Today nearly a quarter of all K-12 schools in this country are private schools—that’s over 30,000 schools. With 5 million seats to fill each year, these stats demonstrate the urgency for marketers to attract their share of prospective parents, and nurture them along to their child’s enrollment.
Every student goes through her own enrollment journey, but the inbound marketing journey phases are the same for every prospect. A key to inbound success is understanding each of these phases and what different inbound marketing strategies and tactics are needed in each.
Getting Noticed: Attracting Qualified Prospective Parents
Parents can't enroll their children if they don't know you're out there. The first phase is getting attention for your school, but not just from anyone. You want to make sure you attract parents of students (prospects) who are looking for an alternative to public education, who have children who will thrive at your school, and who are going to ultimately help better your school.
To make sure you're attracting the right prospects, you need to understand, deeply, who they are. These are your personas, which you'll write up in detailed descriptions for fictionalized versions of your ideal parents. You may have more than one persona for your school. For example, parents looking to enroll their child in a private school right from kindergarten, might have different questions and needs than one looking to transfer their students in for 8th grade. One may be curious about after-school care, while the other might care more about whether or not their child has been adequately prepped for success
When you do research to build your personas, talk with your academic and career counselors, admissions folks, current students, local libraries, even other schools if possible. You want to learn what questions and concerns your ideal parents have when they start looking for an independent school.
The information you discover isn't just for your personas. It's also the foundation of SEO strategy, to guide you in the selection of what keywords and phrases will generate the right kind of organic traffic to your website and blog. The right keywords help keep your traffic targeted.
Are you trying to increase awareness for your best-in-class soccer program for the state of Maine? Then search phrases like "youth soccer in Maine" and "Maine soccer leagues for children" may need to be part of your keyword list.
Do What Your School Does Best – Educate Prospects
You want to convert your website and blog visitors into prospects you can nurture. A visitor becomes a prospect when you start learning enough about them to push out personalized content. The best way to do this is offer them some remarkable content for which they're willing to exchange their email address.
Remarkable content has to provide detailed, actionable answers to the specific questions prospects have when deciding whether to go to an independent school versus a public school, how to apply, or how to decide what sort of school or program best suits them.
Whether your school is co-ed or single sex, day school or boarding school, you’re driven by a unique philosophy, set of values, and approach to teaching. Your content is a vehicle to showcase what makes you different, and why students might be a good fit for the qualities your school is known for.
Return to your personas and what you learned about them during your research. You should see a broad range of concerns, questions, and interests you can dig into. Set out to create remarkable content that educates your prospects about their most pressing questions.
Getting Those Applications and Enrollments
A prospect can spend a lot of time in the education phase. Use your content and its carefully selected topics to nurture prospects towards inquiries, applications, or enrollments. To do this, nudge prospects along with content that starts answering the questions they have about your specific independent school.
You're still educating them, but now you're educating about what they can expect at your school and why your school is a good option for them. This is also the time to start "closing" on your best prospects.
Include calls-to-action (CTAs) on your blog posts, emails, and other content geared towards prospects in this phase that start building offline connections between them and your school. Strong CTAs for this phase include inviting them for on-campus tours and meetings with career and academic counselors and financial aid advisors.
Making this pivot successful requires good timing and persistence. Identify behavioral triggers that indicate a prospect's high readiness to fix their short list of schools. You can use email series and other automated workflows to drip the right mix of content and CTAs to move a prospect towards application and then on to enrollment.
Create Your School's Best Ambassadors
Congratulations! Your inbound marketing program has resulted in a full enrollment class of exactly the kind of students you want.
Your work isn't done.
These students and their parents are an invaluable resource. Use surveys to find what their preferences and interests are. Learn about what the specific motivators were that lead them to choose your school over others. Do you need to refine your personas based on what you learned?
They're also great content sources. Delighted parents and students can write blog posts, post at-school videos, and share your school's content through their own social media profiles. So don't forget to continue to publish remarkable content that appeals to their new questions and challenges now that they're enrolled.
The Never-Ending Cycle
As you well know, there's always another semester and new classes to fill. The more you execute on an inbound marketing strategy, the more you'll learn about what works, what your best prospects respond to, and what can (and should) be discarded. Use this never-ending cycle of new prospects to keep improving the content and lead nurture flows you implement to enroll your new students.