It’s my hope that when you read the title of this Marketing Matters column, you’ve said, “What? Then what is marketing’s goal? Of course the goal of marketing your school is to increase enrollment!”

And you’re continuing to read to see if I’ve completely lost my mind.

One of the goals of marketing (not the goal of marketing) is to increase enrollment in your school, but the problem is you’ve skipped a couple of steps, and, to use a hockey analogy, went right from faceoff to goal with no stick handling, passing, or dealing with defense from the other team.  Of course, sometimes the goal happens…a slapshot at the faceoff goes right past the goalie.  But it doesn’t happen often.

As you know, when some experts speak of “enrollment” or “admissions,” it’s oftentimes lumped together with “retention,” since retained students + newly enrolled students = total enrollment.  However, if you judge the effectiveness of your school’s marketing efforts by the number of students enrolled in your school, you’re grouping new students with retained students, and that could cause some erroneous reporting in this era of data analytics.  Further, if you judge the effectiveness of your school’s marketing efforts by the number of new students enrolled in your school, then you’re lumping the marketing process and the enrollment process together.  Both methods make evaluating the effectiveness of marketing as it pertains to increasing enrollment that much more difficult.

Then what is marketing?  Marketing is EVERYTHING a business does before a prospective customer comes in personal contact with a company’s product or service.  In a school’s case, it’s EVERYTHING the school does before a prospective parent comes in personal contact with the school.  Advertising, public relations, brochures, Web site, publicity – even driving around with a bumper sticker on your car – is marketing.  Marketing’s goal, therefore, is to increase the number of inquiries from parents of prospective students – NOT the number of new enrollments.  Once a parent of a prospective student has made an inquiry, the marketing process is over, and the enrollment process begins.

Marketing is everything you do to educate  the parent before they’ve personally entered your school.  Enrollment is everything you do to get them from that point to paying the enrollment fee to reserve a seat in your school for their child.

If a parent calls a school and asks for more information, a school usually sends their “enrollment packet,” filled with all kinds of papers that have to be reviewed, analyzed, signed and returned, as well as regulations regarding dress code and conduct.  The usual response is that parents take one look at how huge it is, and put it on the side until they have time to deal with it.  Guess what?  Most parents don’t have time to read everything, don’t get around to it, and, many times, don’t enroll their child in your school.  And today, with the coronavirus pandemic, you REALLY don’t want to be handling paper.  Indeed, today’s parents wonder what to do with paper.  Many of them will download a pdf document from your schools’ Web site, complete it, then take a picture of it and email it back to you.  Now, you have even MORE work to do – you need to transcribe all that data by hand into some type of database/spreadsheet.  Is this a productive use of your time?

And the enrollment paper packet dance only happens if you’ve taken the time to respond to their request.  Some “secret shopper” experiments which involved calling schools for more information resulted in only half of the schools responding to a parent’s initial inquiry, and less than 10% following up with the family after the information was sent.

“But that takes time!” you say.  Absolutely!  It’s one of the reasons you need to automate your tuition collection process so you can free someone to have the time to do these tasks that are vital to your school’s continued existence.

Mistake number one is sending an enrollment packet when a parent wants more information.  Perhaps the parent picked up your brochure at a local pediatrician’s office or gym and called; perhaps they visited your school’s Web site and clicked or tapped “contact us” to send your school an email; perhaps they were speaking to another parent, and decided to stop at your school on their way to another appointment, and this year, may find that they can’t get in!  Today, the repository for ALL information about your school today should be your school’s Web site.  Therefore, when a parent visits your Web site today, the first thing they should do is register to receive a link to a video tour of your school since they may not be able to visit in person.  If you STILL have a video tour on your Web site that parents can just view without a hoop to jump through, that needs to stop – NOW!  You want to give something of value (what it’s like to experience the school) in exchange for something of value (the parent’s email address and some minimal information about them).  After they view the video, there should be a link (an easy one to access) where they can request an appointment to chat or visit virtually – perhaps even have an in-person visit outside of normal school hours if students are in school.   If they can’t commit to an appointment time, then use the information you’ve gathered to give them something that’s going positively position your school, and, eventually, bring them into the school to experience it.  During normal times, these would be things like tickets to the school play, a basketball game, or an invitation to an informational event.

Mistake number two is thinking that a request for more information equates to an enrollment.  Parents are looking at all educational choices available to them today – public, charter, cyber, private, and faith-based.  A good number of parents have college degrees today, which makes them eligible to homeschool their child if none of those options are to their liking.

Of course, mistake number three is just not following up.

The goal of marketing is to have a parent of a prospective student reach out to you, and, somehow, experience your school.  You can give them all the facts about the school you want, and break tuition payments down to hourly rates…but until they experience your school, affecting their affective domain and touching their emotions, any enrollment growth you have is just a lucky shot on goal.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original Publication Date: 20101115)