely get a family from inquiry to enrollment, but through these efforts, you should see it as a huge touchpoint along that journey!
To recap, an email marketing strategy is a key part of the admissions process. Keeping leads engaged and your brand top-of-mind is critical in ensuring they take desired next steps. As a school, you are investing time, energy, and money into filling your pipeline and by not implementing an effective email marketing strategy, you could lose those leads to competitors who have a sound strategy that keeps parents connected and converting over a long period of time.
Interested in more email marketing advice for private schools? Download our PDF, Tips for Improving Your School's Email Marketing Strategy. We are also happy to chat with you about your email marketing and digital marketing goals!