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.
Four Stages of the Buying Cycle for the Independent School
The four stages are Attract, Convert, Engage, Close, and we’re going to look at how the different elements of your private school’s marketing strategy will fit into these stages.
In the attract stage, either parents or students are becoming aware that they have a need and that you have a solution. For example, a parent could be frustrated by overcrowded classrooms, poor academic standards, or feel that their child isn’t safe at public school. This drives them to start looking for alternative schools in their area. As the parent or even a student is researching they discover one of your blogs on your website talking about an award one of your teachers recently received for bringing out a whole new level of excitement and academic excellence in his students. This person has awareness of an issue and that awareness drove them to find that you might have a solution. Alternatively, this same person may have seen a Facebook ad talking about your low student to teacher ratios.
There are several methods to connect to people that are researching online to find solutions to their frustrations.
- Social Media Publishing & Ads. Regularly publishing appropriate content on channels like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., 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 are spending the most time. For a robust strategy, we recommend 2-3 channels. For example Facebook and Instagram, or Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Social media ads help you target the exact type of student you’re looking for, which makes it easier for you to attract people who are more likely to send their kids to your school.
- Blogging. Producing quality content that is relevant to your audience keeps your website current and can increase your leads by two-thirds. Blogging is one of the best ways to provide the expert content your prospects are lookign for. Ideally, you want to blog once or twice a week, but if once a month is all you can do, just stay consistent. Answer questions you commonly get asked and your website rankings will increase as do your leads and conversions.
- Google SEO & Adwords. 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 contribute to attracting parents and students who are looking to make a change. A robust Google Adwords 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.
The convert stage is when the parent or student becomes an interested party who is willing to give you some lead information like an email or email and phone number in exchange for something that is valuable to them. The interested party could value a short video on techniques parents can do to help prepare their child for Kindergarten. Or if they liked your blog enough, they might sign up to receive notifications the next time you post a blog or to receive an email with your newest blog.
At this point, the parent is 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 convert an interested party into a lead:
- Landing Pages. Landing pages are on your website that focuses in on a specific service, offer, product, or piece of information that is of particular interest to your potential future student or parent of a future student. When an interested party clicks on a PPC (Pay Per Click) ad on Google, a Facebook ad or a sponsored or promoted post, it will take them to a landing page on your site. The user must then provide some basic contact information to access or receive what they are looking for. 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. Video content has become the preferred method for information consumption, especially for jr. high and high school students. So instead of or in addition to writing a blog consider a “how-to” video or informational video. You don’t even have to be on camera, the video can be narrated animation or a moving infographic.
- 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.
When people are in this stage, it is time to cultivate the relationship. You know they are interested but for whatever reason, they have not made the decision to call you so this is your opportunity to eliminate the reasons for them to say “no” to you and “yes” to someone else. You have the chance to stay in contact with them and develop a deeper bond of trust using some of the techniques below:
- Email Marketing. It is 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.
- Podcasts. Engage parents with news 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 but will listen on their daily drive/ride to the office.
- Longer Videos. 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 can be 30-60 minutes long for example, which provides 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.
- Quizzes. Facebook especially offers the platform to take 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 the statistics show that people love to engage with them. So why not use them to your advantage? If your school has a liberal arts focus, your quiz could center around art or dance or drama, “If you child going to be an actor/actress?”
This is the final stage and the goal of the entire process. You want the prospect to convert and enroll their child because they believe your independent school is the best for their student and they trust you. Sometimes circumstances in their lives my push them into making the decision and sometimes you can help them before they get to a potential crisis by using the tips below:
- Free Ticket. 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.
- Appointments. The whole 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!
Finally, I’ll leave you with a few essential tips 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. What do I mean by that? Well, 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. When they come back, they may have to start toward the beginning of the funnel or life may have changed for them and they are ready to close right now! 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 like a lot, but it is vital to understand how the modern, digital-savvy customer engages with your school so you can know how to move them through the cycle. If you want some help or want to talk to someone about what an inbound buying cycle looks like for your private school, we would be happy to talk with you. We offer free assessments, and we love to talk shop! Shoot me an email at [email protected] or sign up for one of our free consultations with our VP of Marketing, Jennifer Christensen. We can’t wait to meet you!