Best suited for Heads of School and senior admissions and communications leaders.
Strategic enrollment management is increasingly seen as the key term for a broad range of a school’s admission, retention, and other growth-related programs. A key component under this umbrella is enrollment marketing, which first focuses on increasing interest and applications to your school and then on “nurturing” prospective families throughout the admission process.
With schools facing looming economic and demographic challenges, it is more critical than ever to optimize your marketing strategy and spending on enrollment management. The front end of this method, summarized below, has received significant attention with tools such as sophisticated image audits from groups including Baltimore Research and Mike Connor Associates followed by multi-channel marketing campaigns. However, maximizing your acceptance rate by creating automated personalized touches with potential constituents has not been as carefully examined.
Initial Recruitment Phase a/k/a Lead Generation
Clarify your strategic marketing goals
Define your target audience
Select the appropriate marketing channels
Create the message for the appropriate segment and channel
Execute the campaigns and measure the results.
Each of these steps is substantive and worthy of its own analysis, but for our purposes, the summary will suffice, as the focus of this post is on the ongoing communications after the prospective student is in the "lead funnel."
The second, nurturing, phase of enrollment marketing has three primary goals: developing a closer relationship between prospective students and families and your school; qualifying the prospects by tracking their interest; and improving the efficiency of your admission office. In sum, this involves sending emails with personalized information to each prospect from the first interaction through the decision to attend the school. This approach augments the personal attention shown by admission officers to each prospective student and family by creating an ongoing but crisp electronic dialogue based on their interests, with the relevance of that content being paramount. Ideally, most of these “touches” can be tracked, so they not only strengthen your school’s connection with these potential students, but also enable you to gauge their interest in you. This in turn helps busy admission people determine where to focus their attention during the critical home stretch.
Tactics: Building, Sending, and Tracking Targeted Campaigns
Ideal for senior admission and communications leaders and their staffs.
Strategic enrollment marketing is more important than ever, and the “nurturing” phase, after a prospective student or family has first shown interest, offers tremendous potential. This post will move from the broad and strategic to the tactical – how do you plan and implement a nurture campaign?
Marketing Automation (MA)
In business and higher education, marketing automation systems allow an organization to target communications to a prospect based on that person’s demographics, position, response to emails, web activity, information requests, and survey responses. Typically combining a customer relationship management system (CRM, e.g. Salesforce.com) and sophisticated email system, or an integrated platform like HubSpot, these lead nurturing programs help an organization stay in touch with a prospect cost-effectively, build profiles of their prospects, and qualify them, i.e. determine their propensity for taking the next step in the process, often called “moving down the sales funnel.” In schools, this covers the entire process, from requesting information, visiting, applying to, and then deciding whether to attend your school.
Most schools, especially small ones, do not have the budget for automated marketing systems, and may feel each touch needs to be personal. Every school or business should prefer 100% personal interaction, but it’s often inefficient or infeasible. Can your school support your personal touches with highly targeted e-communications? Read on and you can decide.
Developing Your Process
Whether you have a marketing automation platform or plan to test a manual approach initially, the first step is to determine your audience. In pre-K to 8 schools, the decision-makers will almost surely be the parents, while in high schools, the student is increasingly involved. Next, select several broad but targeted topics that best represent the interests of your potential students. Let’s say you choose athletics, arts, academics, community service/trips, and technology/innovation. To resonate with your prospect, at least two of those require sub-sets; academics or athletics may have several subsets, because an article on math won’t be relevant to a history aficionado. Automated systems can handle these additional requirements easily, while they become more complex for a manual program.
Creating Your Content Streams
Then, create a set of very concise emails for these subjects – two or three sentences and a link to a web page, news item, video, document, or survey. In sum, you will end up sending a personal note to each interested party once a week with news or highlights in each area: “Hi Joey, I hope your fall is going well – take a look at our (great win over our soccer rival/video of our latest play/news about our community service trip).” Do NOT generate much new content for these email touches; instead, use your communications calendar or historical pieces to leverage topics you typically communicate to your parents. You know you have your main community service day on X date, the marquee football game against your rival on Y date, the big musical on Z date. Build these topics into your “content streams” as a natural way to strengthen your connection with the student or family.
Assessing Interest Via Activity Tracking
If you are using a marketing automation system, it’s straightforward to create audiences (often called “personas”), e.g. the baseball players, science students, service advocates, and artists, and then build content streams for your admission cycle. These systems will track the recipient’s interest via email opens, clicks, pages visited on your website, and items downloaded, and this data “scores,” i.e. qualifies, that person’s level of interest. If you do this process manually, it will be difficult to track all the data, but you can still accomplish many of your goals. When you use a basic email system like Constant Contact, you can set up lists once and see the open and click data. You will know if the recipient replies to the sender, which is fairly common once a close relationship is created, and you can also deliver one or two emails requiring action from the prospect, such as registering (just name and email address) for an article on macro trends or school rankings, or completing a brief, fun survey. These activity-based notes or data can be added to an excel spreadsheet or the system where you track prospect information.
There are many variables and nuances in creating an automated and especially a manual lead nurturing system, so surely not every question or issue has been covered here. Of course, there is an incremental time investment to build content streams and create micro-segments, but they need to be seen in a holistic context. How many more enrollments can you get by building a tighter bond with the prospective family? How much more effective and efficient can your admission team be when focusing on the high-potential leads versus calling them all? Only with this strategic level of analysis can you project whether lead nurturing is worth considering for your school.
Note: this post was originally published on the blog of Kalix Marketing, a school marketing agency, in November, 2015.