When the economy takes a dip, even the most experienced school marketers can feel like they're navigating a minefield. With limited experience and shoestring budgets, it's no wonder that many school pros feel like they're playing a high-stakes guessing game when marketing a private school during a recession.
In early 2023, U.S. economic growth slowed to an annual rate of 1.1%, and paired with higher interest rates and recent banking crises, many are still convinced an economic recession could be right around the corner.
But a recession doesn't have to signal the end of your private school's marketing strategy.
Uncertain times call for creative thinking, and with the right strategy in place, you can still make a splash in the digital realm. If you can adapt your school's advertising budget, it can be a golden opportunity to rethink, retool, and emerge even stronger.
Let’s look at a practical checklist that will help your school navigate uncertain times and reach your target audience more effectively than ever before.
Evaluate your current school marketing budget
- Review current budget allocations: Take a closer look at your existing marketing budget and examine where your funds are being allocated. Determine which channels and tactics are generating the best results and which ones may need to be revised.
- Identify areas for cost-cutting: Identify areas where you may be overspending or not seeing the desired results. Consider using those resources for higher-performing channels.
- Prioritize high-ROI channels: Focus on channels and tactics that have a proven track record of generating high returns on investment. This will help ensure you get the most bang for your marketing buck during a recession.
Update your school’s target audience and messaging
- Reassess the target audience: Understand how the recession may be affecting your target audience's priorities and preferences. Adjust your target audience profiles accordingly to better align with these changes.
- Adjust your messaging to address new concerns and priorities of families. Update your marketing messages to address the shifting concerns and priorities of your target audience, like affordability. Focus on demonstrating empathy and providing solutions to the financial challenges they may be facing during the recession.
- Emphasize the value of your school: During a recession, people are more likely to prioritize affordability and value for money, so lean into your success stories from alumni and students.
Optimize your school's website and landing pages
If your audience is shrinking, it means you'll have fewer visitors to your pages, and that means you'll need a higher conversion rate to be successful.
- Improve user experience and mobile-friendliness: Ensure that your website is easy to navigate, loads quickly, and is optimized for mobile devices. A seamless user experience is crucial for attracting and retaining visitors.
- Use clear calls-to-action and conversion points: Clearly guide visitors toward taking the desired action, such as filling out an inquiry form or registering for an event. Make it easy for users to convert by minimizing distractions and providing a clear path to conversion.
- Optimize on-page SEO elements: Make sure that all on-page SEO elements, such as title tags, meta descriptions, and header tags, are optimized to help search engines understand and rank your content.
- Develop a content strategy to target high-value keywords: Create a content strategy that focuses on targeting high-value keywords and topics relevant to your target audience. This will help attract more organic traffic for your school.
Utilize social media strategically
- Identify the most effective platforms. Determine which social media platforms are most popular among your target audience and focus your efforts on engaging new families on those channels.
- Increase engagement through consistent, value-driven content: Share regular, high-quality content that provides value to your audience and encourages engagement.
- Leverage user-generated content. Showcase authentic experiences and success stories from your students and alumni to build trust and credibility. User-generated content is often more relatable and can have a strong impact on prospective students. Plus, it’s free!
Explore cost-effective advertising options
- Consider lower-cost ad platforms and placements: Experiment with more affordable advertising platforms and ad placements to maximize your school's budget. Research the cost-effectiveness of different platforms to find the best fit for your budget and goals. Twitter is often considered one of the most cost-effective, but are your families using that platform?
- Focus on targeted, local advertising to maximize ad spending: Concentrate on local advertising efforts to reach prospective students in your area. Use location-based targeting to ensure your ads are seen by the right audience.
- Re-market and re-engage families: Re-engage families who have visited your website or inquired, but didn't convert. They're further down the funnel, and this can help encourage them to take action.
Leverage your school’s email marketing
- Segment your email lists to deliver tailored content: Divide your email list into smaller segments based on factors such as interests, location, or enrollment status. This allows you to send more targeted and relevant content, increasing the likelihood of engagement.
- Implement automated email campaigns for lead nurturing and retention: Develop automated email campaigns to nurture leads and retain current students. This can help guide prospective students through the enrollment process and keep current students engaged. Remember, it's always cheaper to keep a student than it is to find a new one!
Strengthen partnerships and collaborations
- Collaborate with local businesses and organizations to increase visibility: Form partnerships with local businesses and organizations to expand your reach and enhance your school's reputation within the community. You can never have too many friends!
- Utilize cross-promotion opportunities with other organizations: Identify opportunities to cross-promote with organizations that share a similar target audience. This can help you reach new prospects and maximize your marketing efforts.
- Stay informed about economic trends and their impact on education: Keep up-to-date with how the market may affect the education sector. This will help you better understand the challenges your families and how you can address them effectively.
- Be prepared to pivot marketing strategies as needed: Remain flexible and be prepared to change your marketing strategies if circumstances change or if new opportunities arise.
- Maintain open communication and stay aligned on goals: Engage in regular communication with stakeholders, such as faculty, staff, and students, to ensure everyone remains aligned on goals and priorities. This will help you maintain a cohesive marketing strategy that supports your school’s goals.
It's never easy to predict the future, but an important aspect of any school marketing strategy is being flexible enough to respond to the need of families. Thinking ahead and having a plan in place for when times are tough can save you from scrambling as you make the most out of your marketing budget.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.