Inbound marketing is nothing new. A school inbound marketing strategy works to attract new potential families by building meaningful, lasting relationships with existing and prospective parents.
By now, most school marketers know that blogging, email marketing, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO) offer schools uniquely powerful ways to engage families, building trust and loyalty for your school.
But if the advantages of inbound marketing are so well known, why do many schools resist consistently engaging in these important channels? While there are some obstacles to effective inbound marketing, these obstacles are not insurmountable.
In today’s post, we will address 15 of the common barriers to effectively execute a school inbound marketing strategy and plan.
Confusion between strategy and tactics
Strategy and tactics are two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, although they work together, they are not the same thing.
Strategy refers to an overarching plan or set of goals. Think of them as complementary two sides of the same coin. Tactics are the specific steps or actions you take to carry out your strategy. In order to successfully achieve your goals, you need both an overall strategy and the particular tactics – the macro and the micro – to fulfill your objectives.
Not enough focus on positioning and differentiation
Positioning is an essential part of standing out from other schools. Strategic market position creates momentum by building on previous marketing campaigns.
But many schools market without thinking about how their marketing messaging will be perceived. They start over with each marketing campaign, which drains time, money, and effort.
Avoid this common marketing error by using positioning and differentiation to influence how parents compare your school to schools in competition to yours.
Common differentiators in the mind of prospective parents include:
- School culture
- Financial basis
- Character development
- Religious education
- Learning support
- Test/academic results
You will need to determine which factors will help you position and differentiate your school offerings.
Lack of coordination with other departments
Marketing requires communication and coordination with various departments within an organization. A lack of coordination can decrease productivity, complicate processes and send out fragmented messaging. Effective marketing relies on a systemic integration of processes that include accountability.
When there is a lack of coordination between marketing, administration, faculty, support staff, and admissions, delays will result causing ineffective marketing efforts. A lack of consistency will alienate parents. By controlling and properly managing communication and work deliverables, marketing can work to prevent delays and coordination issues.
Lack of cohesive messaging
Successful marketing depends on consistent branding, messaging, and content publishing. In the past, marketers could send out one clear message; now marketers are faced with a newly multifaceted market. If you want to communicate with a specific target audience, you can. However, this newly diverse set of channels can affect the consistency and seamlessness of your campaigns.
In order to maintain consistency, focus on creating messaging that is optimized by channel and audience but consistent with your overall school marketing vision.
Not enough focus on retention
Independent schools today face more challenges than ever before. High-quality, well-established private schools are losing students annually. Even modest attrition causes a cycle where admissions focus on revenue replacement instead of revenue enhancement.
In individual markets, there are plenty of parents willing to pay tuition for private school. The issue of retention is more a problem of the value proposition to enrolled families, rather than an external marketing failure.
In order to build a strong internal retention marketing strategy, independent schools need to focus on making parents and families feel served through the implementation of an intentional retention strategy. Building strong relationships with parents by making the personal connections families desperately desire.
Negative online reviews
Reviews have become an essential part of the parent experience in today’s online world. With that in mind, it’s worth considering how reviews might impact your prospective students. Ensuring you generate as many positive reviews as possible, handle negative reviews well and are aware of the different online review sites parents might be sharing their thoughts about your organization can make a crucial difference to your success.
Spending too much on Google Ads (and not enough on social network advertising)
There are several reasons why it’s easy for the costs of Google Ads to get out of control. The biggest issue is that it’s easy to create a Google Ads campaign and, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily miss important details. A lot of Google’s default settings will actually increase the budget you spend on Google Ads campaigns.
Social media ads can be an effective investment because literally all of your prospective families have Facebook and other social media accounts. Since you can target social media ads by interest, connections, and geography, you have a decent ability to make sure you’re displaying your ads to your target audience.
Website doesn’t convert
It’s easy to find articles on the internet telling you how to drive traffic to your website. But getting traffic to your website isn’t the end-all of marketing. You still need to get visitors to your site to engage and convert.
There are many reasons a website doesn’t convert. Click here to learn more about the reasons your website might not be converting and whether it’s time for a redesign.
Not generating enough inquiries
Inquiry generation is tough even in the best of times. But many schools make it harder than they need to. Generating inquiries should be your top priority. And, once you have those inquiries, you also need to track and follow them up.
One of the main reasons schools don’t generate more inquiries is because they’re not actively focused on generating inquiries. You need to build a full marketing funnel, putting some serious thought into how you’ll get more prospects to your site or landing page in the first page and exactly how to guide them through visiting to inquiring.
Poor landing page design
Is your landing page not converting? Or maybe it’s converting, but you’re not getting as many conversions as you were hoping.
Every parent lands on your landing page looking for something. Some are just learning about your school for the first time, and others may know a lot about your school and be ready to submit an enrollment application.
Designing your landing page properly should help you gain more inquiries that lead to enrollments.
Social media isn’t showing results
Is social media not working for your school? Have you found the recommended “building a social media following guide” just hasn’t worked? If you’ve tried everything you can think of grow your following on social media without the success you were hoping for, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your social media marketing strategy.
Here are a few tips for adapting social media recommendations to your specific school.
- Know which social networks your target audience is active on and focus your efforts there
- Focus on building relationships with your fans
- Keep your fanbase small and targeted
- Tell stories. Stories help parents connect emotionally, the essential ingredient for attraction, loyalty and inquiries
- Try publishing different types of content to see what “sticks”
- Make sure you are publishing content consistently
- Pay attention to the types of content your fans are engaging with
- Take the time to analyze the data provided by the site. This may give you insights into your audience that you may not have already realized.
Not using the right keywords
No matter how good your keyword research process is, there’s always a chance you might choose target keywords and topics that require a lot of effort without producing the results you need.
Here are a few tips for choosing the right keywords.
- Think like a parent who is interested in your school’s mission
- Study your competitors
- Understand long-tail keywords
- Use keyword research tools like SEO Coach
- Analyze your results
Not attracting enough email list subscribers
One of the most important things you can do to increase enrollment is to build your email list. Your email list enables you to reach out to existing and potential parents with information they are interested in and invite them to engage with the school in a variety of ways.
Here are some tips for growing your email list:
- Make sure you’re getting enough traffic to your website
- Give your visitors plenty of opportunities to opt-in
- Offer a lead magnet (downloadable freebie)
- Offer the right lead magnet
- Package your lead magnet in an enticing way
Not using email segmentation
Email segmentation is a technique to divide email subscribers up into smaller, more targeted “segments”. This enables marketers to create highly targeted email content that will “speak” to each segment in an effective manner.
You want your email campaigns to be as precise as possible so the right message reaches the right people at the right time.
One tactic for generating segments is the use of different lead magnets for different groups of people. For example, you might create a lead magnet targeted to parents of potential kindergarten children titled “How to Choose the Right Kindergarten for Your Child”. Then, you would segment parents who downloaded that lead magnet into a select group and write email campaigns targeted to them.
Lack of vision (not leveraging enough marketing opportunities)
Although your school could stay afloat on word-of-mouth alone, investing in a diverse marketing plan will ensure your enrollment continues to grow. Every school needs a vision and marketing plan; your school needs will dictate what your vision and plan look like.
During an unforeseen circumstance like the COVID-19 pandemic, marketing is increasingly important. For example, families are spending more time on social media during forced stay-at-home state orders, giving schools the opportunity to communicate and engage with them.
Regardless of the marketing efforts you choose to engage in, your school needs a vision and marketing strategy to grow and thrive, both in the short-term and long-term future.
Here are some elements your marketing strategy should include:
- Clarity about your goals
- Resource and capabilities assessment
- Team process and workflow plan
- Parent personas
- Parent enrollment journey map, including influential factors, triggers, channels and touchpoints
- A highly-functioning website that converts
- Content (editorial) calendar
- A blog that attracts your target audience
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
- Paid advertising (Google Ads and social media ads)
- Enrollment rings and landing pages
- Video marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Online reputation management
- Marketing automation
Just like people, schools need to grow and evolve if they want to successfully execute their mission. Schools unwilling to test new technology, try new platforms, or experiment with new ideas will become stale and prospective parents will notice.
The most successful schools do whatever they can to tailor their marketing strategies to accommodate new trends and reach prospective families. By experimenting with new social media channels, marketing tactics, and techniques, your school can reach a wider audience and maximize your inquiries and enrollment applications.