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Marketing Automation 101 for Schools: What, How & Why
Mia (Major) Charette

The term “marketing automation” is a faint whisper in the background of the school marketing clamour. School marketers are tied up in the trenches of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay-Per-Click Ads (PPC), social media marketing, web design, video, and content creation — just to name a few — with the buzz of “inbound marketing” slowly taking over.

I recently hosted a webinar called “The Inbound Marketing Funnel for Schools,” where I asked attendees to consider one question: Which part of your funnel is broken? Are you having trouble getting new visitors to your website? Are you having trouble converting visitors once you’re there? What does your yield rate look like? And more importantly, retention?

When you’re able to answer this question, you’re able to pinpoint where you need to focus your efforts and use your resources. 

the inbound marketing funnel

For most schools, the cracks in the funnel begin to appear in the “recruit” phase, and get deeper and wider through “convert” and “nurture,” which of course, automatically impacts “enroll” (arguably, the most important phase!) Marketing automation can help prevent right-fit families from slipping through these cracks by keeping them informed and engaged throughout their school-selection process. If you plan on implementing an inbound marketing strategy, marketing automation will be the glue that holds it together.

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What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation allows schools to more effectively market to their multiple audiences on multiple channels by “automating” repetitive tasks. A marketing automation strategy includes both the technology for automation, as well as the plan for executing it. 

When you begin planning your marketing automation strategy, over time you will want to consider the following:

  • What will we automate?
  • Which departments will use this software?
  • Who will our target audience(s) be?
  • How many emails should be in each automated workflow?
  • Who should the emails come from?
  • What content should be in the emails?
  • What is the ultimate goal of each workflow?

How Can Schools Use Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation can help all departments at your school — not just your marketing team. Marketing automation can have a significant impact on your admissions and development teams in particular, who rely on email communications to engage prospective families and donors.

Schools can use marketing automation to automate emails to specific groups to ensure they receive more relevant communications based on where they are in the funnel. Keep in mind that automated emails are not intended to replace other important communications, like newsletters or event invites. Rather, they are intended for smaller audiences with a specific goal in mind.

Let’s take a look at two different use cases.


When someone inquires at your school, communications are often handled manually with the help of an online admissions software like Ravenna or OpenApply. While these platforms can handle some administrative tasks and basic emails, they can’t help you create a sequence of automated emails that keep a prospect engaged up until the point where they apply.

In this case, an automated workflow that consists of 5-6 emails would work well, with the goal of nurturing a family who inquired, to apply. The workflow would consist of content that answers the question, “Why attend your school?” The content may include testimonials, videos, information about financial aid, blogs, etc.The last couple of emails in the workflow might remind them about applicant deadlines and processes. Here is an example of what one of those emails might look like:

Hudson Montessori Email Example

This automation process saves your admissions team the time of manually sending reminders, or helpful content. Keep in mind that similar “nurture” campaigns could be run for someone who downloaded a content offer, or who has applied but hasn’t yet enrolled. 


Development professionals have a tendency to only reach out to alumni when they need something — like volunteer time, a donation, or to ask them to attend an event. It’s the nature of the business. But — what if you could make the nurture process longer, and more effective, without adding more work? Enter marketing automation.

With marketing automation, you could stay in touch with alumni throughout the year by planning a series of emails that promote how giving impacts the school -- before asking them to give. For example, let’s say you want to increase your annual fund donations in the September-December window. Rather than sending a couple of emails between Thanksgiving and Christmas in a hurry to meet your goals, marketing automation allows the campaign to begin earlier in the season. 

In this series, you may consider sending 2-3 emails per month, over the course of those four months. Your initial emails would include inspiring content, such as where funds have gone, and testimonials from other donors, while your last handful of emails would be geared towards the “ask.”

While of course, in theory, this can be done without automation, marketing automation technology allows you to “set it and forget it” — which is perfect, because we all know you have other priorities to get to.

Why Should Schools Invest in Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is proven to save time and increase conversions. Think about it — how much time could you save if you could automatically send a series of emails to a group of inquiries, applicants, parents, or alumni? How much more effective would your communications be? How much more engaged would your audiences be when they received a relevant piece of content at the right time in their journey.

The short answer: a lot. And here are some stats to back up that claim:

  • Marketing automation drives a 14.5% increase in productivity, and a 12.2% decrease in marketing overhead.
  • 75% of marketers say the biggest benefit of automation is saving time. Other benefits include increased engagement (68%), more timely communications (58%) and increased opportunities (58%).
  • Four out of five marketers who use automation see an increase in leads
  • 77% of marketers using automation saw an increase in conversions

For marketing departments of all sizes (especially those in small departments wearing multiple hats), automation provides you an opportunity to engage more people, more often, without adding more staff.

Email Marketing Automation Software for Schools

Do a quick Google search for “marketing automation software” and you’ll quickly find an overwhelming list of expensive options that are geared towards B2B and B2C companies — not schools. (You may also find that scheduling social media posts fall under the category of marketing automation. So, if you’re already doing that, you’re off to a good start!)

Recognizing this need, Finalsite immediately began developing our own automation software. Our development team has been working tirelessly with our in-house automation and inbound experts to develop a marketing automation software just for schools -- the first of its kind. The software will allow you to automate a series of emails to a segment audience, based on enrollment criteria. 

We’re still fine-tuning the details of the software’s spring release, but here’s a teaser to get you excited:

New Finalsite Workflows Tool

Key Takeaway

Marketing automation is a key component of an effective inbound marketing strategy. It is the glue that holds the funnel together, carefully moving individuals from one phase of the funnel to the next.

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Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than five years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting her #LIKEABOSS Podcast for FinalsiteFM, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier, running an army wives meeting at Fort Campbell, or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.

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