Developing a K-12 Education Marketing Strategy
Date posted: February 3, 2021
Choosing the right option for a K-12 school is one of the most important decisions a family can make. The education, environment, and experiences a child has during their formative years can dramatically influence their overall happiness, their outlook and philosophy on life, and the opportunities they can enjoy as an adult.
As a result, recruiting students in this sector can present a unique challenge. Both parents and students will be eager to learn as much about your school as possible, connect with your staff, and engage with your community before making the decision to enroll.
A robust digital marketing strategy can help your school put its best foot forward and reach the audience you want. Keep reading to learn how employ a multichannel, connected, and engaged approach to reaching K-12 prospects.
Setting K-12 Education Marketing Objectives
All of your K-12 education marketing efforts should have specific objectives that contribute towards clear goals. At a very basic level, your school will likely already have enrollment targets that it needs to hit. You can use this as a starting point and work upwards through the funnel to:
– Determine how many applications you need to generate for every enrollment
– Determine how many leads you need to generate for every application
– Determine how much web traffic, ad clicks, or engagement from other channels you need to attract to generate those leads
– Determine what marketing efforts (blogging, email marketing, social media, paid advertising etc.) you will need to put in place to generate that visibility.
Your past marketing results should offer some insight into what kind of numbers you need to generate at each stage. This simple process can help you visualize your enrollment funnel more clearly, as in this simple example:
Keep in mind that you will often be dealing with parents making one inquiry or application on behalf of multiple children, which may complicate your calculations. You may also find that your yield rates at different stages vary at different grades, or are vastly different at elementary level versus high school level. Gathering as much data as possible will help you paint an accurate picture of your school’s targets.
Define Target Personas for Students and Parents
Your target personas will be the cornerstone of your K-12 education marketing strategy. They will help determine everything from what online channels you choose to focus on, to how you target your ad campaigns, and even the tone and style in which you present your marketing content.
Your primary personas will most likely be parents, as they are the ones who will ultimately make the final decision about where their child studies. You should think closely about what they will be looking for in a school, what would attract them, and what might cause them concern, and craft key messages that emphasize your school’s strengths and mitigate against any pain points.
Example: An excerpt from a persona for the parent of an international K-12 student. This parent prioritizes the need for individualized learning for her child. You will also note that she has specific concerns around her child’s language needs, as well as them potentially becoming homesick while boarding.
However, it’s important not to forget the children themselves. Many students, especially older ones, will be involved in deciding on a school with their parents, meaning you will need to present your institution in a way that is appealing to both.
For example, parents may be more focused on academics, while students are more interested in extracurriculars. Having said that, it’s important not to make assumptions and over-generalize. Your student base may well be very academically motivated, while parents may be keen to ensure that their children have a healthy social life and a balance between studies and having fun.
If you are recruiting for a boarding school, both groups may also have specific interests in other aspects of life on campus, such as living arrangements, diet, and the level of supervision and structure of their daily routines (they may also have very different perspectives on these subjects!).
The personas of both your parents and your students may also need to be segmented into different groups depending on various factors. You might find there is a need to create different personas for domestic and international families, for instance, or boarding prospects versus day school students. International families may use education agents to search for schools, too, meaning you will need to keep them in mind as a possible secondary persona.
If your school is a full K-12 and provides education for students through every grade, you will also likely find that parents of younger children have very different needs and wants to parents of teenagers, and vice versa. What’s more, there could be significant differences in the average ages of the parents in these groups, which may mean they use different digital channels and even have different device habits.
Example: Facebook Audience Insights is a fantastic tool for learning about your target audience. Here you can see a breakdown of Facebook users in the United States who are parents of children aged between 6 and 12:
Contrast that with parents of children aged between 13 and 18:
The first thing you will notice is that the majority of the second group are aged between 35 and 54, while 99% of the first group is between 25 and 44. You should also note that the second group is much larger, with a total of 6-7 million users compared to just 3.5-4 million parents of younger children. This may suggest that parents of today’s younger children are less likely to use Facebook, possibly preferring other social networks. At the very least, it shows that Facebook is a less valuable channel if you are looking to increase enrollments at younger grade levels. These kinds of insights can be incredibly valuable when choosing what platforms to target.
Creating Content for a K-12 Audience
Hopefully, your personas should give you a sense of how to shape your content marketing efforts. An effective content strategy will ensure that any blogs, web pages, social media posts, videos, or other content created for your school will offer prospective families information about that is relevant to their unique motivations and concerns. It will work to persuade them that your school is the right choice for their children without being overtly promotional.
Accomplishing this can be a difficult balancing act, but focus on topics your audience are interested in and you won’t go far wrong. Offering practical tips and advice for helping children excel in their studies, settle into the school environment, or take up hobbies and interests outside of school can be a great way to engage parents, while also giving you the chance to subtly showcase what your school offers in these areas.
Example: This blog from Brillantmont International School Lausanne tackles how new students can settle into boarding school. It offers practical advice for parents and students, while also helping to allay one of the most pressing concerns they may have about enrolling.
You might also want to share news about the latest happenings at your school, such as new facilities or programs you are introducing, accounts of recent trips, events, or activities, or anything else that helps them get a sense of your school’s personality, philosophy, and educational approach.
Example: This blog from Kells Academy highlights its students’ experiences in a prestigious math competition.
This content will engage parents who are already interested in your school, and also increase the chances of prospective leads finding you online. However, it’s important not to fall into the trap of focusing your efforts too much on prospective families rather than those already in your school community. Perhaps more so than other groups, parents will remain active and engaged with your school online even after their children are enrolled, constantly seeking updates, guidance, and anything else you can offer.
Doing this will keep your current community satisfied, meaning they will have good things to say about your school, and help build your reputation. Prospective parents will also be pleased to see that they can trust you to continue to be attentive to their needs once their children begin their studies with you.
Optimizing Your School’s Website for SEO
On a more technical level, creating content for your audience on your website will serve to improve your organic rankings in search engines, making it easier for more prospects to find your school online.
Blogs, infographics, and even video can all improve your overall visibility, and you should aim to adopt a regular publishing schedule. It’s also important to optimize your web pages for SEO, integrating strategic keywords into your page title, headings, meta description, and other elements.
Your team should compile a list of target keywords that your audience are likely to search for when researching their child’s education options, and track your rankings for these searches as your content creation plan is put into action.
Example: A sample list of keywords for a high school looking to promote its international baccalaureate program.
If you are recruiting from your immediate area, your digital marketing efforts will likely focus more on local SEO, which can be improved by targeting localized versions of popular keywords, maintaining your Google My Business Listings, creating local-centric content, and including elements such as your NAP (name, address, and phone number) on your web pages.
If your students come from around the world, this can be more challenging. Improving international SEO might involve creating versions of your web pages in different languages, targeting regional search engines like Baidu or Naver, and tracking your keyword rankings in different countries and regions.
The Role of Social Media in K-12 Education Marketing
The great thing about social media marketing for K-12 schools is that you can expect your audience to be very engaged. Both current and prospective parents are going to be eager to keep in touch with your wider school community, learn about the latest happenings, and engage with your staff on social channels.
As a general rule, your social media content should be fairly light and not overtly promotional, acting as a showcase that offers snapshots of life at your school. You should share photos, videos, and stories from events, projects, and even day-to-day snaps from your classroom regularly.
Example: Charterhouse School does a great job of showcasing some of the interesting activities its students engage in on campus.
When posting this content, make an extra effort to encourage your followers to comment and react, or to message you if they have queries or questions. If possible, try to have someone monitor your accounts frequently and ensure your school responds promptly to users.
In terms of what channels you should be targeting, you should look closely at your personas and their online habits. You might find, for instance, that older parents are more likely to engage on Facebook, while slightly younger ones prefer Instagram. This will change over time as your school community evolves, so be sure to keep up to date with the latest trends and in touch with your parents’ preferences.
Using Paid Ads to Recruit K-12 Students
Because most institutions in the sector work with very limited budgets, some K-12 schools baulk at the idea of investing in paid advertising. However, it is possible to get a good return on a relatively small budget when advertising on Google, Facebook, and other digital channels.
In some cases, it is often cheaper than working to grow your organic presence, given the hours your school would need to spend working to produce blogs, optimize your website, and manage your social media presence. Ideally, though, you will do both in tandem, working to build a steady flow of leads through organic marketing in the long-term, and supplementing this with paid advertising campaigns to generate leads over specific periods.
There are a number of possible channels and platforms you could use for paid advertising. Search campaigns, which are predominantly run through Google Ads, can be a great way to capture leads who are actively searching for schools, as campaigns are targeted through relevant keywords. This can be especially helpful if your school doesn’t currently rank highly in some searches you are targeting.
Example: Blyth Academy Lawrence Park runs ads in Google searches for private K-12 schools in Toronto.
Social media advertising offers another interesting option. Ads on social platforms are targeted based on detailed parameters of users’ demographic profiles and interests, making it possible to build an audience that closely matches your target personas. For instance, on Facebook Ads, it is possible to target parents of children of specific ages:
This kind of detailed targeting can make it easier to reach the right audience.
Following Up with Prospects is Crucial in the K-12 Sector
Generating leads for your school online is only half the battle. Once a family makes an inquiry or application, your admissions staff will need to work to connect with them and convince them that your school is the right choice for their children.
Email marketing can be an excellent way for K-12 schools to follow up with these interested prospects. Your school could create ‘drip’ campaigns that send a series of emails to parents or agents after they inquire to gently push them towards enrollment. Of course, it’s important to note that this tactic should act as a supplement to more personalized, individual follow-up from your admissions staff by email, phone, and text. Parents who can see that you are making time for them will be more confident that your school will give their child the care and attention they need.
Even still, you can use digital marketing tools to make this task easier. For instance, a CRM and marketing automation system might allow you to create template emails to answer common queries about your curriculum, accommodations, extracurricular activities, or other areas of interest.
You could also create workflows to trigger reminders to your representatives to manually make contact with parents. This will mitigate the risks of leads being neglected or falling through the cracks after they inquire.
In addition, events – whether virtual or in-person– can also be a great way to connect with prospective families and introduce them to your school. You could host information sessions or open houses that allow both parents and students to explore your programs, courses, extracurricular activities, and more.
Example: John Abbott College hosted a virtual open house recently for prospective students and parents.
Putting in place a robust follow-up strategy using these approaches will ensure that your school makes every potential lead count, increasing your likelihood of seeing a good return on your increased marketing activity.
Managing Your School’s Reputation Online
As we mentioned, parents are a very engaged audience base, and this means they will communicate with one another as well as with your school. As a result, reputation and word-of-mouth can have a drastic impact on your school’s fortunes.
With that in mind, it’s important that your team practice good social listening, paying close attention to what is being said about your school online and doing what you can to cultivate a positive reputation.
From time to time, you should encourage parents to leave reviews on Facebook, Google My Business, and other channels. Good reviews provide ‘social proof’ that your school is everything it claims to be, and will be a nurturing and welcoming environment for children.
Example: Bishop’s College School gets a lot of good reviews on Google. Note that the school takes the time to answer and thank the reviewers.
You should also be prepared to deal with negative reviews. As a general rule, it’s always best to try to respond to negative reviews, addressing any issues raised in a friendly and calm manner. Where possible, try to encourage the reviewer to follow up with you directly via email or private message.
If parents can see you doing this, they will be reassured that you take the concerns of those in your community seriously, and it could actually improve their perception of your institution.
Managing Online Applications for Your School
When trying to improve your school’s online presence, you should focus on every aspect of it, including how you facilitate the final step in the journey for prospects – enrolling students at your school.
For a start, you should make sure it’s possible to apply to your school online, and this means every step in the journey. From completing forms, to uploading school transcripts and other documents, to signatures and payments, modern parents will expect to be able to go through this process entirely digitally. You should also keep the specific needs of your target audience in mind when putting this system in place. For instance, parents may wish to enroll more than one child at your school, and will want to be able easily manage each of these applications at the same time. Robust student application software, like HEM’s Student Application Portal, can help facilitate this.
Another additional feature offered by HEM’s Student Application Portal which might be useful for schools is the Quote Builder tool. Parents might want a clear picture of exactly how much enrolling at your school will cost them, including activities and trips, accommodation, food, books and materials, and any other extras. The Quote Builder allows them to generate customized quotes based on their preferences on your website, giving them an all-inclusive view of what to expect.
Example: HEM’s Quote Builder tool, seen here customized for an English language day camp.
It’s important to note that this blog only scratches the surface of what’s involved in creating comprehensive K-12 education marketing strategies. When approaching each of these channels and aspects of your recruitment efforts, you’ll be faced with multiple considerations about how to cater to your audience, package your school’s messaging, and convince prospects to move towards the next step with you. However, by putting in place some of the solid foundations we’ve outlined here, you’ll ensure that your school is well-placed to build something special.