Four Reasons to Invest in Inbound Marketing

November 26, 2018 Stacy Jagodowski

Conversations at schools have shifted when it comes to enrollment, and more and more schools find it challenging to reach their goals each year. Fortunately, many of these conversations are starting to include the concept of inbound marketing—a strategy that involves creating valuable content and experiences for our users (in this case, prospective families) that makes their lives easier—with the ultimate hope that we’ll convert a casual user into a qualified lead that applies to and hopefully enrolls at our schools.

Inbound marketing campaigns are often highly successful, but they need a high level of commitment to really do it right. That commitment includes time, money, and sometimes, a culture change. Your school will need to develop a steady stream of quality content targeted to users and an assortment of premium downloadable content, those nifty offers that encourage users to submit their emails in order to receive an eBook, tip sheet, or similar document. And, investing in inbound means looking into a Customer Relationship Management tool, which lets you track the success of your campaign, learn more about your leads, and ultimately, better nurture potential customers and convert them into applications.

Sold on inbound marketing, but not sure how to convince your school to take the plunge? Check out these four reasons to add inbound marketing to your strategy and budget for the next school year.

Your Students are Disappearing.

It’s true, there are fewer students out there these days. Birth rates have been declining regularly since the 2008 Recession, and the CDC reported that 2017 was a record year for the fewest newborns since 1987. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the national birth rate dropped two percent, bringing us to a total of 60.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44. With the decline of birth rates in the last decade alone, many schools are already starting to feel the crunch, but the trend is continuing.  

Unfortunately, census projections are saying that we won’t see birth rates start improving just yet. Projections are showing slight increases in 2020 (332.6 million children under 18 as compared to 2016 with 323.1), but more substantial increases in the under 18 population aren’t expected until 2030 when the number jumps a little higher to 354.8. These statistics aren’t painting a pretty picture for private schools, and we need to combat the shrinking pool of students.

Public School Perceptions are Improving.

For many schools, some of the biggest competition is with local public schools. While the quality of public schools is a hotly debated topic, the thing schools need to be concerned with is the perception of their target audience when it comes to those public schools.

Research has shown that despite an overall negative perception of public schools nationwide, families are generally happy with the local public schools their children attend. A 2018 survey by PDK International showed that only 19 percent of Americans gave our country’s public school system a grade of A or B (similar to a school’s grading model scale). However, 70 percent of Americans give their children’s own public schools grades of A or B (only 8 percent say D or F), and 43 percent of Americans rate the public schools in their general community as an A or B.

National trends are showing that improvements are happening in our country to support these positive perceptions of public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high with 84 percent of students earning their high school diploma.  

The biggest challenges facing public schools today still remains the lack of financial support, according to the PDK poll, a trend that has been consistent since 2002. This is where private schools can capitalize on the market and continue to tout their strong endowments, tuition assistance programs, and funding for special programming that might be limited at the neighboring public schools.

We need to reach people who aren’t looking for us, and some of them don’t want us.

Private schools have always carried a reputation that has both helped and hurt us in the marketplace. We’re elite, selective, expensive…all true, but at the same time, those qualities aren’t necessarily negatives like many people assume. We can share our statistics, success stories, and invite people to attend our open house events, but those school-centric methods of reaching the audience aren’t going to work with a potential customer who is dead set against learning about private school.

That’s where we need to become a bit more sly in how we connect with our audiences and approach them in a way that isn’t screaming “Look at our PRIVATE SCHOOL!” This can be a difficult shift for many people to understand, but essentially, an article on Academy X and it’s incredible STEM program isn’t enough to sway Family A to inquire, even if they’re interested in STEM education. But, an article touting the “5 Benefits of STEM Education” might catch their attention, and at the very end of the article, there’s a small plug for Academy X. This is the shift in mindset from school-centric content to customer-centric content that we need to start making.

By sharing content in a new way and thinking about the problems our target audience is going to solve and the interests our users have, we can introduce our schools in a much more subtle way. By focusing on their needs instead, we position ourselves as trusted resources, here to help them, and not just elite private schools looking for tuition money.

Millennials are Here (and Gen Z is Coming)

For years, schools have said, we don’t have to worry about marketing to Millennials yet, but things have changed. Millennials are the largest generation in America right now, and their current annual buying power is a collective $600 billion. And, according to Accenture, that amount is predicted to more than double in the next few years, potentially reaching $1.4 trillion annually and representing 30 percent of total retail sales.

This is a powerhouse generation, but, this is also a unique audience when it comes to marketing and schools in particular. For one, many Millennials aren’t having children due to financial concerns and career ambitions, as well as concerns about the world and even climate change, a topic we covered earlier. However, according to Forbes, in four years it is estimated that nearly half of all new parents will be Gen Z, the generation that follows Millennials.  

Millennials also have high expectations for brands reaching out to them, and they want a personal and authentic experience with each brand. They are one of the most loyal generations when it comes to brands, but they are highly selective in choosing which brands they embrace.

This means, for those Millennials who do have children, marketing to them is a bit different. For one, they want to consume what we call Authentic Content. Yes, they are clicking, browsing, pinning, liking, and sharing content constantly, but they are driven by authenticity. They want to know that others perceive this product, service, or school as excellent, and they want to know why. They research their potential purchases extensively before buying, and this includes purchases as small as a toothbrush. So, imagine what they want to see when they start looking at schools for their children.

Millennials aren’t sold by the traditional marketing methods of magazine and newspaper ads, direct mail campaigns or radio spots. These come across as company-centric and not consumer-centric, and Millennials want their experience with you to be authentic and personalized. They even scoff at digital ads, calling pop-up ads in particular intrusive and annoying. What they want is to choose to investigate something, not have an ad thrust in front of them.

This is where a robust inbound marketing campaign comes into play. By writing more thought leadership content with the reader’s interests and needs in mind, we can optimize our content to allow us to softly insert ourselves into a conversation. They place value on high-ranking articles and according to Hubspot, are 247 percent more likely to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites. Millennials want to find you through your content, like blogs, videos, eBooks and other “how to” style information, so take the opportunity to create content that lets you clearly showcase your expertise when it comes to education.  

Overall, private schools today have to do more work to win over a larger percentage of a shrinking target audience that exists in an extremely competitive marketplace. To further complicate the matter, we also need to prove our worth to an increasingly savvy target audience and stand out in a sea of other asks. Is your school ready to compete?

About the Author

Stacy Jagodowski

Inspired by her own private school experiences, Stacy Jagodowski has devoted her career as a faculty member and administrator to introducing others to the private school world. Her career has focused on institutional advancement, with five years of admission experience, and more than a decade in marketing and communications.

Stacy has led strategic marketing and communications teams at Cheshire Academy and Milken Community Schools; at Cheshire, her team earned award-winning recognition for their annual fund marketing programs and overall team development. She blogs for several private school organizations and has given several webinars and podcasts about private school marketing best practices. Stacy has also presented at national conferences including the NAIS Annual Conference, TABS Annual Conference, NAIS TABS Global Symposium, and Blackbaud K-12’s User Conference.

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