Does your private school have a marketing plan? If not, you’re not alone.
For decades, many K-12 independent schools successfully recruited prospective students without devising concrete marketing strategies. It’s more vital than ever to implement a digital or virtual marketing plan and with increasingly more competition, efforts that have yielded strong enrollment and retention numbers in the past are no longer always reliable.
Wavering confidence around next year’s enrollment can make it challenging to plan for the future or ensure a steady flow of revenue for your school, but a thoughtful marketing roadmap can help you stay on track, measure progress and performance, identify which efforts drive the best results, and scale that success.
Today, private school marketing is essential, but it can seem complicated, expensive, and overwhelming — especially for small teams. How can you add yet another round of tasks to your team’s already jam-packed schedule?
The good news is that developing a comprehensive marketing plan for your school doesn’t have to consume all your resources. You just have to take it step-by-step and soon the parts will come together to create an organized, strategic whole. And using specific digital channels, like your school website or social media can help you connect with your target audience like never before.
Here's some helpful advice for getting started and six steps to creating a private school marketing plan that yields results!
You might be thinking: “Marketing is great for big schools with more bandwidth and a larger budget, but my team is already strapped for resources —There’s no way we can invest the time in creating and launching a marketing plan.”
Can a small team afford to have a marketing plan?
The truth is: it needs to. A well-formed marketing plan will alleviate your team’s headaches by rallying everyone in your school around common enrollment goals. Rather than working in silos with disparate strategies, you can formalize the process and ensure every activity ties back to specific, measurable goals.
Yes, it will require some initial setup, but you’ll discover much of what you need to do already aligns with the work you and your team are completing every day— now it just requires more strategy. And by planning your marketing plan well in advance, you can stay on track all year long.
6 Steps to a Successful Private School Marketing Plan
Marketing often gets a bad rap for being tedious, time-intensive, and overly complex. While some marketing practices can be highly technical, our advice is to start small and then build your way up based on need, skill set, and available resources.
Here are the six steps you should take to build a great private school marketing plan:
Step 1: Define your goals
What do you want to accomplish? Before you do anything else, it’s critical you answer this question. Your goals are the foundation of your marketing plan, and you’ll need to ensure they’re airtight. One way to do this is by creating SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goals.
Here’s an example of a SMART goal:
Our goal is to increase enrollment by five percent year-over-year from the next school year to the following school year.
You’ll also need to define your objectives and key results (OKRs).
- Here’s an example of an OKR:
Objective = Receive more inquiries for the 2022/2023 school year
Key Result = Update the website to increase organic traffic to the admission page by 10% (resulting in more potential families)
Determine how you’ll measure your performance, and the metrics you’ll monitor to determine whether efforts are successful or need to be improved.
Step 2: Analyze your situation
Next, you need to identify where you are now by performing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. Strengths and weaknesses are internal and can be controlled and maintained by your school while opportunities and threats are external and come from outside interaction with families, your competition, or the environment in which we all operate, such as the market.
Here’s an example of each:
- Strength: Great reputation in the community
- Weakness: Lackluster online presence
- Opportunity: Parents' preferences while engaging with the school online
- Threat: Other local schools have a more robust online presence
A few more items you need to define before moving to the next step include:
- Target personas of mission-appropriate families for your school
- Existing enrollment software or additional tools you can leverage
- A timeline you have to implement and execute your plan
- The budget you’ll have to work with
Step 3: Define your value proposition
You can’t successfully market your school without clearly defining its values and key value proposition. And it’s close to impossible to talk about a marketing plan without having a messaging component. It will play a huge role in how your school is perceived.
For example, Davis Academy has its value proposition displayed prominently on the school's home page.
Their messaging makes it clear they value self-discovery and students finding their purpose in the larger world. It’s a community where you will be challenged, valued, and heard by teachers. This message gives you a taste of not only the values of the school but also the culture and what a family can expect if their child attends.
Ensuring your messaging is unique and clear can help families understand what sets your school apart, and navigate decisions.
Remember: Your value proposition should resonate with your prospective and current families because it’s emotive and focuses on answering the question, “WIIFM: What’s in it for me?”— in other words: what will a student gain by attending your school?
Step 4: Outline key strategies
It’s a good idea to develop a multi-pronged strategy that addresses a few key channels:
- Social Media
Identify which channels are most popular among your target audience. For example, for younger audiences, the popular platforms for US teens include YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, while Facebook is more popular among adults aged 25 – 44.
Your website should be your online hub — a place where current and prospective students and families can access information about your school, contact your admission office and connect you to your portal.
It’s essential you develop content to address questions and pain points at each phase of the admission and enrollment funnel. Ensure each piece of content includes a call-to-action (i.e., the next step you’d like your audience to take). Additionally, determine how you’ll deliver the content. (e.g., On your blog, via email, at an event, etc.)
Create an email nurture series (automated communication plan) for each goal you identified in step one, with content addressing your target audience’s needs at each stage of the funnel. Make sure you follow email best practices for positive results.
Determine how your events can tie back to your goals, and how you can repurpose content and messaging you’ve created for other elements of your plan. Use other channels (like your social media accounts, website content, and email) to increase event attendance for in-person and virtual events.
- Direct Mail
While direct mail can sometimes be thought of as irrelevant, when done properly it can make a big impact. For example: mailing a perfectly timed welcome package to newly admitted students with an “Instagram-able” item. The Baylor School loves to send out acceptances with the "BaylorBound" hashtag and it works!
Step 5: Launch
Once you’ve created your school marketing plan, it’s time to get started. Launching a new marketing strategy can be nerve-wracking, but remember — you can always improve and tweak your plan along the way. Digital marketing is especially malleable, and you can update content and assets as needed.
Step 6: Reflect and evaluate
After you’ve launched your marketing plan, the next step is to monitor your performance and identify areas of opportunity. For example, you may determine your email click-through rates aren’t as high as expected, which might indicate you need to personalize the content or tailor it more toward your current and prospective families’ needs. If it's working, scale and improve your plan as needed!
There’s no such thing as a perfect private school marketing plan — you should always be refining, optimizing, and experimenting, and it all begins with making a great first impression. By taking the time to sit down and plot out your efforts, and doing what you can with the resources you have, you’ll be much closer to meeting your goals.
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.