Impress prospective Christian school families with inspiration not information

In the title, I used three “I” letter words:  information, inspiration and impress. For the latter, I do not use “impress” in the junior high sense of making families think you are cool, because that is a weak marketing effort if that’s all there is to your strategy. I use “impress” in the way that you want your marketing efforts to “to produce a vivid impression” of your school. Like the root word suggests, your marketing strategy must make such an imprint in their minds that they are compelled to go further.

When it comes to your marketing strategy, Christian schools are masters are stuffing “information” into our marketing tools. Whether on a brochure or a website, we compose essential information such:

  • tuition schedule
  • admission requirements
  • history of the school
  • athletic offerings
  • fine art offerings
  • faculty and staff contact information
  • paragraphs and paragraphs describing why a prospective family should attend
  • mission statement
  • financial assistance details
  • and more . . .

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with information, as we all know that prospective families will want and need to know all of the items listed above. I have had admission folks challenge me and suggest that we should be producing the information front-and-center because that is what parents are looking for.

I cannot argue with the reality that information is what parents seek. Any decision we make is fueled by researching and finding the answers to our questions (and I advocate having an FAQ page on your site because it allows you to pose common questions and answers that prospective families are asking . . . and they very likely might use that language as their online search terminology).  However, information is not what we should lead with in our marketing efforts. If so, we are limiting our marketing reach ONLY to those who are at a decision point and who need to know things to clarify their decision or even to begin the application process.

But not every family is at the “decision point.” Like you may have heard, marketing is much like dating, and we have to present our best effort so that the other party will want to continue this relationship. If you were on a first date, and the other party started to lead you through all the “information” you might need to make a decision about your joint future, you probably would turn and run!

This is why I say, “inspiration before information“!

Inspiration makes an impression in way that information cannot. Inspiration taps into the emotions and offers a hopeful glimpse into how a new school choice could satisfy a need, solve a problem, heal a pain, alleviate a frustration or conquer a fear. Your step-by-step admission process has no chance to inspire a prospective family poking around exploring private education for the first time. And as well, your list of solid extracurricular offerings can do very little to inspire a new family to join your school and be one of your best loyal ambassadors.

Inspiration helps prospective families:

  • Ask themselves, “What if we inquired more?” or “What if we attend the preview event just to see what we think in person”.
  • Hurdle barriers by inspiring them to say, “I want for my kids what those parents have” or “We don’t have that experience where we are now”.
  • Explore hope of getting out of their current negative school environment, “What if Bobby didn’t have to dread school every day?” or “I don’t think Audrey will ever get to have the opportunities to participate if we stay where we are but she might at this new school.”
  • Begin to pray and make adjustments to their lives in order to make this new school a reality.

So what is inspirational content?

  • Video Testimonies: parents, students, faculty/staff and alumni give you hundreds of stories to capture, each one telling the impact of your school on their lives. These videos do not have to be 10 minutes long nor do they have to be produced with $5,000 video equipment. With a smartphone, good lighting and quality sound, all you need is energetic voices giving their story. HINT: at highly emotional events (basketball banquets, graduation, Grandparents Day, awards assemblies) is the very best time to capture these videos because the video subjects are naturally upbeat, positive and emotional (joyful tears are as effective as big smiles!)
  • Audio Interviews: when people are terrified of the video camera, take out the voice memo app on your smart phone (this one I highly recommend for iPhone users) or a conference call with recording capabilities (click to open a free account) and capture their voice. Again, you can interview parents, students and certainly tap this feature with alumni who can tell their stories over the phone or right into their smart phone and send you the mp3 file!
  • Written Stories: in addition to video and audio (or in lieu of or in repurposing of), there are some who tell their stories best by writing out the account. Use these stories in your blog posts, as case studies of success, or in written testimonials and reviews. As a matter of fact, invite families to write a short review on (or your Google or Facebook page), and then have them write a longer story on your website. Or if it makes more sense, have them write the longer story first on your site and then have them select an excerpt to post on the GreatSchools site later.

Stories inspire!

  1. WEBSITE: Lead more on your homepage (and certainly on landing pages) with STORIES of inspiration. Again, we typically lead with information, but change that around and give your inquisitive prospects many stories with which to connect. You want a prospective mother to say, “I feel right now like she felt before you she enrolled. I want that for my family!”
  2. PRINT: Testimonials, quotes, and drive people to your website “for more inspiration”! (get it:  not the traditional, “for more INFORMATION, but for more INSPIRATION!”)  The point of any printed piece (brochure, advertisement or direct mail postcard) is for your prospects to take action. While sometimes that could be a phone call or attendance to an Open House, you always want to drive them to your website where they can be captivated by the stories of families, students and alumni who have been transformed by your school. This is essential to turning them into loyal ambassadors (want to know more about this phrase? Click to listen to these 2 short podcast episodes on this subject.)
  3. PRESENTATION: even if your stage presentation is filled with necessary facts, data and step-by-step guides, always lead with a story. Tell your own story of how you arrived at the school. Then in the middle of your presentation, include a story of another family or student (this could be a cutaway to a video or inviting this person to the stage with you). And always feature a story at the end to punctuate your presentation.

Are you capturing your stories? Are you leading with inspiration?


BONUS: Read the Rick Newberry ( interview with Finalsite’s Tim McDonough, “Storytelling on your School’s Website” – it is a great companion piece to this post!