Admissions and enrollment professionals are always seeking new strategies and tactics for winning over prospective families and retaining existing students long-term. But while a bit of creativity never hurts, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year. No matter the medium, personalized, authentic, and meaningful messages will always win out.
You might even say... “It's a tale as old as time.”
To help you prepare for the year ahead, we’re sharing a few lessons from an unlikely source of inspiration (and we promise we haven’t lost our minds). Here’s what you can learn from the animated Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast:
1. Being a Great Host Pays Off
When Belle refuses dinner with the Beast, he throws a tantrum and proclaims, “If she doesn’t eat with me, then she doesn’t eat at all!” Yikes.
Fortunately, his staff knew better. Belle was their last hope to break the curse, and it was in their best interest to keep their guest well-fed and entertained. But instead of simply passing a tray under the door, the crew whipped up a multi-course meal while singing, dancing, and keeping her engaged. Their commitment to winning her over was the beginning of everyone’s happily ever after.
As a school leader, you know the value of creating experiences that go above and beyond prospective families’ expectations. By wowing them through memorable events, campaigns, and conversations, you’ll remain top-of-mind throughout the decision-making process.
That’s why it’s essential you map out every step — from the first time they interact with your website to the first day of school (and beyond), determine how you can help them feel better supported, included, and appreciated all along the way.
2. It’s Easy to Be Misunderstood
At first, the Beast seems cruel and cold-hearted. But, over time, we discover he’s not inherently bad — just misunderstood. The more Belle (and the audience) gets to know the Beast, the more we recognize there’s more beneath the surface.
When delivering marketing messages for your school, the last thing you want to do is leave anything up to interpretation. When you ensure your message is crystal clear from a prospect’s first interaction, you’re more likely to keep them engaged long-term. In fact, according to our data, 83% of the most successful schools have a clearly defined value proposition.
If you don’t have a well-defined value proposition, start by identifying the top reasons families choose your school. (You can even survey them if you’d like.) Then determine which of those are most unique to your school and weigh most heavily on parents’ decision to enroll. Those are your key advantages and the foundation of your value proposition.
3. Be Open to Change
Transformation is critical to growth. In the movie, we see the Beast transform significantly — not just in the end (spoiler alert) when the curse is broken, , but also throughout his time with Belle as he learns to control his temper and tap into his natural empathy. If he hadn’t made an effort to evolve, he might have remained a beast forever.
Aversion to change is deadly. Refusing to evolve your processes and culture can mean falling behind the competition and losing prospective families to other schools.
There’s always an opportunity for improvement, but if you don’t know yours, consider leveraging a net promoter score (NPS) survey, fielding exit surveys after a family decides to leave, or holding focus groups. This valuable feedback can help you level up, improve enrollment numbers, and reduce turnover.
4. Real Beauty is on the Inside
One of the best lessons we’re supposed to learn from Beauty and the Beast is that you can’t judge a book by its cover — and real magic lives within.
In the past, many schools relied on their picturesque campuses and state-of-the-art facilities to attract new families. But when the pandemic struck, those features were rendered (temporarily) irrelevant. Practically overnight, the entire decision-making process became an online effort, and the schools that communicated their value beyond their campus stood out the most. From websites with clear mission statements and student profiles to virtual campus tours and student social media takeovers, schools have learned the importance of displaying what’s happening beyond their well-manicured lawns and impressive facades.
5. Know When to Say “No”
Despite his tenacity, Gaston failed to win over Belle. She saw through his good looks and quickly realized he wasn’t the best choice for a partner.. She stuck to her values (even when it would have been easier to cast them aside).
As a school leader, you need to ensure everything your school does — from the methods you use to attract families to the verbiage you use in your marketing campaigns — mirrors your mission and values. In other words, just because a competing school is doing something doesn’t mean you need to hop on the bandwagon. Be genuine, and you’ll attract families that are the right fit.
6. Loyalty is Everything
Loyalty is a consistent theme throughout Beauty and the Beast: Belle’s love for her father, the staff’s devotion to their master, and the Beast’s (eventual) admiration for Belle. Furthermore, the characters’ loyalty was reciprocated (and literally life-saving).
What’s the lesson here? Make sure you show appreciation for current families by constantly reaching out, celebrating their continued enrollment with swag, and offering referral prizes.
Additionally, be careful that, in your effort to attract new students, you don’t inadvertently make existing families feel less special. (For example, offering tuition discounts to prospects that weren’t offered to current families.)
7. Persistence is Key
Despite the Beast’s poor behavior, his staff never gave up on him — even when things seemed bleak. The servants’ encouragement is what helped break the curse.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel like your marketing efforts are a waste of time, especially when you don’t see an immediate uptick in engagement. But our data shows 79% of successful schools have at least five touchpoints with prospects before they decide to enroll. So long as you’re personalizing your efforts, working to make authentic connections with families, and always looking for ways to improve, your hard work will pay off.
8. Be Humble and Kind
Belle acted with humility and kindness, even when the Beast tested her patience and she was frustrated with her situation. And when the Beast finally let his guard down, things turned around.
The lesson here isn’t just that it pays to be kind to others, but also that it’s essential to be humble and kind regardless of the outcome. For admissions and enrollment leaders, this means staying away from short-term thinking that could negatively impact long-term relationships. Always think about how your decisions impact prospective and current families. And, even when a family chooses to leave or decides not to enroll in the first place, end on a positive note.
After all, negative comments spread faster than positive word-of-mouth. Plus, you never know when a family may reconsider and reinquire.
9. Surprise and Delight
The most significant turning point in Belle’s relationship with the Beast was when he unexpectedly introduced her to his massive library. The gesture showed the Beast was paying close attention to Belle’s interests and he wanted to do something that would make her happy.
It’s not enough to shower your prospects with messages and gifts — if you want to drive them further down the funnel, you have to personalize those experiences.
For example, if you know a prospective student is interested in basketball, invite them to the next game with a handwritten note from the coach. If you know a student is interested in your theater program, secure their family front-row seats at your next performance or a tour backstage.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Unconventional
Belle’s father, Maurice, was an eccentric inventor, and Belle was a bookish introvert. Both were outcasts in their village, judged for their differences. But, in the end, Belle married a kind and attractive prince, and her father spent the rest of his days living a life of joy and leisure (we assume).
The lesson here is a good one: embrace what makes you unique and don’t be afraid to try something new.
We’ve seen a lot of this ingenuity during the pandemic. For example, instead of skipping their spirit week last year, La Salle College High School brought it online. Students competed in esports tournaments, and the school held a virtual dunk contest for students’ entertainment. In this case, thinking outside the box helped students feel close even when they couldn’t be together.
While there’s no way for us to know exactly what awaits this year, one thing is for sure: the best way to meet your admissions and enrollment goals is by focusing on real, meaningful human connection. With any luck, these lessons will help inspire a few fresh ideas for fostering relationships in the year ahead.
Emily joined the SchoolAdmin team in February 2020, and dove head-first into virtual events, webinars, and the ins and outs of Zoom. She's spent the past 9 years working on trade shows and corporate events and has experience in social media strategy and content creation. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and two 60-pound lap dogs