As consumers, we’re constantly being marketed to these days. Both online and off, brands and advertisers compete for our attention, bombarding us with messages and sales pitches. In fact, we are confronted with so many messages that the vast majority of them fade into the background. Quick – what was the last TV ad or billboard you saw? Yeah, I don’t remember either.
These kinds of messages that are sent into the world with the hope that they hit the right target are known in the marketing world as “outbound marketing.” For schools, outbound marketing includes advertisements, brochures, and school fairs – the strategy that every school has been using for decades.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is a modern strategy unique to the digital world. The idea behind inbound marketing is to create a digital presence that attracts high quality online leads to you. Outside of the world of education, inbound marketing is preferred by many organizations because it is targeted, cost-effective, and data-driven.
Inside the world of education, however, inbound marketing is underused and undervalued. While inbound marketing can be a tricky strategy to implement well, it represents is a great opportunity for a school looking to boost enrollment.
How School Inbound Marketing Works
We’re all looking for answers, and the Internet has plenty of ‘em, although let’s face it, most of them are terrible. The purpose of inbound marketing is to provide strong content that gives high-quality answers to people’s questions. Once people realize that you’re a great resource for information on a certain topic, they’re much more inclined to trust you, connect with you, and become a customer (or student, as the case may be.)
Let’s pick an example totally at random to see how inbound marketing can work. Say you’re, I don’t know, a marketing professional who specializes in helping schools boost enrollment. Yeah, that works. Well back in the day, the best way to connect with schools might have been trade fairs, ads, cold calls, word of mouth, and crossed fingers. These strategies can work, but they’re not efficient or cost-effective.
However, in the digital age, I – uh, I mean this hypothetical marketing professional — can use inbound marketing to connect with school administrators who have questions about different strategies to boost their enrollment.
Through blog posts much like this one, this totally hypothetical marketing professional gets the attention of administrators and demonstrates that he’s a great resource to help them answer the precise question they’re asking. Now that the connection has been made, the chances that the administrator connects with the hypothetical marketing professional offline has been greatly increased.
By the way, if you want to connect with that hypothetical marking professional, click here.
For another example that is a little bit less self-serving; we can learn about Marcus Sheridan who owned a pool installation company. In 2009, during the great recession, his company was facing bankruptcy. In times of financial uncertainty, most folks aren’t ready to invest in a swimming pool.
Mr. Sheridan decided to shift all his ad dollars away from expensive print, radio, and TV into digital marketing and more specifically, into producing great content that would answer prospective customer’s questions.
From his low in 2009, when he went 4 weeks of missing payroll, his company quickly grew and became the number one ranked swimming pool website in the world. As a privately held company, they don’t release sales – but it was enough for him to sell a majority interest and he is now a featured speaker on inbound marketing.
You can read more about his story and the impact of inbound marketing in this great NY Times interview.
The Advantages of Inbound Marketing
Creating a well-executed school inbound marketing strategy isn’t easy. Creating content can be time-consuming and is a lot harder than just buying an ad in your local paper’s back to school edition.
Additionally, many schools are steeped in tradition, and getting administrators to change anything, from the traffic pattern of the pickup line to a website, is often met with resistance. However, while it represents a change to the old ways of doing business, inbound marketing is a great opportunity for schools looking to boost enrollment for several different reasons.
- It’s Targeted – Unlike traditional marketing where you’re paying to reach a wide range of people, most of whom have no interest in what you’re selling, inbound marketing exclusively targets families who are actively looking for schools like yours.
- It’s Cost Effective – Instead of paying for a radio campaign where only 5% of the people listening are your prospective parents, Inbound Marketing positions you to the families who are actively looking for a school
- It’s Data-Driven –While it can be hard to tell how many people were impressed by your presentation at a school fair, you’ll know exactly how many people click on each link on your website. A well-executed inbound marketing strategy can use information like this to hone your marketing messages and make your digital presence even more enticing to families who are looking for a school just like yours.
How to Craft an Effective School Inbound Marketing Strategy
Just as no two schools are the same, no two schools will have the exact same inbound marketing strategy. However, all good inbound marketing strategies are multifaceted and iterative, which is just fancy marketing-speak for saying that it involves many different elements that all require maintenance as well as trial and error to be effective. We’ve covered some of these elements in past blog posts, and we’re going to cover several more in the coming weeks. As you develop an inbound marketing strategy of your own, here are important elements to keep in mind:
Step One: Spiff up Your Website
This is a topic we’ve covered several times before. All of your inbound marketing tactics will be sending prospects to your website. A great and engaging piece of content will lose its effectiveness if they come to a poorly designed and confusing website. To learn more about how to optimize your school’s website, you might want to review these articles:
- 3 Best Practices for Building a Strong Website
- Making Your School Website a True Marketing Asset
- Are you Embarrassed by Your School’s Website?
Step Two: Do a Social Media Tune-Up
We’ve previously discussed how school’s use social media in marketing to prospective families. Just like with your website, the goal of your school’s social media presence should be to lead people through the digital front door of your school so you can really wow them once they step inside.
Step Three: Leverage Search Engine Optimization
Whether searching for the perfect school, burrito, or romantic partner, many people these days begin their journey with a simple web search. Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the process of tailoring your digital presence to perform well on web searches, and it’s an art and science unto itself. In our blog post next week, we will cover how schools should be using SEO as part of their inbound marketing strategy.
Step Four: Create and Maintain Engaging Content
Remember, once visitors step through the door, you want them to stick around for a little while. Topical, targeted, and timely blog and social media posts will give digital visitors a sense of who you are and give them a reason to connect with you in the real world. The first (and maybe the easiest) step is to create a principal’s blog. This article on how to create a principal’s blog is one of our most-read posts, so a lot of you are thinking about it. Stop thinking and start creating engaging content today!
Step Five: Convert Online Visitors into Enrolled Students
Now we’re back in the wheelhouse of most school administrators. Whether you get your web visitors to sign up for a school tour, or you just get their email address so you can follow up, you can be confident that the families you’ve found through your inbound marketing strategy are already interested in your school and will be some of your best leads for new students. For some help in your tour or an email nurturing program, these two articles will walk you through some steps.
Making the shift to inbound marketing can be a little scary and uncomfortable. But with our fractured media environment and the stiff competition for a consumer’s attention, it is the best and most cost-effective way to build your school and enroll more students.