One of the most overused and least understood terms thrown around in marketing these days is “millennials.” Too often, people use millennial to mean “a young person who does something I don’t understand.”
It easy to see why people make this mistake. There was a time several years ago when millennials were the kids who spent all their time on social media and smartphones. Well, guess what? Those millennials grew up.
Millennials are typically defined as being born between 1983 and 1997, meaning today millennials are between 23 and 37 years old. Millennials aren’t the kids these days; millennials are the parents. They’re still using smartphones and social media, but they’re not posting pictures of their brunch of avocado toast or playing Candy Crush anymore. They’re using technology to find the perfect school for their own children.
Millennials also have very specific concerns. Having come of age during the Great Recession of the late 2000s and often burdened with student debt of their own, millennials are having fewer kids than their parents. This means schools everywhere are competing for a shrinking number of students. And if you are a school that charges tuition, you have the additional challenge of competing for millennial parents’ shrinking resources.
However, true to their roots, millennials are still online. The “word of mouth” that used to determine a school’s reputation isn’t happening at Little League practice or backyard barbecues these days. Those discussions have moved to the Internet. In fact, 80% of millennials want to read online reviews to help them form their opinions about everything from restaurants to household products, to, yes, schools.
Why online reviews? Even in the atomized world of online shopping, millennial consumers still want outside input to help them decide which products to buy. When doing their research, the easiest place to find this information is through popular review websites that aggregate the opinions of large numbers of real customers.
For restaurants and most local businesses, the most important review site is Yelp. For travel, it’s Trip Advisor. And for schools, by far the most important site is Niche.
What is Niche?
Niche is a service that allows families to search for local schools, compare those schools, and even apply to those schools in some cases. The service is extremely popular, with over 27 million families researching PK-12 schools on Niche last year.
Why do so many families use Niche? Because Niche lets families research all their local schools in one place. When a family looks up a school on Niche, they can review the school’s profile, see how Niche has “graded” them across a number of different dimensions like academics, culture, and extra-curricular activities as well as get contact information and a link to the school’s website. Most importantly, Niche provides reviews from real parents and students who have experience with that school.
Understanding Your School’s Niche Profile
Similar to our previous discussion about why it is so important for a school to update their Google My Business listing, it’s important for every school to check out their Niche profile and ensure the contact information listed is accurate and up to date. The best way to do this is to go to Niche to access and manage your school’s profile. Make sure that your address is correct, the phone number listed is the best one for prospective parents, and the link to your website is working.
Obviously, you already have all this information on your website, but the fact is that most parents will begin their online research with generic Google searches like “best schools in Cleveland” or “Catholic schools in Detroit.” Even if you’ve worked hard on your school website SEO, it’s almost impossible to outspend and outrank a big tech company like Niche on Google. Sites like Niche will dominate the front page of most “unbranded” searches on Google. This means that it is quite likely that the first time a parent finds out about your school is through your Niche profile, so you better make sure they have your information correct.
You don’t need to purchase a premium profile or any of Niche’s services to make sure that the data provided about your school is accurate and that the reviews of your school reflect the opinions of real people and are appropriate, so there’s no reason not to. It is a simple thing that many schools either do not know to do or don’t care to do, but it can make a big difference.
Is It Worth Paying for Niche to Promote Your School?
One of the hardest things in marketing ensuring that your ad or message is going to the right audience. Therefore, I generally steer schools away from traditional channels like radio and newspaper towards Facebook and digital ads. The ability to target your specific customer, i.e. a woman aged 25 – 45 who lives in your school’s zip code and has children is hard to achieve with radio or a newspaper. Digital ads can get you that. However, what Niche (and other review sites offer you) is the ability to get that person when they are in the midst of shopping for new schools! It does not get more targeted than that!
Niche understands how valuable their users are to schools, so they offer a wide range of paid products that schools can use. To generate interest in your school, Niche can promote your listing in their search as well as promote your school in emails to users. Niche also offers premium profiles that allow you to add special content and functions to your listing like a “From the School” section written by you and direct links for families to apply or schedule a tour. Niche can even ensure that your ad shows up on your competitions’ profile pages.
Every school’s budget is different, so the final decision to advertise on Niche depends on your unique circumstances. However, for a school looking to break through all the noise and be at the top of the parents’ minds when they are making their critical decisions about which schools to visit and apply to, Niche should definitely be something to consider.
Using Niche to Manage Your Digital Marketing Campaign
For schools looking to do more than placing a couple of ads, Niche offers another option which is to manage your entire digital marketing campaign. For schools that have never done a digital marketing campaign before, this may seem like a big step. However, the complexity of doing a digital marketing campaign is exactly why you might consider it.
As I said earlier, the best, most cost-efficient way for you to spend your advertising dollars is through targeted digital marketing. If you already know how to do a digital marketing campaign yourself, great! Go for it. But for those of you (I suspect most of you) who have never purchased a Google Ad or used analytics to track click-throughs, you are probably best off hiring a company to do it for you.
Not surprisingly, there are thousands of companies that offer this service, but this means it’s just that much harder to sort through them to find the ones that do it well, that you can trust, and, most important, that understand the particular challenges of marketing schools. Let’s face it, you don’t want the gang who specializes in making banner ads selling diet pills or sending spam emails offering tips for how to make millions in real estate with NO MONEY DOWN!!! to be in charge of communicating with parents looking for a kindergarten to nurture their precious child.
Niche, on the other hand, has worked in the school market for years. They understand the parents you are trying to reach because these folks are their users, and they know how to target them. For example, Niche can identify families that have looked at your profile or profiles of schools like yours and target them not just on their own website but on social media, on news sites, or almost anywhere else on the web.
Niche will also track the data showing how well your ads are doing so you can see for yourself if your investment is paying off. Over time, you may decide that you’re better off doing your digital marketing yourself, although it’s just as likely that you’ll decide your time is best spent doing what you do best, talking to parents and converting the leads you get from Niche into enrolled families, and leaving the digital marketing to the specialists.
Either way, every school needs to accept that school review sites like Niche are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. And as long as prospective parents are flocking to Niche and other review sites to research schools, these sites need to be part of your student enrollment efforts.