When talking with schools and colleagues, I hear the same sentiment around student admissions crop up in almost every conversation. Regardless of the school, everyone acknowledges that attracting new students in today’s world is more complex than ever.
Why? From my experience and what I hear, there are five recurring issues.
- Brexit – Everyone is unsure what Brexit means for international families and how it impacts their decision to send their child to the UK. There is also the additional concern about what it will mean for the future, further increasing the sense of instability and uncertainty.
- Covid – The pandemic changed everything – and that is not an overstatement. Many traditional marketing activities were obliterated as travel restrictions and lockdowns brought admissions events such as in-person open days to a screeching halt. And while the restrictions and lockdown are gone, the changes they brought about are here to stay in many instances.
- Financial pressures – Schools today are under immense financial pressure. Increasing fees, a more discerning parent base, and other external policy factors like pensions mean schools are operating on tighter budgets and smaller margins than ever before.
- Changing demographics – Current birth rates and increasing competition from local state schools mean that ultimately there is a smaller recruitment pool, further tightening the window of opportunities for fee-paying schools.
- Consumer behaviour – Apart from the expectation of a long tradition of academic excellence in your school, parents are now also expecting a superior customer experience and, in some cases, are long listing schools as they expand their search and take their time exploring the other facets of school such as pastoral support and wellbeing.
A direct consequence of these issues is that parents are taking longer and becoming more selective in the school they pick, and schools must rethink how they market and attract students – and staff.
Matching marketing to optimum student recruitment
What schools and their marketing teams need is a way to adapt and align their marketing efforts with the phases of the admissions journey to optimise opportunities and meet the needs of the modern discerning parent.
Let’s look at each step and the best practices for this phase.
- Initial enquiry
- Open event
- Follow up
Many parents start their journey on your website. If we think of our website as akin to a shop window, what does your website say about your school? What items are you highlighting? Are you genuinely giving a potential family insight into your school if you have only a few areas on show? Will those resonate with each parent?
Here is where schools must offer a more personalised shopping experience. Schools can no longer presume that parents will travel globally or even regionally to get a sense of the school – the website must do that. The power of a great website is invaluable, especially, when you combine it with content that is adapted to a prospective student. If someone is coming from overseas, it addresses concerns about accommodation, airport pickups, what the classes are like, and what is on offer in terms of the weekend and after school activities. It can also demonstrate how parents monitor and stay connected with their children.
Your website and any interaction with parents from the website must offer intimacy and an array of content that illustrates why your school is the best fit. From video to Zoom calls, it is about enabling a digital-first and customer-centric approach. Great content will give parents the necessary insights and material to decide. While all formats are recommended, video must play a pivotal role. Video helps prospective families get a sense of your school in real life. It brings the viewer into the classroom and onto the cricket field in a way that marketing copy simply cannot.
When schools receive an enquiry, they often follow up with a generic link to the website or a standard prospectus. This is a huge missed opportunity. Your school will likely offer a personalised learning path once the student is with you; why not reflect that by providing a personalised approach to your school. Replicate the same personalised experience across all your interactions with the customer, even your digital interactions.
Top tips for personalising the follow up:
- Tailor your response for each family by summarising their specific needs or, at the very least, segment families into different needs and requirements for follow-up.
- Link prospects up with similar current families who can give them affirmation and feedback that answers their specific queries while advocating for your school.
- Arrange calls with specific staff who would be dealing directly with the family – for example, a hockey or tennis coach.
- Look at analytics on content that has resonated well with different segments of parents, such as YouTube videos or social content, and reshare it.
- Share specific links to various areas of your school- again, if they align with the family’s needs.
- Host regular Q+A or Ask the Expert sessions so that they can continue to interact and learn more about your school.
- For schools with more significant numbers, leverage the full power of your customer relationship management (CRM) system to automate the workflow and deploy an email nurture campaign.
Open Day event
Focus on conversion rates not sign ups
There is a serious opportunity that many schools are missing out on, and that is leveraging the Open Day event to continue the conversation and possible conversion. Ask yourself what marketing activities you have planned for those who sign up for this event.
Build a communication plan that incorporates interaction and engagement both pre- and post-event. Communicate with families regularly in the run-up to the event; make these interactions as personalised as possible. You want to drum up excitement and ensure that those brought on the journey stay the course. It is also essential to evaluate those attending the event so that those in attendance are genuine prospects, and you will see the conversion rates that you want.
Personalise the experience
Make sure each family feels as though the event is for them on the day itself. Preparation is key to providing a custom experience that answers questions and shows the areas and facilitates that resonate with that individual family. This means you have to understand and know each family before the event. Still, if the result is that the family moves your school to the top of their list, then the time is well spent.
Again, as I mentioned earlier, it is critical to ensure that each step of the journey is aligned with a marketing activity or interaction. Once the event is over, continue the conversation to reinforce what the family has seen and enjoyed in person.
Take the time to ensure that these communications are sent promptly after the event and tailor them to each family again. Remind them of what they saw and experienced at your school and aim to further the conversation by asking if there is anything more they’d like to know.
Also, schools should consider offering hybrid events. The pandemic provided us with a new experience. Many people now recognise the benefits that online offers, especially those who have multiple commitments, travel issues, or would rather attend virtually for medical or social reasons.
Your school’s digital prospectus plays a critical role in attracting new families. It also can provide insight into behaviour and trends if you utilise the data it generates for analytics. For example, it can illustrate what content is driving conversion, popular format, and what areas underperform.
Personalise the prospectus to fit the stage of the buying journey
A one size fits all prospectus is simply no longer a viable marketing tool. Schools need to personalise the prospectus to match each stage of the buying journey, tailoring the content to each parent’s needs and concerns.
A digital prospectus generates a wealth of opportunity and discovery while
meeting the needs of parents in a digital world. Expand and drive your reach by sharing your prospectus in a format that is easily accessible on-demand, 24/7, from anywhere in the world. A digital prospectus opens up your options and means that you can include video, providing a unique glimpse into the day-to-day experience of your school.
Creating a digital prospectus allows you to include more dynamic and immersive content like videos, user-generated content, podcasts, fireside chats, photo albums, links to other websites, and downloadable content. Content that enables you to present a better, more memorable experience of your school.
Future-proofing your student recruitment efforts
The key to succeeding and ensuring that you continue to attract students lies in how you share your school with prospects. It is imperative that you employ a digital-first approach to raise your brand profile and stay competitive. It is also essential that you make the admissions journey highly personal, one which resonates with each family. If you show that you are continuously looking for new ways to make your school accessible so that prospective families feel connected and understood from the very first interaction, you will be sure to see success in your admission numbers.