Lord, Give Me a Sign

If you’ve been a frequent visitor to this Web site, you know that each week’s Advancementality article focuses on one of the five areas of advancement before the cycle begins again. Two weeks ago it was asset management, as we spoke about converting to a need-based aid/cost-based tuition model (which I like to call a “Sustainability-Based” model) and last week it was enrollment management, as one must be prepared for one of the unintended consequences of implementing such a model – an initial drop in enrollment.

This week, marketing is the focus, as it is the precursor to BOTH enrollment growth (which has to happen first to lead to sustainability) and development revenue growth (which also must happen first to lead to sustainability).  Since faith-based schools usually don’t have an excessive marketing budget (if they have one at all), schools always inquire as to how to do marketing inexpensively. They’ve looked into TV advertising, radio advertising, and billboards, but they’re all expensive, and many schools that have tried these strategies have found their return on investment has not been a positive one.

Of course, the least expensive form of marketing is also the most effective.  Positive word of mouth marketing by your current parent community is the best testimony you could ever hope to get.  However, it’s not enough for parents to say great things about the school.  The reference needs to be followed-up with an “ask,” such as, ‘Why not let Billy spend a day at the school?”  A “Shadow Day” experience then lets the child see what the educational experience will be like.  If it’s a good experience, then the child will start asking when he or she can go back.

As for other resources, there are several very good texts on marketing, and many consulting companies and school organizations have very good publications to define what marketing is.  As a starting point, let’s look at three issues to remember so that parents and guardians of potential students can remember your school:

1) Know your market
2) Repetition is necessary (for now)
3) Keep it simple

Know your market
If you’re able to produce and schedule a commercial for your school on television, are you placing it during specific times where parents with young children are viewing programming? You might be placing it with your local community-affiliated station, but your cable programmer might be a better place. Running a commercial in a “total audience plan” for your school isn’t usually the best use of your funds if you’re trying to grow enrollment.  It is a good idea if you simply want to let the community know your school exists (and if you’ve got the money to do that, you probably don’t need to be reading this).  Sponsor those programs where parents of young children are watching, but you need to be aware of the content of the programming which your commercial will be airing within or next to.

Another a better place for your school’s video commercials would be your school’s YouTube.  Then you can share them through other social media channels.

If you’re looking for a great radio placement, contact a top station in your market and let them know you want to sponsor morning drive-time or afternoon drive-time weather forecasts.  With all the “iTools” we have today, parents with young children still listen to the radio for weather updates to know how to dress their children or if there will be a weather delay – although that’s changing as the accuracy of weather apps develops and schools communicate directly with parents through their mobile devices with parent alert technology.

Repetition is Necessary (for now)

The great writer, Samuel Johnson, is quoted as saying, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.”  And that’s the essence of education, which is what marketing really is.

Most “advertising” campaigns by schools make one attempt at a “flight” of ads or a (singular) billboard. The key is repetition, which is why advertising can become very expensive.  For instance, with email marketing, you can create a “drip” campaign – provide a little follow-up information this week, then, a couple of weeks later, a little more and different information, then, a couple of weeks later, a little more and still different information.  Doing this with billboards and radio/tv ads though will run through money which could be better utilized to fund technology initiatives like a new Web site, or earmarked for financial aid dollars.

Students exposed to new information receive both reinforcement and practice during the learning process, so your marketing message must be presented over and over and over and over and over and over (you get the idea) just to break through a mindset that could be closed to the potential of considering your school, and allow that mind to be open to the possibility of a new thought. It used to take 7 exposures; and then showed it required 9 to 11 exposures with all the new venues of communication (remember when you could count the number of television channels you could receive on one hand?).  Several years ago, it became 11 to 13, and as technology and social networking continues to evolve, it will take even more messages to break through the clutter of everyone else’s messages.  Therefore, your social networking efforts need to be up and running.  Time was when a quarterly newsletter was sufficient; then it became monthly.  Now, organizational emails are produced weekly, and it’s getting to the point when information will need to be updated and communicated daily to get your message out there as well as on additional social networking platforms which your parents utilize.  Don’t go crazy trying to learn all of them.  Facebook is the clear leader, but Pinterest is one that you may find helpful to your marketing efforts.  Why?  Who uses Pinterest?  According to DMR (http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/pinterest-stats/, accessed 4.7.2017), 85% of Pinterest users are women, and 42% of adult women use Pinterest.  And since your target market is women 25-39 years of age, you’re hitting the right target.

Notice too there are several ways within this site for you to share this article with others through some of the most popular social media. You’ll also need to consider how people are using those platforms, or risk being lost in a sea of voices that wish they were heard.

As we continue to advance repetition will be replaced by engagement and sharing.  You’ll need to think about creating a “fascinating” brand for your school.  Actually, that’s changed too.  YOU don’t create the brand of your school; your customers create the brand.  Interestingly, Jesus gave us this bit of insight when he asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  This way, people are constantly drawn to your school, “pulling” them in, rather than you “pushing” messages into the marketplace of messaging.  One of the characteristics of the marketplace today is “People will hear what they want to hear.”  They need to hear your message from as many voices as possible…and not necessarily from your school.

Keep it Simple
If your school is in a neighborhood, a billboard on the highway that’s 3 or 4 miles away isn’t going to do anything to build enrollment – especially if drivers zip past it at 65 miles per hour.   Instead, ask (if it’s permitted by local ordinances)  to put signs for your school in the yards of your school’s raving fans! It’s significantly less expensive than TV or billboards, especially if a supportive printer does them as a contribution to your school!

In some communities, yard signs are banned, so consider making door hangers and organize a Saturday morning “canvass the neighborhood” campaign.

I hear it coming – “But we have to ask people to do that!”   Yes – go back to the third paragraph of this article.  Take comfort in something else that Jesus said: “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” If you avoid asking because you don’t like to, your first task is to change that attitude.  You MUST ask and involve others in your mission if you expect to grow. Many people need to be given a sign…so give it to them, in a yard, on their front door, or perhaps on a Web site and on their preferred social media channels.  And don’t forget to follow-up with an ask.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2018