Originally published on December 7, 2018. Updated on April 29, 2020.
A digital marketing strategy for private education institution should focus on connecting with the customer at every stage of the buying cycle. Most of your potential students and their parents will move through some or all of the four stages. It is important to understand the stages and how to most effectively interact with your potential customer in each of them.
The four stages of the buying cycle are: attract, convert, engage, and close. We’re going to look at how the different elements of your private school’s marketing strategy will fit into these stages.
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The first stage is when parents or students become aware that they need you and start looking. For example, a parent could be frustrated by overcrowded classrooms, poor academic standards, or lack of extracurricular options. This drives them to start looking for alternative schools in their area.
As the parent or even a student is researching, they’re typing keywords into Google or scrolling through social media, and they discover one of your blogs. It might talk about an award one of your teachers recently received or the importance of a well-rounded arts program. It shows them that you might have a solution to their problem, so they click through to your website to learn more.
There are several methods you can use to connect to parents:
Social media posts and ads
Regularly publishing strategic content on channels like Facebook and Instagram creates an online presence, a brand, that establishes credibility. The goal of your social media should be to attract people who are looking for solutions and direct them to your website. This process moves them through the funnel. The most effective social media channel for your private school will depend in part on where you are located and where your potential students and parents spend their time. For a robust strategy, we recommend 2-3 channels. Social media ads help you target the exact types of parents and students you’re looking for, which makes it easier to attract qualified leads.
Quality content that educates readers and keeps your website current can significantly increase your leads. Blogging is a great way to promote your school, answer frequently asked questions, comment on newsworthy topics and position it as a thought-leader in education. The most important thing is to be consistent, whether that means posting once a week or once a month.
Google SEO & Ads
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means that the content on your website is optimized with keywords in your content, your photos are tagged correctly, and you have quality backlinks. All of these items will help parents and students find you when they need you. A robust Google Ads program is essential because it ensures that you are getting top listings and therefore more potential exposure to attract the people looking for quality independent schools.
Read more: 10 tips to optimize your social media
The second stage is when the parent or student decides to connect with you, offering details such as an email or phone number in exchange for something of value. This could mean following you on Facebook, subscribing to an e-newsletter or signing up for a promotion – for example, a short video on techniques parents can use to prepare their kids for school.
At this point, they are not necessarily ready to make an appointment to take a walk through of your school, but they want more information. They are considered leads with the opportunity to convert them to prospects. Here are some ways you can help them:
A landing page is a dedicated page on your website that focus in on a specific service, offer, product, or piece of information that you think will convert an enrollment. When an interested party clicks on a PPC (pay-per-click) ad on Google or Facebook, it will take them to the landing page. They must then provide some basic contact information to access or receive what they are looking for, which opens the door to a conversation with your enrollment office. It is a “win-win” for both parties. The end users get the information they need, and you obtain contact information for future marketing.
Video content has become the preferred method for information consumption, especially for students. Instead of (or in addition to) writing a blog, consider creating some informational videos that answer questions, tour the campus or teach something interesting. You don’t even have to be on camera, the video can be narrated animation or a moving infographic.
Connect with parents through radio-style programs on topics of interest to the listeners. Podcasts can be recorded daily, weekly, monthly or on whichever schedule works for you. They are audio only and often involve interviews, guest speakers, etc. They can be especially effective in reaching the busy, commuting parent who doesn’t have time to watch or read something in detail.
eBooks, reports, or whitepapers
A well designed, visually stimulating published piece can still be effective, especially if your target patients are 40 years or older. This group tends to prefer reading material rather than watching a video. This can be an effective tool for establishing authority and winning over parents.
Read more: Why it’s important to share your story with students
When people enter stage three, it is time to cultivate the relationship. You know they are interested, but for whatever reason, they haven’t yet made the decision to enroll. This is your opportunity to sell your school and stop them going somewhere else. You have the chance to stay in contact with them and develop a deeper bond of trust using some of the techniques below:
It’s not enough to just collect information from a parent; you must have a system to follow up with those leads. Email marketing via relevant content sent out at regular intervals is a powerful way to foster and develop leads into converting to enrolling their child in your private or boarding school.
YouTube provides a powerful medium for longer format videos as opposed to the short 30-60 second spots that are popular on social media. Longer format videos give you the chance to engage on a deeper level with interested parents or students. They provide you with a lot more time to expound on topics such as the effects of nutrition of growing brains, the stages of development in elementary children, how to communicate with your teen, and much more.
Facebook allows you to create quizzes on a wide variety of topics. If you’ve spent any time on this social media platform, you’ve probably seen at least a few. Many are silly, but statistics show that people love to engage with them. So why not use them to your advantage? For example, if your school has a liberal arts focus, your quiz could center around art drama. It’s a fun way to connect.
Read more: Is marketing the new sales?
This is the final stage and the goal of the entire process: a new enrollment. Sometimes circumstances in their lives my push them into making the decision and sometimes you can help them along the way. Before you welcome a new family to the school, you can try:
If your school has a sports game, play or other event coming up, you can give away tickets. This can provide a way for people to come and get a taste for the community your school fosters.
The goal of all of this is to get people to call, make appointments for a tour or a meet and greet, and come through your door. Afterall, getting them through the door is the hardest part, right? The rest is relatively easy because you’re terrific and you care, and you have a fantastic school!
Setting aside the time for a phone call is a personal touch that shows you care about the student’s future. It’s a great opportunity to address any concerns the parent has and explain why choosing your school is an investment in their future. It’s old school, but it works.
Read more: How much should you spend on marketing?
Things to remember
Not every parent or student will need to go through every one of these stages, and some will go through it several times. Statistically, about 2-4% of those in the attract stage will jump directly to calling you, 5-15% will choose to call you in the convert stage, and approximately 80% will become choose to enroll in the engage stage. Some people will become aware of your school in the attract stage, then get distracted by life and end up coming back to you later.
Consistency is vital as is relating to each person in the correct stage of the buying cycle. For example, you don’t want to send the person who just signed up for your podcast and email that says welcome to our school! Instead, it should be welcome to our podcast; we are thrilled you are interested in learning more about _____________.
The buying cycle may sound intimidating, but it’s vital to understand how the modern, digital-savvy customer engages with your school so you can know how to move them through the cycle. Once you understand the process, the sky is the limit for your new enrollments.
Ready to revolutionize your buying cycle? Schedule a free consultation today.