You're in the market for a new car, so you hop online to do some research on potential models, prices, and features. On one of the dealers' websites, when you're perusing their inventory, you see a big “BUY NOW!” button. So you click it and - congratulations! - you’ve just bought a car for a cool twenty grand without ever having to touch it, sit in it, or test drive it.
Or, maybe your growing family is planning to move to a larger home. You're browsing real estate listings in your area, find a lovely estate with great-looking photos that's right in your price range, and you decide to buy it on the spot, clicking on the listing Realtor's email link and putting in your offer.
The scenarios seem somewhat implausible, don't they?
Sure, there are rare situations where someone might make a big purchase such as a car or home blindly, but they are few and far between. For the most part, big financial and lifestyle investments like these take meticulous research, abundant thought, and a good measure of time.
How much more important is a family's decision on where to send their child to school?
Not only is education a massive monetary investment, but it's also a family culture decision, and one that parents' realize can shape the course of their child's entire future. This is not a decision that parents take lightly, and for good reason. In fact, I venture to say that education ranks as one of your top five life decisions, along with who to marry, whether to have kids, where to live, and what your career path will be.
Don't cheapen your school – and the weighty education decision – by treating it like just another commodity purchase.
Of course, you may think that you would never do that. You understand the investment that parents are making when they choose to entrust their children into your school's hands. But we've seen many school administrators market their school as if it were just another hot product on the shelves.
These types of mistakes don't do your potential buyers (parents) any favors; they fact, it very well may turn them off to your school. A savvy head of school or admissions director takes time to understand the complexities and phases that parents go through in their “buyers journey;” that is, the process that takes them from just researching school options, to narrowing the pool, to deciding where to visit, and then where they'll apply and so on. It's a process that can take months, and, for some families, even years, and it must be respected and understood if you want to be successful in your school admissions strategy.
Don't fall into these traps! Here are three major online school marketing mistakes we've seen that ignore the buyer's journey.
1. The "APPLY NOW" button is the first thing you see on your website.
Look, I get it. Most other products nowadays need to be available at the click of a button. Our American consumerist culture demands instant gratification, and as such, conventional wisdom might tell you it makes sense to put a big “buy now” call to action front and center on your webpage, just like these folks. But if you're taking marketing notes from businesses selling everything from smartphones to sandwiches – no matter how successful they are – you're missing the mark.
That's because, just like in the scenarios that opened this post, parents are not going to be ready to just “Apply Now” when they visit your website. And, when they are ready to apply, it's likely going to be after they've done their research, visited and/or spoke with your admissions director.
Putting an “Apply Now” (or similar) call to action front and center on your home page – or even prominently on your admissions page – is presumptuous and distracting to your website visitors. You are not selling a commodity. You are offering a lifestyle of learning to their family. When they visit you online, they want to first see if you will be a good fit for one another.
They want to know if they can trust you.
They might not even know that right now, but it's true. And as such, your website – and all of the contacts you make with these prospective parents from the time they become aware of you onward – should form another rung of proof in a sturdy ladder that shows you can be trusted to help carry forward their family's hopes and vision for their children.
So, instead of clamoring for their application at every turn like a too-eager salesman needing to make another deal for his commission, focus on informing and storytelling. Use your website and communications to guide them down the path of seeing why you are worthy of an application to begin with; then, when and where the time is right, offer them the opportunity to apply.
2. You put all the focus on your school tour/open house.
While it may seem like a logical “next step” for someone who is checking out your website or marketing message, coming in for a visit is actually part of step three in your Private School Marketing Funnel. That happens once your school has made it into a family's “Decision” stage.
Don't ignore that crucial top of the funnel Awareness stage and the Consideration stage just below. Most of the people who are just getting to know you, and who visit your website for the first (or second) time are in this group, and the more people you can capture there, the more you'll get further down the line.
Once you capture their attention, you then must nurture that relationship before it grows cold. If you've been adroit enough to secure their contact information through a premium content offer, then use your communication with them to give them reasons to keep your school in the running as they narrow down their decisions. Sure, you want to let them know when your tours and open houses are, but if all you're doing is touting “Come to Our Open House!” and “Come for a Tour!” you're not giving them many valid reasons why they would want to do so.
They're not going to RSVP for an open house or work their schedules around coming in for a tour if you don't give them anything worth seeing. Why would a family want to know you better? What is your Unique Selling Proposition that sets you apart from the competition? How have you impacted the lives of children like theirs for the better over the years?
Show them that you are worth a visit, and then the visitors will come.
3. You Don't Answer Their Questions or Earn Their Trust.
While your website may be a tool for your current families to get information on upcoming events and the like, it is first and foremost a marketing tool. It's your storefront to the rest of the world. When you walk into a store, you want to be able to quickly and easily find the products you need, right?
The same is true for your school website. I have often said that a good website should never need an FAQ page. If you need a page to answer frequently asked questions, then what are the rest of your website pages doing?
Each room in your online store (i.e. – each page of your site) should answer the burning questions in your families' minds. Whether through stories or stats, videos or visuals, paragraphs or pictures, you should carefully ensure that a visitors trip through your website addresses all the concerns, worries, and wonders that you know these parents have.
Don't neglect those ancillary questions that linger in parents' minds, too. After all, the choice of where your child attends school affects even more than just the 6 or 7 hours they are in your building for class. How will the commute to school impact their family? Do you have after school care? What about extracurriculars and electives? How do you handle discipline? Depending on the topic, these questions can be answered through your blog, dedicated web pages, videos, or more. But by addressing these off the bat, you are showing parents that you understand them, which is a major first step toward a trusting relationship.
Bottom line: in order to move parents to apply or even visit your school, you must first earn their trust. We know that you offer incredible programs that mold children into wise and well rounded young adults, and that you take your responsibility for their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well beings personally and seriously. Do parents know that, too? Prove it, and they will come.