Every year presents its own enrollment challenges for independent schools. In these unprecedented times, it is more critical than ever to consider multiple factors before launching digital marketing campaigns.
Schools need to leverage market research to launch more informed and increasingly impactful digital campaigns heading into 2021.
It starts with understanding who your core audience is, and who it needs to be, so that you can begin to reach, attract, convert, and retain the right-fit families to sustain your enrollment marketing efforts now— and well beyond — COVID-19.
Independent Schools are Scared
Private schools face some serious unknowns, and the unknown is a scary place to market. While some private schools were fortunate to see a lift in 2020 as remote or hybrid options at competitor or public schools presented challenges, that unforeseen lift may be short-lived. Additionally, some independent schools experienced the opposite; whether they operated in person or not, families had to draw back from their private school options in this time of uncertainty. In fact, according to a recent CATO study, more than 50% of private schools surveyed saw a decrease in enrollment, year over year. Whether you saw a lift or decline this past year, many K-12 schools are still left wondering: what happens when things go back to “normal”?
Marketing in the “New Normal”
Since many schools don’t know if they will be experiencing high attrition or low yield for Fall 2021 or once things are back to “normal,” many schools are looking to fill the entire funnel, so to speak, by attempting to both gain new inquiries in new areas and also nurture their current markets and current families. But marketing with a goal to fill both the top and bottom of the funnel can be expensive and time-consuming, especially in an unknown environment.
This is Where Market Research Kicks in
Schools can’t just rely on the same set of facts this year as they did in the previous year. The truth is, the prospective parent journey changes all the time, and considerably during a year like 2020. Market research can avoid the “spray and pray” method wherein marketers spend money ineffectively, hitting almost everyone in a few markets, by instead being very targeted about whom and where they target, and with what messages. A more targeted approach takes into consideration how to reach families who are most likely going to inquire, enroll, and ultimately, be the right fit in the long term. Here are some common market research tactics for schools to start with:
- Use internal & external surveys to gather facts and perceptions of facts: Tap into alumni, currently enrolled or deposited families, transfers, those who have declined, and even community influencers and referrers in order to truly get a sense of who the school is, and what the unique selling factors are for families. In addition to working on the feedback from an institutional standpoint for the long term, you can quickly lean into the consensus-based data to help shape what are the most relevant selling points you need to be marketing, as well as to help understand who the right-fit families may be from a geographical perspective.
- Engage in current enrollment data mining: If surveying is not possible, it’s critical to rely on your current enrollment data to understand geographically and behaviorally where folks are coming from, their household income, interests/affinities, how they heard about the school, and any core philosophical values they hold. If your CRM or database doesn’t carry this type of data, then surveying current families helps, even by way of email marketing to these families.
- Determine market feasibility & competition: Investigate your core markets and identify whether they are viable populations based on your enrollment growth plans. Can the market support your goals from the standpoint of basic needs? Things like real estate home values, equity, competitor schools, and identifying families that share your school’s attitudes and values are all markers for feasibility. Use this data to help inform your enrollment targets and the types of families you need to be thinking about now, and even five years from now.
- Leverage digital tools: Tools such as your website’s Google Analytics and social listening can be a crystal ball for enrollment marketing. Research where your website traffic and conversions are coming from, the keywords parents are querying, what content is being shared, top converting pages, and more. This is critical for seeing the online behaviors and matching them up with the messages and platforms you use to reach your target audience.
- Utilize third party data: Use third party tools to capture your school’s data, and lean into third party data for list purchasing. Use those lists for targeting at home with postcards or viewbooks, or targeting them digitally via lookalike audiences on Facebook, Google, and mobile location targeting.
While many of these are long-term projects that are critical to any strategic marketing initiative, schools need to prioritize some of these features now to shape their marketing in the new year. Use this data to inform the campaigns on Google Ads, social media ads, mobile location targeting (MLT) ads, direct mail to home marketing materials, as well as thoughtful inbound marketing strategies like blogging and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Market research and digital marketing really do go hand-in-glove, when done well.
Talk to Enroll Media Group today to learn more about digital marketing and how to lean into market research opportunities. Enroll Media Group works with partners across the independent school industry to help schools with market research that informs and directs the digital marketing strategy.