The oft-maligned, highly sought-after, always stereotyped, elusive yet pervasive audience.
And the ones that make up most – if not all – of the new parents who will enroll in your school for the next several years. As such, you had better be equipped now to reach, attract, and serve this generation. These parents are the future (and, in many ways, the present) of your school.
If you're an over-40 Head of School and you think you can keep marketing your private school the same way you have for the past 10 (or even 5) years, you may not even be conscious of the absolute necessity of a mindset shift.
The Millennial generation – like each that preceded it – comes with a unique DNA that distinguishes those who comprise it. Their values, thought-processes, dreams, and how they do things are even shaping society, just as they themselves have been shaped by societal changes in their lifetimes.
If you want to continue attracting new students to your school, you must reach their Millennial parents. And if you want to reach Millennial parents, you need to know who they are and what makes them tick.
That's why we're here – because one sure thing about Millennials is they are online and well-informed, and we have spent years honing proven ways to connect with them. So let's get started.
Here's a broad-brush overview of the Millennial generation.
- Their birth range, while debatable, falls approximately from 1977-1996, which puts them at about age 21-40 now. The important thing to note, though, is that age isn't always the end-all, be-all defining factor of a generation; it's more about the way people engage with their world.
- There are approximately 105 Million millennials in the market right now, and they make up a whopping 25% of the US population! There are actually three millennials for every Gen Xer.
- They carry a massive purchasing power estimated at $1.68 trillion.
- It is a very diverse group – ethnically, physically, economically and more.
- Generally, they are the most educated generation in history, but they are also in the most debt.
- They are confident, with high expectations and a drive for achievement, though this may surprise many of you who have always heard they are lazy, failure-to-launch basement-dwellers...but we'll get to that a little later.
- They are getting married and having children noticeably later than previous generations, which means many of your prospective parents are older than those who were enrolling 10 years ago.
- They’re passionate, love getting behind causes that matter to them, and value adventure and travel.
Bottom line: millennials are here...and they're having kids
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MILLENNIALS
I recently read a book called Millennials with Kids: Marketing to This Powerful and Surprisingly Different Generation of Parents by Jeff Fromm and Melissa Vidler that was eye-opening, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to dive deeper into the minds of millennials.
One important takeaway that I gathered from this book regarding marketing to millennials is that there are vastly distinct subgroups of people within the Millennial generation, many of which defy the stereotype that Millennials have received. In looking specifically at young parents, Fromm and Vidler found some surprising characteristics that shoot down the picture of self-entitled snowflakes who still live with their parents (come on, I know you've heard that stereotype too).
MILLENNIAL PARENTS' DEFINING VALUES & CHARACTERISTICS
Raised in the internet age by affluent parents in the 80s and 90s, they planned on and pursued the American dream only to get slammed by the recession right around the time they were entering, in, or graduating from college. Fromm and Vidler found striking similarities between this generation and the one that came of age during the Great Depression – specifically, a focus on pragmatism and frugality. Many are well-educated, though they often don't feel like they are living to their full potential, thanks to a tough job market. They're often working multiple jobs to make ends meet and reach that dream, and you must realize that they're making a sacrifice to come to your school.
As this group has almost always been accustomed to having a wealth of tools and information at their fingertips thanks to technology advances in their lifetime, they demand a seamless, integrated experience with organizations, busienesses, work, and groups with which they interact. As such, your school must keep your technology and communication strategies current and convenient for parents.
Social media, texting, smartphone apps, a comprehensive and responsive webpage – all of these things are crucial to your school connecting with and satisfying prospective and current families. While email was the gold standard for communication a decade ago, it has since lost its luster. Stay fresh!
Collaboration and Community
They may be used to being online, but perhaps it is because of this that being together is very powerful for millennials. If you can integrate these underlying values in your school, it can be a perceived benefit to these younger parents. They want to have an impact and be involved, so give them plenty of opportunity to volunteer and get together with their kids and other parents.
Now, of course, you are school focused on education, not a social club for parents. But if you put barriers up – I.e, if you give off a vibe that says “Drop your kid off, come get them at the end of the day, and we'll see you at the spring concert.” - these parents will react strongly against it.
The mom impact is still very real with the Millennial generation. Moms are the primary decision maker in the home based on consumer data. Focus your school marketing strategy and messages on moms!
This means that, while you may want to show off how intellectually superior your leaders and faculty may be, you might not reach this audience as well if most of your blogs, content, and messages are full of heady intellectuals talking philosophy, theology, and logic. They may be impressive and thought-provoking, and they certainly can serve a place in your communication mix, but they often fail to connect emotionally with the moms.
Most moms who are researching your school want to see if their child will be loved, nurtured, and guided in a Christian worldview. Do your teachers LOVE their students? Are the kids thriving? Is this a place they feel their family can truly belong?
This is not meant to underestimate the capacity and desire of young moms for intellectually stimulating content; there are plenty of women who definitely value and enjoy it. I just want to warn you against focusing too strongly on that academic side and potentially failing to engage this crucial audience.
Trust is paramount
If you're not building a relationship founded on trust with these parents before they even make their first contact with you, then you'll probably never get them through your doors. This is where inbound marketing is key to successfully reaching millennial parents.
This generation is good at avoiding traditional marketing. They skip TV ads, don't open direct mail, unsubscribe to emails, put their names on the “do not call list,” and tune out of traditional radio in favor of playlists and streaming services like Spotify.
Inbound marketing turns all of that on its head. Inbound is about building trust, not manipulating and disrupting. It's a philosophy that allows you to build a strategy that has the tools and technology predicated around trust...and serving your prospective parents, not taking from them.
When we meet with schools initially, the mindset we see from many heads of schools is “How do we get them to come to our open house? We don't get it! We put out flyers, facebook posts, word of mouth marketing, but no one comes to open house any more!”
The reality is, it's because you haven't built trust with those potential families. 90% of the prospective parents out there are not ready to visit your school. They need to be informed, nurtured, and cultivated long before they make that call.
They are doing their research, and thanks to smartphones, Google, and the internet in general, they've got plenty to gather. Today's prospective school parent knows far more about your school than you realize. Over 70% of the buying process is complete before a prospect ever initiates contact with your school!
How do you build that trust? With online content – website, blogs, social media posts, webinars, etc. - that is meaningful to the context they're in. This where the Buyer's Journey plays a huge role in making your private school marketing campaigns successful (read more about that here).
THE BUYER’S JOURNEY
Here's an example of how this concept works. Let's say a mom of a middle schooler is concerned about bullying that their child is facing at their current school. While in the car line waiting to pick up her child, she peruses advice for dealing with bullies on Google. Fortunately, your school recently wrote a great blog offering tips for parents to help their kids through this particular issue (though, of course, bullying is not that pervasive at your school anyway, right?).
She reads the article, is inspired, and your school name is now in her mind. She's not ready to leave their current school yet, but she now knows you and appreciates your viewpoint and values. She decides to add her name to your email list. Over the next year, she continues to receive valuable information from you, messages that resonate with her family's perspective. And so, when the time comes for them to consider changing schools, yours is near the top of her mind to check out further.
At that point, she'll probably dig into your website, research online reviews, and ask friends about any experience they have with your school. Once she's satisfied that you might make the final cut as a good fit, it is only then that she'll contact the admissions director for more information or to schedule a visit.
Your website needs to be intuitive, mobile-friendly, responsive, and give them all the information that you know parents are looking for...including tuition rates! Don't withhold valuable facts in an effort to force parents into contacting you, because in all likelihood, they won't. Either they'll be turned off by your lack of transparency, or they'll canvas their friends, social media, and the web to find the answers to their questions. And when those answers aren't coming directly from you, they're often going to be wrong.
So, for all the effort you spend making your entrance, signage, and facility look inviting and fresh, how much are you spending on your virtual “storefront?” Your online presence must be pristine, comprehensive, and compelling, because that is where this new generation of parents is going to make their decision about whether to pursue a relationship with your school.