By William Bullard
Part II: Tactical recommendations – best suited for senior admission and communications leaders and their staffs.
As discussed in my first post (published November 10, 2015), strategic enrollment marketing is more important than ever, and the “nurturing” phase, after a prospective student or family has first shown interest, offers tremendous potential. This post will move from the broad and strategic to the tactical – how do you plan and implement a nurture campaign?
In business and higher education, marketing automation systems allow an organization to target communications to a prospect based on that person’s demographics, position, response to emails, web activity, information requests, and survey responses. Typically combining a customer relationship management system (CRM, e.g. Salesforce.com) and sophisticated email system, or an integrated platform like HubSpot, these lead nurturing programs help an organization stay in touch with a prospect cost-effectively, build profiles of their prospects, and qualify them, i.e. determine their propensity for taking the next step in the process, often called “moving down the sales funnel.” In schools, this covers the entire process, from requesting information, visiting, applying to, and then deciding whether to attend your school.
Most schools, especially small ones, do not have the budget for automated marketing systems, and may feel each touch needs to be personal. Every school or business should prefer 100% personal interaction, but it’s often inefficient or infeasible. Can your school support your personal touches with highly targeted e-communications? Read on and you can decide.
Developing Your Process
Whether you have a marketing automation platform or plan to test a manual approach initially, the first step is to determine your audience. In pre-K to 8 schools, the decision-makers will almost surely be the parents, while in high schools, the student is increasingly involved. Next, select several broad but targeted topics that best represent the interests of your potential students. Let’s say you choose athletics, arts, academics, community service/trips, and technology/innovation. To resonate with your prospect, at least two of those require sub-sets; academics or athletics may have several subsets, because an article on math won’t be relevant to a history aficionado. Automated systems can handle these additional requirements easily, while they become more complex for a manual program.
Creating Your Content Streams
Then, create a set of very concise emails for these subjects – two or three sentences and a link to a web page, news item, video, document, or survey. In sum, you will end up sending a personal note to each interested party once a week with news or highlights in each area: “Hi Joey, I hope your fall is going well – take a look at our (great win over our soccer rival/video of our latest play/news about our community service trip).” Do NOT generate much new content for these email touches; instead, use your communications calendar or historical pieces to leverage topics you typically communicate to your parents. You know you have your main community service day on X date, the marquee football game against your rival on Y date, the big musical on Z date. Build these topics into your “content streams” as a natural way to strengthen your connection with the student or family.
Assessing Interest Via Activity Tracking
If you are using a marketing automation system, it’s straightforward to create audiences (often called “personas”), e.g. the baseball players, science students, service advocates, and artists, and then build content streams for your admission cycle. These systems will track the recipient’s interest via email opens, clicks, pages visited on your website, and items downloaded, and this data “scores,” i.e. qualifies, that person’s level of interest. If you do this process manually, it will be difficult to track all the data, but you can still accomplish many of your goals. When you use a basic email system like Constant Contact, you can set up lists once and see the open and click data. You will know if the recipient replies to the sender, which is fairly common once a close relationship is created, and you can also deliver one or two emails requiring action from the prospect, such as registering (just name and email address) for an article on macro trends or school rankings, or completing a brief, fun survey. These activity-based notes or data can be added to an excel spreadsheet or the system where you track prospect information.
There are many variables and nuances in creating an automated and especially a manual lead nurturing system, so surely not every question or issue has been covered here. Of course, there is an incremental time investment to build content streams and create micro-segments, but they need to be seen in a holistic context. How many more enrollments can you get by building a tighter bond with the prospective family? How much more effective and efficient can your admission team be when focusing on the high-potential leads versus calling them all? Only with this strategic level of analysis can you project whether lead nurturing is worth considering for your school.
William Bullard is a strategic marketer who spent the majority of his career in the business world before moving into education. He has been the director of communications at two independent schools in greater Boston as well as a social media consultant for a leading literacy training company. He is especially interested in applying lessons from his early-stage work in direct marketing, the Internet, and digital marketing to schools. William is a strategic partner for Kalix Communications, focusing on digital and data-driven marketing, and is open to expanding his marketing consulting with other school clients.