Schools need to market themselves the same way great teachers teach. Demanding a student learn something just “because it is on the test” doesn’t incentivize students. But, helping them understand the personal value and benefits they can enjoy from that knowledge will make them downright enthusiastic to learn.
School marketing can and should work the same way.
Unfortunately, traditional marketing does the opposite. It advertises (interrupts) when you don’t want it. Radio ads, expensive billboards, and paid or print ads are such advertisements, but who trusts self-serving ads to provide honest information? So, not only is traditional marketing expensive, it is ineffective in our digital world. (84% of 25–34-year-olds leave websites due to intrusive advertising. Mashable)
What is the “great teacher” approach? It is helpful, valued education. It is called inbound marketing.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is attracting the customers you want by providing them with relevant and helpful information when and where they need it. It is also a way to understand your targeted customers’ needs and concerns and find ways to meet those needs. You will do this affordably through customer-focused channels like your school website, social media, search engines, and blog articles.
Think about it. How do you make buying decisions for services or products? You Google it, you ask friends, you read reviews, and you check social media. You form opinions based on your own research, which includes reading informative content that provides you with useful information. You do this on your terms and buy when you’re ready.
Your customers (parents of K–12 students or highly-qualified staff) are the same.
To be relevant, your school must create content that answers the questions or solves the problems your targeted customers have. Your content can point those ideal customers to your school. Inbound marketing can position your school as the ultimate resource, and soon your targeted customers will come to you with their questions.
What is the return on investment (ROI) of school inbound marketing?
So, what are the benefits of applying inbound marketing, rather than using traditional marketing efforts (or worse yet, doing nothing)?
- Cost effective. Using tools you already have, like your school website and social media, you have the primary tools you need to educate and influence your ideal customers.
- Draw customers to you. By adding content marketing strategies, you draw in the very customers you are seeking, without the cost of interruptive marketing measures. 82% of consumers like reading content from brands when it is relevant. 43% say content marketing has a positive impact on their purchasing decisions. CMA
- Build credibility and reputation. Producing authoritative and helpful content that builds credibility with prospective customers increases your school’s reputation and attractiveness.
- Create evergreen dividends. Good returns on your time and money investments, in both down and up economies through quality content, provides benefits for years to come.
- Focus on customer values. Schools looking to increase enrollment from local students, will see inbound marketing deliver better results using content marketing and targeting local parent values.
- Happier customers. When you have nurtured a prospective customer, provided them with free, valuable information that helps them make decisions that are best for them, they are happier. You’ve earned their trust and respect, and they experience no buyers remorse.
- Better retention and satisfaction. Customers who do their research and make an informed choice experience higher satisfaction, less resentment, and greater loyalty because the choice was theirs.
- 24/7 sales team. Using your school website as the channel for your content marketing in conjunction with local search engine optimization provides you with a sales force that works 365 days (and nights) a year. That is an affordable sales team!
- Save time and money. Inbound buyers are actively looking for solutions, so the customer buying cycle is short since they are active buyers. This saves lots of money over outbound marketing efforts targeting uninterested or unready buyers.
- Sell the way buyers buy. Inbound or content marketing allows buyers (prospective customers) to control their destiny and make their own choices, so they are not pressured by interruptive messages.
- Improve future marketing. With information gained through existing inbound efforts, you have better knowledge about customer needs to make future efforts even more effective.
- Competing wisely. Business and organizations are marketing using inbound. The ROI is 3x higher with inbound over outbound (traditional). State of Inbound 2018
- Better testimonials. Customers who find you digitally, from whom you’ve earned respect using content marketing instead of interruptive or high-pressure marketing, are more likely to provide you with positive testimonials.
Basically, by using inbound marketing (consisting of website SEO, content marketing, and social media), you align your efforts to the behaviors of today’s consumers. It is a win-win because you are appealing to prospective customers on their timeframes and where they are going to make choices.
Narrow the gap between the plan and the goal
The goal of most marketing efforts is to increase your customer base or build a respected, trusted reputation. But to narrow the gap between the goal and your plan, you must consider what resources you can direct at accomplishing your goal. K–12 schools seldom have enough marketing resources, in either people or budget, to participate in traditional or outbound marketing. Luckily for you, traditional marketing methods are no longer effective, so the return on your investment (money spent for results) is better used elsewhere.
As we’ve indicated above, a more affordable and effective school marketing strategy is to develop inbound marketing for your school. An impressive 96% of buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders when making decisions. (Hubspot)
Since inbound or content marketing allows you to reach your desired customers (typically parents of the students you are targeting) as a respected thought leader, you will want to provide the content that answers their questions and informs them.
Beginners guide to inbound marketing
If you aren’t familiar with the basic steps to implement inbound marketing for your school, here they are:
Step 1: Select your primary goal.
I’m sure you can come up with many goals, but for now, you’ll need to narrow your focus so you don’t take on more than you can handle. For example, if you want to increase enrollment, there are many ways you could approach this goal. Try targeting parents of preschoolers who will be sending their children to kindergarten in the next year or two. Or, you could target parents of students who may be interested in your unique STEM curriculum that begins in middle school and runs through high school. Maybe your hugely successful number of students receiving athletic scholarships allows you to target parents of children interested in all things athletic.
But, you should select one area for now, and put your efforts on that target. Then, when you have one campaign in place, you can begin the next one. What you learn during the first effort will improve your success in each subsequent marketing goal. Develop what is called SMART goals, and use our Inbound Marketing Goal Planning Worksheet to get started.
Step 2: Develop your customers’ personas
Identify the needs, interests, challenges, and goals of your ideal customer (for your selected goal). It helps you discover ways to develop the content they need to make buying decisions and hopefully moves them toward choosing your school. Use our Persona Development Worksheet as a guide.
Step 3: Document your customers’ journey
What will your prospective ideal customers need to know as they make their buying decisions? It depends on where they are in their decision process. For each stage, you will want to provide them content that will inform them, answer their questions, and resolve their concerns. Use our Customer’s Journey Worksheet.
Step 4: Select your keyword phrases
What search engine phrases might parents looking for information use to find answers? Those are the keywords you should use on your website, social media posts, landing pages, and in your inbound marketing to help them find your content. If they don’t find you, you can’t influence them. Brainstorm possibilities and see if you can get 100 relevant keywords.
Step 5: Create a persona and journey-specific content
Now you can begin to create the type of informative content your prospective customers would use. Educate them. Solve their concerns. Recommend solutions. It will NOT be content about your school or about their needs and how to solve them. Need some inspiration? Check out 51 Ways to Market Your School.
Step 6: Document your plan
Now put it all together. This can be a bit overwhelming, but if you want to have a successful marketing campaign, go through the steps. To see the details, please read the blog article that goes into detail called Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 2.
Step 7: Work your plan
Create a schedule, use a calendar, and then stick to your plan. Inbound marketing is not a quick fix, but it will provide ROI for years to come. Consistency is the key. Once you have created the process and put it into action, it continues to work for you. The more it is automated, the easier it is to manage. This is the huge benefit of inbound marketing over traditional methods or outbound marketing. If you advertise (TV, radio, or print publication), any benefit ceases the minute the ad isn’t running. That means to continue ROI, you must keep throwing marketing dollars at it. You stop paying—your ROI stops as well. With inbound marketing, once you’ve done the hard work, the benefits just keep on coming. In fact, according to some studies, the benefits only increase over time, and the cost per lead drops as much as 80% after five months of consistent inbound marketing.
Step 8: Delighting for retention
Now that you’ve done all the work to get them in the door, new students enrolled, or quality staff hired, how do you retain them? It boils down to customer service, effective ongoing communications, and continuing your marketing efforts to your existing customers. The main player in this effort will be using your school website well, integrating your social media strategy with your retention efforts, and taking your school’s customer service to the next level (well, and of course, delivering on the educational promises you promoted with your inbound marketing efforts).
Just DO it!
Not to steal from Nike, but they got it right. You need to begin. If your school doesn’t step into the digital age, you will continue to lose students, have difficulty hiring highly-qualified staff, and your school’s brand will lose its shine. If all of this is merely overwhelming, let School Webmasters help you out. We can get you started and you manage the rest, or we can partner with you and add more inbound strategies as you need them. We provide the personnel with the skill sets you need at prices you can’t afford to hire in-house or pay a marketing agency to deliver. Don’t believe me; check out a few of our inbound marketing packages.
Bonnie Leedy, CEO, School Webmasters, LLC.