When I consult with clients one-on-one through our “9 Steps to Marketing Your School” coaching program, I address school marketing at a few very fundamental levels.
First, I try and get everyone on board (myself along with the client’s entire marketing team) with a common definition of “school marketing”. My definition of school marketing goes like this:
“Getting ideal families to know, like and trust you in order to create loyal ambassadors for your school.”
You can dig a little deeper into this definition by digging way back into the School Marketing Podcast archives and listen to, “School marketing podcast #28: An Easy Definition of Marketing for Schools”.
Beyond this definition, I address 3 core areas that build on one another:
- SYSTEM – your overall marketing effort has to be built on a solid systematic way of marketing. Rather than chaotic, shoot-from-the-hip marketing, your school marketing is well-thought-out and intentional. Inside of your larger umbrella marketing system, there are plenty of micro-systems centered around social media, referrals, lead generation and nurturing, family follow-up, etc. Each one of these micro-systems has to assess the tools, finances, personnel and skills sets needed for success. Your marketing system should have a clear understanding by your entire team about how your school addresses the 3 Rs of school marketing: recruitment, retention and referrals. Without this fundamental understanding of system, you will only achieve average enrollment marketing success at best.
- STRATEGY – as the system is set in place, you can begin to determine your strategy based on your enrollment gaps and goals. While your marketing system (and all the micro-systems) are fairly consistent from year-to-year, the strategy should vary depending on where you need seats filled. Your strategy can obviously address 3-5 ideal family personas. If you do not target your personas at all, you end up with a “one-size-fits-all” marketing message that really should be renamed as “one-size-hits-small”. If you are broad and generic, your message will resonate with no one. Know the persona’s pain points and how your school is differentiated as the best solution in your local market to meet that need. Develop this “know-like-trust” effort with specific touch points to lead a potential family toward becoming one of your school’s most loyal ambassadors.
- TACTICS – the implementation part of marketing is what gets most of your attention (time and money). The “practical and tactical” make up the line items in your budget so you tend to think about these items most, but often neglect #1 and #2. If you do the former correctly, the system is in place so that a sound marketing strategy will dictate the most effective tactical implementation plan. If you are implementing the same marketing plan every year, then you are demonstrating that you have no targeted strategy.
If you find yourself focused only on the tactical plan, I would urge you to approach the upcoming school year with a different way of marketing. I offer a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation to discuss how I can help your school install a customized marketing system for your school!
The fall months offer your team the most optimal time to consider your enrollment marketing plan. For many of you, especially if you have rolling admissions throughout the year, the summer months are filled with last-minute inquiries, visits, and applications. But for most, by October, the dust has settled on who will be in your seats for this year’s academic year. Now what?
Take some time to evaluate your numbers, your processes, your tactics, and your wins and losses. Examine where your strengths were but also where you fell short.
- Analyze enrollment data, trends, and gaps
- Are there any new emerging patterns?
- Why did we fall short of our enrollment target for that grade?
- What is the most likely factor in our great numbers in those grades?
- How did we spend our budget last year? Best return on investment?
- Was our messaging clear? Did our personas hear us talking to them or was it a mass message?
- What feedback can we attain from new families who got accepted and are now enrolled?
- Can we ascertain anything from families who chose to go elsewhere?
These are just some of the hard things to look at with your team.
Now, let’s look forward.
Having done the hard work above, now it is time to anticipate next year. There doesn’t seem like enrollment coordinators have much time to rest because it is time to start thinking about next August. If you have rolling admissions, you know the work never stops. Sometimes you have a few families even join after Christmas. But even if your enrollment to future families doesn’t open up until spring. now is the time to look ahead.
- Where are our largest enrollment gaps for this upcoming school year?
- Are their enrollment patterns in other grades that concern you?
- Do we know who our ideal family is?
- While a mass marketing message is important, how do we target our communication?
- What programs do we need to highlight better for these personas to take note of?
- What stories do we need to curate that will resonate with these personas?
- What written stories can we tell better?
- Are there good audio interviews or podcasts we can record to tell a better story?
- What is our video strategy for telling our school’s story?
TIME FOR A COMEBACK!
If your enrollment numbers were a challenge this year, it’s time to look forward to this spring and bounce back! You can stage an enrollment comeback if you have the right system, strategy, and tactical approach!
I love to help Christian schools – how can I help you?
Have you done an honest assessment of the families who are enrolled in your school? I’m talking about an honest assessment.
- Are they 100% mission-appropriate? Are they aligned with your mission?
- Are they misfits who, according to the definition above, are students (and their families) “who fit badly” or are “poorly adapted”?
Regardless of the type of school you are (covenant or evangelical), you have to be selective in who sits in your seats. If you are a Christian school, there are some in your community will find that word “selective” as repugnant. They will equate your existence with that of the Lord’s church where we are to be loving, accepting, and welcoming to all. But as a school, you are a not-for-profit business that must think of the “product” you are providing. If families look at your school and do not perceive the fruit as being sweet, they will pass. If current families start to feel that “one bad apple spoils the bunch” (to stay on the fruit metaphor), they will leave before they are damaged.
There is not one algorithm or list of factors that you must use to ensure you are selecting mission-fit families. But here are a few of the most common and most important:
- Do they agree with your school’s mission, vision, and core values?
- Do they agree with your school’s approach to discipline from actions in or out of the classroom?
- Do they agree with your school’s approach to monitoring and correcting behavior even at home?
- Do they not only agree with but also consider themselves ambassadors for your school’s mission?
- Do they help you market the school via word-of-mouth?
In a time when enrollments can trend downward (as the price tag increases and the value of private education is often debatable among your market), it is easily justifiable for a school to loosen the evaluation and accept anyone with interest and the bank account to afford the school. If you do not mandate mission appropriateness, you will find yourself pulling your hair out in the future.
You may have a much more detailed list of factors when determining whether a student is accepted or not (based on their academic assessment, behavioral history at other schools, letters of recommendations, etc.), but one of them has to be whether or not this student and their parent(s) are mission-fits with your school.
If you need help in ensuring your school has an effective marketing system to ensure you have the most mission-fit families, I want to help. Click the link below and let’s start a conversation.