Last year I wrote a post offering my 3 Predictions for School Marketers in 2018.
If you haven’t read that article yet I encourage you to read it now. Sadly, I think most of those predictions are still relevant for 2019.
Rather than create new predictions for 2019, I asked 19 school marketing leaders the following question:
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for school marketers in 2019?
Here are their responses:
Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives
In creating intentional structure around ambassador relationships with alumni and current parents. Schools are still under-utilizing word-of-mouth marketing and the best resources they have at their fingertips and will need to shift resources in their Admissions and Communications offices to better strengthen this marketing tool.
President & Owner
I think the greatest opportunity exists in strategic campaigns that combine storytelling tactics. A well-rounded outreach campaign with measurable outcomes involving video, podcasting and live events with personal interactions can be complex to pull off, but these experiences are almost demanded now by today’s consumer. I would also say that we need to move beyond thinking social media is shiny and new as we have reached peak adoption of Facebook and Twitter and all the rest. Now people are beginning to decide which of these networks they are going to keep because of all the data breaches and toxicity. They aren’t going away, but as marketers, we need to stay in front of trends, and I’d say a big trend is the social space is shifting towards niche communities.
Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin – Definitely putting more money into creating compelling content and more time in boosting it to the right people. I’ll add SnapChat to that list if you are or have a high school. Marketing to prospective students is now more important than ever. The biggie is which schools will start creating flash briefings for current and prospective families. It’s easy and so far inexpensive. Get your voice-first real estate now before it’s gone.
Begin using data more effectively to enhance performance in admissions, development, and retention.
Content Marketing Manager
Marketing automation! In our work with schools, we’ve quickly realized that many schools operate with tiny departments where school marketers are wearing way too many hats! (Let’s be real, social media marketing is a full-time job when your audience is so diverse!) Marketing automation allows school marketers the opportunity to improve their strategy, save time, and achieve better results (even in a small shop).
Director of Web Services
Live Chat: Parents of school-aged children grew up texting more than talking on a phone. They expect immediate gratification, and typing back and forth real-time is their comfort level. One of the schools we assist with enrollment marketing reports that they get more leads through their Chat Widget than they get over the phone or through submitted forms. Using a programmable chat platform that can guide a parent through a series of questions when a live enrollment specialist isn’t available is a huge plus.
Content Clusters for SEO: SEO is now shifting to a topic-centered model, where a single “pillar” page acts as the main hub of content for an overarching topic. Multiple content pages related to that same topic link back to the pillar page and to each other. This linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, and over time, the page may rank higher and higher for the topic it covers. The topic cluster model, at its very essence, is a way of organizing a site’s content pages using a cleaner and more deliberate site architecture.
Lead Nurturing & Marketing Automation: Certainly not new for 2019, but just as important. Just sending a parent from social media to your Home page is rarely effective. You need to build a relationship and trust with them over time. This has been the way of the world for a number of years now, and I don’t see it changing in 2019.
The biggest opportunity for school marketers in 2019 will almost certainly be nothing new. It’s execution. A great education product and a brilliant communication and marketing strategy can make your school stand out to become the school of choice in your marketplace, but only relentless and consistent execution can keep you there. You must be able to deliver on your strategic intent.
School marketers live in a world of ever-increasing demands with budgets that remain relatively static. Here are three tips for becoming an execution ninja:
1. Stop doing stuff. Schools are usually very proficient at starting new initiatives, opening new communication channels and creating a new campaign. But if you are already 100% committed, you only have two options available; stop doing something or spend less time and care on everything else. As positive can-do people, school marketers often avoid the decision all together and end up defaulting to the ‘spend less time and care’ option. Have an open discussion with your leader to determine what you can stop doing.
2. Aim for the value zone. Imagine a Venn diagram with two partially overlapping circles. One contains all the communication and marketing activities that are important to your school, your Head and your school’s strategy. The other contains the activities that are important to parents. Where the circles intersect is the value zone. This is where you’ll usually achieve most long-term return on your valuable time and attention. Next work on priorities that are important to your school. Usually, this will be advancing your part of the strategic intent. Last work on activities that are only important to parents.
3. Agree about what counts. If you are doing the same things you did last year with just a few minor improvements, you are probably not propelling your school forward on its mission outlined in your strategic plan. In consultation with your manager, consider your key performance indicators for 2019. Make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Discuss your progress at least once per month with your manager to review and plan the next steps.
I think the biggest opportunity for schools to move forward in 2019 is by going back to the basics and reevaluating their school story. Now, it’s easier than ever to adopt new marketing tactics and create polished materials, so what’s really going to set you apart is the story those communications are telling. Without a unique story that stands out from competitor schools, speaks directly to your dream families and makes prospective students trust you with their success, shiny new tactics won’t matter. Focus on story in 2019, and you’ll stand out.
Facebook advertising remains the biggest opportunity for schools in 2019. We are in the golden age of Facebook, even while the company is getting bad press. We will look back one day and sigh at how easy it used to be to reach parents. CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) is rising as attention saturation sets in. We are moving from attention to trust as the key constraint, as Seth Godin has been telling us for ages. If schools don’t jump on the Facebook advertising wagon in 2019, it will be hard for them to compete later on when costs are higher and advanced skills are needed to generate trust.
I believe that the greatest opportunity for school marketers in 2019 will be in learning to balance the opportunities for connecting with prospects weighed with the challenge of doing so with a strong strategy. Too many times, we as marketers start playing with the tools without a strategy (creating a social media account with no plans) or get bogged down in the planning without doing (spending forever planning and analyzing without creating something that will move the needle). I believe the opportunity lies with those who can balance that tight rope and navigate the all the digital and print marketing well.
Founder and President
1) Using data in more nuanced ways – people seem to be grasping how to use some kinds of data in broad strokes, but getting more specific will glean better results.
2) Positioning the school as a thought leader and not “just” a school – offering expertise to the community, providing opportunities for people not associated with the school to still gain from the wisdom there.
I believe the biggest opportunity will revolve around Marketing Automation.
School leaders must continue to focus on a comprehensive approach to marketing a school. There isn’t a magical solution that will drive interest in a school. It takes a comprehensive approach that this is centered on word of mouth and inbound marketing strategies. Through these strategies, the focus must be on telling your school’s story in a real and compelling way so that it resonates with your audience.
Liza Fisher Norman and Rob Norman
Master Electrician and Best Boy
The biggest opportunity for school marketers in 2019 lies in the words of our podcast guest and Wharton Professor Americus Reed. “If you’re not obsessive about creating delight for your customers, somebody’s going to step in and eat you up with a better value proposition.” If we all agree (and we do) that word-of-mouth is our most effective marketing tool, then lean into that notion and make your word-of-mouth soar. This will happen if schools develop a strategy for and committing to delighting current parents. Parents shouldn’t simply “satisfied.” They should be wowed with everything the school does so that they’ll tell everyone they meet how thrilled they are and why the tuition is worth it.
Founder and President
The biggest opportunity in school marketing is to be the tail that wags the dog. As opposed to acting as a responsive resource that is mobilized after a decision has been made, school marketers can and should be at the table, being a catalyst to innovation. In our experience based marketplace, marketing drives overall school excellence by establishing a virtuous cycle of continuously articulating and fulfilling a school’s promises to its students and parents.
Sr. Content Marketing Manager
I believe more schools should engage with review sites such as Niche to be an active participant in those conversations. I also see LinkedIn Inmail as an intriguing option for reaching prospective families. It is new enough that people don’t necessarily view it as advertising, and LinkedIn’s data is better at enabling schools to target people by industry or job title than Facebook.
The biggest opportunity I see for school marketers as we move through 2019 is to get back to basics before deploying the latest social media platforms and tactics.
The first rule of marketing is not messaging. The first rule is to listen to those you seek to sell and, once sold, keep listening to those you serve. Every good marketing strategy starts with respectful listening to meet an often unspoken need. An Image Audit is the best first step that will your School prioritize the most important messages for particular constituencies.
To hear some marketing gurus tell it, however, the latest trend in marketing is to pivot from promoting your school’s brand toward being engaged in deploying exceptional, memorable customer experiences. We’re hearing a lot about the customer “journey” these days. Having “experiences” is the latest catchphrase, especially for Millennials.
I don’t know why the trend is to separate “brand” and “experience.” This is not an “either/or” a “zero-sum game.” Brand and experience are dependent on each other. How your customers experience, your school defines your brand in their eyes.
Let’s get practical. Get over your obsession with digital “derring-do” and platform envy. Your biggest opportunity in 2019 is in improved workflow and communications outcomes through better planning and assessment.
One of the biggest opportunity school marketers have in 2019 is a chance to bring humanity back to their marketing. Hear me out…
With the increasing sophistication and accessibility of analytics and automation tools, we have the ability to know so much about our prospective families and stay in constant contact. But those things alone do nothing for us or our families unless we are oriented towards service. Automation alone can be very inhumane, leading to an impersonal interaction and bad user experience. When automation is paired with segmentation and a human touch, it has the opportunity to multiply your efforts and give those interacting with your school a personalized, high-touch experience. If we can leverage what we know about our prospective families and use the incredible tools and services that are available to us today, small and big teams alike can serve mission-fit families and nurture those relationships. This is your chance to cut through the rest of the noise and stand out during the often stressful experience families experience when looking for a place to plant their children to be cultivated for a flourishing life.
Owner and Brand Architect
At Peapod Design, we have noticed a major interest and upswing when it comes to consistent branding for schools across all platforms of marketing materials – print, website, photography, advertisements, etc. Schools have to really stand out and not have their message fraying around the edges.
For 2019, schools need to remember that even though social media is fun and powerful and popular, traditional marketing is always going to be a necessity and is the best foundation of brand identity. For example, we remind our clients that not only do you have to market to prospects, but it is important to market to your current school community about the school’s purpose and mission. Traditionally printed viewbooks are a great starting point for that. Viewbooks are an exercise of self-discovery that can serve both your internal and external marketing needs.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for school marketers in 2019?
Please post your answer in the comments below.