“Inbound marketing strategy? Our school doesn’t have time for that!”
Implementing an inbound marketing strategy for your school may feel like a mountain you really don’t want to climb (or even know where to go to start climbing it!). But chances are, your team is already implementing many of the strategies used to fuel an effective inbound marketing strategy. It’s just a matter of organizing and putting it all together.
Not sure where to start?
In this blog, we’ll share how Hebron Academy, a small boarding school in Maine, unified and streamlined their marketing efforts into a powerful inbound marketing strategy for the 2020-21 admissions year with the steady guidance of Tracy Tigchelaar, Lead Consultant for Finalsite Advantage Marketing Services.
We’ve broken their plan into five steps you can follow to implement a strategy for your school:
Step One: Gather Content
At this point, we’re going to make the assumption that your team has gone through the creative process of defining personas. (If you haven’t yet, be sure to head on over to this blog post.)
Content is at the heart of every inbound marketing strategy — good, targeted, and engaging content. Fortunately, most schools are content powerhouses by nature. Hallways (and Zooms) are filled with stories just waiting to be told — be it via a photo, news story, blog, testimonial, feature story — you name it. In addition to these smaller bites of content, many schools also invest in creating printed or online viewbooks, eBooks, and videos.
Before you go creating any new content, you need to inventory your school’s current content.
To review this content, consider the following questions:
- What types of content have we created already? (Think podcasts, videos, testimonials, blogs, news stories, etc. Any piece of content for any medium counts!)
- Who are we creating content for? Think of the specific personas you need to engage — prospective students, prospective parents, alumni, current families, teachers. In addition to personas, consider the stage of the funnel. Families early on in the admissions funnel will need to and want to consume different content than families in the application process.
- Does this content meet the needs of our different personas? You know your families better than anyone, so it’s essential to evaluate content through their lens. Will they find this important? Helpful? Valuable?
- Is this content timely? Much has changed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, so ensuring your content speaks to how things have changed is key.
Once you have your list of content, it’s time to gather it in a spreadsheet — nothing fancy.
Create columns for:
- Content Name/Title
- Content Type
- Content URL (If applicable)
- Funnel Stage
- Date Published (Or to be published)
And then log it. That’s it!
By outlining your content this way, you’ll quickly be able to identify any gaps in your content strategy. For example, you may notice that you are missing content for top-of-the-funnel families. Or hey, maybe you don’t have any content at all. In any case, this consolidated overview of content will help you plan and prioritize which content to create.
Related Reading: Make The Most Of Your School's Marketing With Content Mapping
Step Two: Generate New Content
For Hebron Academy, there was one major gap in content: the lack of a downloadable content offer for prospective students. A content offer is something of value that your school creates in exchange for someone’s personal information. (This is not the same as an inquiry or application form, because in those cases you are simply acquiring information without the promise of providing something in return.)
Content offers are a fundamental component of any inbound marketing strategy, as they give you an opportunity to collect a prospective family’s information before they’re ready to inquiry — and that’s key for filling your funnel. (For more on content offers, read this blog!)
The school had previously created an ebook content offer— "6 Reasons Why it Pays to Pay" — to target prospective parents. To engage the student audience, however, Edwin Nunez, Hebron Academy’s Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, saw the need for bold, new messaging.
“In the past, we’ve tried to be like other, more-traditional and more-established boarding schools in our marketing. But our goal this year was to focus on our strengths. And our strength is not traditional,” said Edwin, “so we embraced the areas in the market that we do well in with a cohesive marketing approach — even if it’s a bit aggressive and unusual for a boarding school.”
With the help of creative design consultancy Creosote Affects, the team came up with the slogan, “We do well. Damn well.” and integrated that messaging into a new downloadable viewbook.
Once the viewbook was created, they used that messaging to refine the content on the rest of their marketing materials — from their website’s homepage, to key landing pages, social media, and emails.
“We made sure everything looked connected,” said Tracy Tigchelaar, “so that if someone visited the website and received the viewbook there was no disconnect between the two. With the change in messaging being so powerful it was important not to end up looking like two different schools.”
Key preparation for new content included:
- New messaging: Use of the word “well” (Be well. Do Well. Well-known. Well-supported. Wellness.)
- New photography: Mainly focused on community, wellness, and outdoor pursuits.
- New activities: Hebron introduced a range of content and interactive online activities/events to drive the student recruitment campaign for the 20-21 admissions season.
- A distribution plan: Edwin and his team worked with Tracy to outline an impactful plan to get these new content offers in front of prospective families to drive inquiries and enrollment. More on this, next!
Once you’ve created your content, it’s all about making sure the content is getting out in front of the right person at the right time.
A key component of Hebron Academy’s inbound marketing strategy was to put the school’s content offers — both their eBook and viewbook — behind a form. This would allow the school to capture basic contact information of families earlier on in their journey, before they’re ready to inquire or apply.
The team also created effective thank-you pages with calls-to-action and resources for visitors to learn more about Hebron right away:
The email that is collected from the content download form is then automatically added to a corresponding mailing list! (More about how Hebron uses the mailing lists in the next section.) Voila!
To get their content in front of a broader audience beyond their website, Hebron built a new integrated inbound marketing campaign that included:
- A revised Pay-Per Click (PPC) campaign centered on driving traffic to newly-created landing pages
- Social media advertising that matched the revised visuals and new messaging
- Clear geographical targeting with on-brand messaging and visuals
- Organic social media posts that matched paid advertising and had connected hashtags
Hebron also added a short form to all of their blog posts, encouraging anyone who reads the blog to sign up for their monthly blog newsletter as another way to collect prospective family information.
The blog, aptly named The Hebron Well, is a key part of Hebron’s long-term content strategy with Finalsite Advantage — the team has twelve months of content planned and 2-3 months of content written in advance to ensure regular posting.
By using Finalsite Forms throughout the website, Edwin’s team ensured that there were various ways for prospective families to express their interest in Hebron Academy — besides the standard inquiry form. (And, of course, provide their contact information.)
Related Reading: How To Set-Up Finalsite Posts For Your School Blog Or News
Step Four: Nurture Leads
Once you've created initial content that gets families in your funnel, your job isn't done. It's important to provide a personalized content experience via email marketing.
There are a few ways Edwin’s team approached email marketing:
- Newsletters by persona
- Automated email workflows
- One-to-one outreach
- Custom Landing Pages and Admissions Experiences
Newsletters by persona
Hebron created a new range of newsletters and bulletins for different audiences using Finalsite Messages. To minimize the amount of work involved, the team uses Messages’s dynamic content function. All blogs and news Posts in Finalsite Posts are tagged and categorized so that they can be pulled into each respective newsletter. Newsletters made easy!
Of course, each newsletter is aligned with visual branding: Hebron Highlights (the version for prospective families), Hebron Insights (the version for educational consultants), Hebron Awaits (for accepted families during May-August), Hebron Connected (for current families), and Hebron Now (for alumni):
Automated email workflows
Hebron created drip campaigns for “cold contacts” and initial inquiries using the Finalsite Workflows module to keep them engaged. This module automates email marketing to save the team time while enhancing email engagement.
With the Finalsite Forms-Workflows Connector, contacts are automatically added to workflows based on form submissions for the eBook and viewbook.
Related Reading: Email Drip Campaign Ideas For Admissions
Use automation, but don’t let it replace personal contact.
The work didn’t stop after students were accepted! Edwin’s team planned an Accepted Students Online Event to take place nine days after the offer letters were sent out. Three days after the offer, students were emailed an invitation to attend the virtual event. All of these efforts helped continue the momentum and excitement of acceptance, improving their yield.
Custom landing pages and admissions experiences
For Hebron, step three (“distributing content”) and step four (“gathering data”) closely overlapped: new social media posts and other small content pieces were often directly created as a result of the data they collected from students while meeting with them.
“A big advantage we have as a small school is to really personalize/target prospective students with (organic) social media content,” said Edwin.“If someone meeting with us mentioned they like snowboarding, we’d add a social media post related to snowboarding the next day.”
To help increase their yield, the Hebron team took personalization to the next level by creating individual landing pages and custom videos for each accepted student. Using Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, the process was seamless — a literal matter of copy-and-paste. Wowza!
“Ninety percent of the content was the same, but that’s not how the students felt!” says Edwin. They saw their name at the top, watched a video from a faculty member talking specifically to them, and immediately felt connected, wanted, and important. For many students, it cemented their decision to choose Hebron.
Step Five: Analyze Metrics and Improve
Throughout your inbound marketing campaign, you’ll want to keep an eye on key metrics for success.
Edwin and his team tracked engagement via:
- Ad cost-per-click for PPC and social media
- Total clicks for PPC and social media ads
- Total ebook and viewviewbook downloads
- Total website traffic
- Total website traffic in comparison to content downloads and conversions
- Email open rates and click-through rates
Hebron also took a look at their overall enrollment, number of applications, and new students enrolled — all of which increased compared to last year.
For your school, the metrics may look different. It’s important to focus on getting your first campaign up and running so that you can set your own benchmarks and build effective reporting from there.
Hebron Academy is a small school known for its personal touch — a touch that could never be replaced by automation alone. With Finalsite’s suite of inbound marketing tools, however, Hebron Academy was able to automate parts of their admissions process to free up the team, enabling them to spend more time dazzling families and providing personalized outreach.
Finalsite Advantage was a key part of their success. Said Edwin, "There was - quite rightly - a lot of work on our side to pull this off, but having an expert who understands what we’re trying to achieve and continues to support us has been invaluable. Tracy doesn’t just come up with new ideas and initiatives, she also ensures we keep our focus and momentum as we implement them together."
Curious what Advantage can do for you school? Meet with a consultant to learn more!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's client marketing specialist, Leah promotes new school websites and content marketing examples from schools around the world. She’s also writer and editor of numerous blog articles and eBooks on best practices for digital marketing, social media, and school web design. Leah found her passion for international education at Arcadia University, where she earned her BA in Global Communications and studied abroad in England, Greece, Vietnam and Australia. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it.