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The seven stages of school marketing

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School marketing — like all marketing — is undergoing a seismic shift from outbound marketing to inbound marketing.

To succeed in today’s competitive educational environment, leaders of school marketing need to think and act more like publishers and media companies rather than traditional school marketers.

Traditional outbound marketing is designed to interrupt what people are interested in. In contrast, inbound marketing aims to be the very thing that people are paying attention to and actively searching for. It’s about being front and centre of a prospect’s search options.

Data from the latest instalment of the What Parents Want survey, conducted every four years since 2006 by Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) shows that, “Nearly two-thirds of parents (66 percent) indicated the start of the process of school selection commenced at least two years before the child started school. This suggests the importance of marketing to parents of children who will enter school in the medium and long-term, not only the group of students that could be seen as student intakes in the near future.”

So, how do you integrate this marketing approach into your school?

Getting discovered when people are looking online is the strategy for which creating valuable content is the tactical execution. One of the best ways to harness the power of content in a strategic way is to develop content that follows the life cycle of your prospect through every stage of their journey to becoming an advocate for your school.

One simple model that can be successfully adapted for schools was made popular by author and consultant, John Jantsch. When applied to the particular needs of independent schools, the model recognises that your responsibility in the first instance is to get a prospective parent to know, like and trust you. Your next task is to leverage that trust into an opportunity, then ultimately turn that prospective parent into an advocate for your school.

  1. Your prospect needs to KNOW you

One of the best ways to become known is through organic search engine results. This is something that cannot be bought; it must be earned. A blog that is content-rich with topics of value to your audience is your power tool in inviting prospective parents to get to know you. The more traditional marketing tools will also deliver value at this stage, but every piece of advertising should be measurable. Additionally, it’s important to ensure you have suitable website content that will engage referred and new prospects who are looking for information. The ISQ survey found 42 percent of respondents identified the school website and social media as the most influential sources of information that led them to seriously consider a particular school. The three sources that outranked websites were all in-person interactions, making your online presence the most influential channel over which you have full control.

  1. Your prospect needs to LIKE you

For a prospect to like you, they need to have had multiple interactions with your brand. At this point, it is very unlikely prospective parents will have spoken with you. They will have seen you in the community and appreciate what you are doing. Which is why contributing positively to community partnerships and highly visible community events is important. Of course, you also have hundreds of ambassadors already … your students, as they travel to and from school. The appearance and behaviour of existing students scored 3.8 out of 5 on an index of relative importance in the ISQ survey. Don’t miss the opportunities this presents. Also, an enewsletter designed specifically for prospective parents can be an incredibly powerful tool at this stage of the life cycle.

  1. Your prospect needs to TRUST you

It is normal for people to buy products because they like them. But it is very rare for a person to commit to an organisation like your school unless they trust them. Fortunately, every school has immense trust-building resources at its disposal. The most powerful tool you have is parent testimonials, case studies and stories that demonstrate how others have trusted you in the past, and how that trust has been rewarded with positive outcomes.

  1. Your prospect may want to TRY you out

This is one of the easiest ways to move prospective parents from consideration to enrolment. You’ll need to think creatively to garner the best results. Annual Open Days sit more within the ‘know’ and ‘like’ stages of a prospect’s life cycle. To ‘try’ you requires the opportunity for deep participation. This might mean having a student join a class for a day or a prospective border staying in your boarding house for a weekend. Allowing prospective parents these opportunities is an important way to differentiate your school at a key moment in their decision-making process.

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