In this article Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia Major, explores one school's journey to change its image and reputation and improve enrolment and retention by recruiting more of the 'right' students.
When I called up Simon Sjogren, Director of Technology at Benedictine College Preparatory in Richmond, Virgina, to discuss their new website I joked, "So what exactly does a kid have to do to get sent to a Catholic, military prep school?"
He laughed, and politely responded, "Nothing — that's the exact stereotype we're striving to overcome with our new website."
I quickly learned that Benedictine College Preparatory (BCP) is much more than a Catholic, military prep school. It's not a punishment to attend the school, but rather, an honor. The school has outstanding faculty, academic programs, athletics, and has produced thousands of successful graduates.
Despite the school's numerous accomplishments, its old website upheld the exact stereotype I brought up within the first few moments of chatting with Simon — hindering their ability to share remarkable stories.
But their new website? Well, it's a total game changer.
The Redesign: A Strategic Vision
"Before redesigning, our website was five years old with lots of old information," said Simon. "It was very military focused. The first thing you saw was an angry general looking at a cadet in emotional pain."
It was an image that said BCP was a military school with discipline first, and everything else second. That's not who BCP was, and surely not how they wanted to come across today.
THUS, THE NEED FOR A NEW WEBSITE COMMENCED, AND THEY APPROACHED THE REDESIGN WITH TWO VERY CLEAR GOALS:
Of course, they hoped the second goal would organically be achieved by obtaining the first. "Right now — we have obvious challenge many schools are facing — we're trying to get our numbers up," said Simon. "We have a lot of competition, and we have a couple of schools that we compete with directly."
In a highly competitive area like Richmond, Virginia, however, its easy to lose your school's mission and values in an attempt to just recruit more families to fill seats. But rather just recruiting anyone, BCP is striving to recruit more of the students that would be the perfect fit.
"With our new website, we're trying to get back to the mission of our school, and take the military aspect that is positive — not negative."
"We're trying to stray away from the image that if you go to a military school then you will be enlisting somewhere after graduating," said Simon.
How a Website Can Change a Brand
What I loved most about chatting with Simon was his passion to promote the school's "product" — which is not just soldiers, but rather structured, successful leaders in any career. And every piece of their website is a strategic decision to communicate this.
"Our mission is about preparing and establishing a proper statute for a young man to develop into someone that is meaningful, and we do that in a structured, organised environment," said Simon.
TO SHARE THIS, THE SCHOOL FOCUSED ON A FEW KEY HOMEPAGE ELEMENTS:
"The video was the first thing we focused on," said Simon.
"We wanted to cover everything about the school, not just focus on one thing – we wanted to highlight the best that BCP has to offer."
BCP's Headmaster, Jesse Grapes, suggested highlighting a diverse group of successful graduates on the homepage to better highlight the variety of alumni accomplishments outside of the military. "We all thought that this was important to portray that our 'products' have gone on to do great things," said Simon.
To further sell their "product," the school went with a neat infographic, that includes both a map of where students attend college, as well as an overview of the school's impressive accolades and stats.
"The infographic really sells our product, so it needs to be on the homepage," said Simon.
Aside from selling the school's product of successful graduates, the school also focused on user experience. Head on over to the homepage, and you'll notice a cool calendar pop-out, calls-to-action to inquire and donate, and a social media mash-up — each of these strategic choices based on page traffic and popularity.
Throughout the website, you'll notice a focus on leadership and outcome, not discipline in military. Pages like A Day in the Life as a Cadet, Formation of a Leader, and Developing Leaders make it clear that BCP has taken its unique story and mission, and turned it into brilliant pieces of marketing throughout their site. This positive re-creation of BCP's brand is something they hope will increase enrolment in the coming school year.