Using Data to Drive Your School's Enrollment Marketing

In Maximizing the Five Stages of Enrollment Marketing, a recent eBook that I wrote for Blackbaud K–12, I outlined effective strategies that independent schools can use to boost admission inquiries, applications, yield, and retention. Let’s now take another look at those five stages with an eye toward using data to further drive these goals. 

Stage 1: Marketing Strategy 

Data is more than just numbers; it includes demographic and psychographic information, trends, the interests of your potential students and families, paths taken through the admissions funnel, keyword effectiveness, and much more. The ability to zero-in on high-potential targets for your school is derived from data-driven research and list selection.  

You can use available data on your school’s “best” families to create “lookalike” or mirror audiences in digital campaigns; or, you can develop a distinct set of personal and professional criteria to select the highest-potential prospects from database service providers such as Experian, Equifax, or Epsilon. Test these high-potential leads to determine if your segmentation has improved your list selection. 

Stage 2: Marketing Programs 

Data-driven marketing delivers undeniable evidence of the marketing channels that are most effective at driving inquiries, soliciting gifts, and generating engagement on social media. For enrollment marketing programs, you need to know the return on investment (ROI) of your various print and digital campaigns—i.e., what is the most cost-effective channel to create interest or drive an inquiry?

To do this, plan enrollment campaigns with tangible outcomes, such as distinct inquiry form URLs in both electronic and print marketing, so you can assess the ROI of each program. Use that data to compare the results across your various marketing channels. You may learn that certain media now deliver significantly better results than others, which may lead you to shift marketing investments between print, social, search, or retargeting campaigns.

Stage 3: Driving More Applications 

Data is at the heart of a major societal trend with marketing ramifications: personalization. Amazon has used data collection to build profiles on what interests us for over a decade, and this trend has spread to music, videos, and other services that customize our options. You can also use data-driven personalization to communicate with your school’s prospects, applicants, and accepted-but-not-committed students. 

Stay in touch with prospective families and gain insight through marketing automation strategies that create data-supported personas of each constituent based on their characteristics and engagement with the school’s website, social media channels, and email. If a full automation platform is out of reach for your school, utilize a manual approach (see the eBook) to learn more about the student’s academic, athletic, artistic, and social interests, and use that information to build a closer relationship during the admissions process.

Stage 4: Increasing Yield 

Data can play an important role in “closing the deal” with prospective students, which for most schools is the most critical phase in the admissions funnel. You’ve already spent tremendous time and effort, harnessed the support of your community, and invested in marketing campaigns to get to this point. Now you need a combination of personalized electronic communications with targeted personal or phone interaction with both the student and his or her family to boost yield.

Deploy an integrated, multi-channel campaign to convince prospects. Feature topics on the website and in social media topics that data shows are the most popular. If possible, customize emails based on the characteristics of each prospective student; if that’s not possible, cover the key topics of proven interest. To continually assess interest, provide links to core school activities—academic offerings, athletic events, and arts programs.

Add a personal touch by mixing in a phone call from a teacher, coach, or Head of School to a student, or from a parent ambassador to prospective parents based on data you know about the prospect’s interests. You can even try texting from senior admissions leaders to parents who have agreed to receive messages this way.

Stage 5: Retention 

The value of retention is under-estimated in many schools that are laser-focused on driving prospects to apply and accept. However, the ability to keep even a few extra students who would otherwise need to be replaced, often at great cost and effort, is significant. While school retention programs truly require major commitments from teachers, coaches, administrators, dorm parents, and more, marketing can still play an important role in keeping students on-board.

Marketing can help improve the school’s retention rate in several ways that are derived from analytics and data. For example, monitor click rates and comments to create fun and interesting content for parent newsletters and social media. Test videos to see which ones gain the most engagement. Periodically dig into the parent newsletter reporting and flag records that never open your emails and have someone reach out to them. Similarly, work with school leadership on a survey—names required—that can flag unhappy parents.

Most importantly, in transitional years such as fifth or eighth grade, watch the parent data carefully, and craft content that is designed to address known weaknesses and play-up the school’s strengths. 

Download the free eBook today for a deeper dive into the marketing strategies that can boost enrollment at your school.

About the Author

William Bullard

William Bullard is the founder of EdChanges, a marketing firm that offers educational institutions a breadth of strategic marketing services. William moved into education in 2012 after a business career that included direct marketing, wireless communications, and lead generation and nurturing. He was the director of communications at two Boston-area schools before starting EdChanges in 2016, from which he has consulted with many schools, service providers, marketing agencies, and non-profits. His content marketing includes articles, webinars, eBooks, and speaking engagements for Blackbaud, NAIS, the Enrollment Management Association, Finalsite, Independent Thinking’s Head’s Letter, and other school leaders. William is deeply steeped in independent schools, having attended Pike and Berkshire Schools, where he has over a 100-year family history. His children gained an excellent education at Gilman and Bryn Mawr in Baltimore. William has found his two non-profit board memberships rewarding and valuable to his education marketing work, and enjoys volunteering for his alma mater, Trinity College. He can be reached at wrbullard@edchanges.com.

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