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Marketing Your School to Millennial Parents: Eight Truths You Need to Know
Mia Major

I’m a millennial. And unfortunately, my fellow millennials and I get stereotyped with a laundry list of less-than-ideal qualities, including: laziness, phone-obsessed, narcissistic, poor workers, insincere, immature, materialistic, social-media name it. (Fortunately, I can exclude myself from those stereotypes.) Often, we’re also perceived as much younger than we are, even though this year we’ll be turning ages 21-37 when we celebrate our birthdays this year.

african american mother and daughter in urban setting

That age group means that we fit into two of your school’s important target audiences: young alumni and young parents — which means it is time to drop the stereotypes and focus on the facts. (For the purpose of this blog, we’re focusing on the latter of those two, millennial parents.)

If you’ve found marketing to millennial parents more difficult than any other would be right. Their attention spans are fleeting. Their expectations are sky high. Many of them are broke. And at least one of the stereotypes above it true — they are reliant on their phones, the Internet and the wide community of social media to help them do everything, from locating the nearest coffee shop to researching private schools. 

Marketing to millennial parents is different from marketing to any other generation, and it is essential that you adapt your marketing strategies to effectively reach them where they are. As you build your 2018-2019 marketing plan, here are eight important truths to consider.

Let’s start with some basic demographic facts about marketing to millennial parents.

1. The Pool of Applicants is Much Smaller

In 2018, selling the value of private school education is more important (and more difficult) than ever due to a much smaller applicant pool. 

In 2016, 56% of millennial parents ages 25-35 were childless — which means that even though millennials may be the largest demographic (thanks, Baby Boomers), we’re not adding to the population at the same rate. This means that competition is tighter across the board, as there are literally fewer students to fill your seats.

2. Most Millennial Parents Can’t Afford Private School Education

Millennial households have the highest number of households under the poverty line. And since private school is, in fact, a luxury, this piece of your audience can’t afford private school. For this group, a focus on scholarships and financial aid is key — especially for those who cannot afford a private school education. Because the applicant pool is smaller, you will need to focus on this group more than ever.

Pat Bassett, past president of NAIS, has long counseled adopting an aggressive net tuition revenue posture to fill any empty seats: i.e., filling the last 20 seats at half tuition is much better than not filling any of them at full tuition. 

mom and son high-fiving a teacher at school

Now that we’ve set the baseline as to who you’re talking to, let’s take a look at how that impacts your marketing and communications. 

3. Millennials Use Google for Everything

Because of the prominence of the Internet, smartphones and social media, the way parents research private schools has also changed dramatically. No matter the question, millennials look to the Internet for their answers, because we know we can find it there. (Including an overly dramatic self-diagnosis thanks to WebMD.)

When shopping for a new product or service, 55% of millennials turn to Google first, while only 27% will go directly to a brand’s website. Even more specifically, 46% of millennial moms turn to Google first. This means that rather than searching directly for a brand that carries what they’re looking for — such as Ray Bans for sunglasses — they’ll  do a Google Search for “best aviator sunglasses” or “wayfarer sunglasses.”

The same is true for your school. More than 80% of all online searches begin with an unbranded term  — such as “best preschool in atlanta” — rather than your school’s name directly. 

This means competition is stiffer, and optimizing your school’s website for search terms you want to rank for is absolutely critical to your success. 

4. Millennials Still Rely on Word of Mouth Marketing — But it is Different

Word-of-Mouth Marketing (WOMM) has always been a huge piece of any school’s strategy. For years, many schools relied on WOMM and their own laurels for enrollment and retention. But, social media marketing changed the way WOMM works. 

One in five millennials will turn to others for advice — which of course, seems normal. It is human nature to consult prior to making a decision. But what is unique about millennials is that we use social media networks to get advice twice as often as those older than 37.

So, it is no longer one parent asking another for advice after spin class — it is one parent asking the hundreds (or thousands) on the Internet via their personal social media accounts, or groups they are a member of on Facebook. As a matter-of-fact, one research study showed that 37% of millennials turn to their online networks in a purchasing decision. 

It is at this point where a millennial parent will most likely do a branded Google search of your school’s name, and begin a side-by-side comparison. And that’s when a bunch of other factors come into play — including your website, online reviews, and your social media presence. 

5. Online Ads are a Must for Brand Awareness

While many parents turn to Google or parent networks for research, many millennials will still learn about brands via online ads. Ten percent of millennials become aware of products through online media, which is why the most successful brands use social media ads, search ads, and social influencers to gain brand awareness.

6. Online Reviews are Important Because Millennials See Through Marketing

84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. Rather, they trust authentic interactions and rely heavily on peer reviews.

A recent study out of the UK revealed that 80% of millennials will only make purchasing decisions if the product or service has online reviews, and another survey here in the U.S. revealed that  89% of millennials trust recommendations from friends and family more than claims by the brand. 

7. Millennials’ Brand Loyalty Is Weak

In a recent article, Head of School of Elisabeth Morrow School Aaron C. Cooper referenced the impact brand loyalty has on attrition. 

According to one survey, on average, only 29% of millennial parents have reported being loyal to specific brands, while 35% of Gen X parents had brand loyalty. Millenials lack brand loyalty because of the abundance of choices and readily available comparisons. And in some industries (like travel), millennials are more loyal to competitive price and value than any brand. 

As a school marketer, it is therefore your job to focus on building loyalty for your school’s brand, which means ongoing communications with current families and students is essential.

8. Millennial Parents Prefer Video to Reading

By now, we all know video marketing is key to digital marketing survival. So, as you construct your online ads and digital marketing plans, consider one important fact: millennials consume more digital video and media than the average person, and 35% prefer viewing on YouTube. 

If your school does not have a YouTube account, consider creating one as a second platform for organizing and storing all of your school’s videos.

child engaging on ipad

Key Takeaway: Your Digital Brand Matters, So Step Up Your Game

Your website, social media presence, emails, and communication style all matter. Gone are the days where “having something is better than nothing” when marketing to millennial parents, as they know there are dozens of other places to find the information they’re looking for.

Millennial parents have always had access to, and been exposed to, an immeasurable amount of information, that in most cases, was available right at their fingertips. They focus a critical eye on your photos and videos, on your content on social media, and, of course, on what your current and former families have to say about you.

If you’re currently planning your digital marketing plan for 2018-2019, some key areas of investment include:

  • A new website: If your website is more than 3 years old, a refresh that incorporates modern design trends is key.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Ensuring you end up in those Google searches of moms, dads and students everywhere is essential!
  • Video marketing: Investing in the technology for ongoing video marketing, rather than a one-time video, is likely the better choice for most schools so that your video efforts can be ongoing.

If you’re looking to make investments in any of these areas, contact us today to see how we can help!

click here to download a free ebook titled, %22the ultimate website optimization guide for independent schools%22


Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, inquiries, retention, and donations. 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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