- Independent Schools
We are already halfway through the academic year, and by now, many schools will have had at least two Open Days under their belt. You have a nice full waiting list, with all your places for next year’s entry taken, right? Well, congratulations! But even if that’s true, then you need to be looking 2,3, even 4 years ahead.
If like many schools, you aren’t quite where you want to be, then it’s not too late to secure admissions for this coming September, whilst filling your admissions funnel for the future. With most parents starting the hunt for their children’s school at least two to three years out (it’s been known for schools to receive enquiries by parents of a five-year-old for senior entry) it’s never too late to start preparing for your next Open Day.
Open Days are often the first opportunity you get to showcase your school to your prospective families; from parents, pupils, educational agents and now very often, grandparents too. I liken Open Days to the first visit to the car showroom; it should give potential customers the opportunity to experience what being at that school should be, letting visitors get under the bonnet to see what makes the school tick, and allowing them to test drive school life, from chatting to pupils and teachers, roaming the grounds to trying out the school canteen!
So how do you ensure you get them to your Open Day in the first place? With many competing schools’ Open Days falling at similar points in the year, and your visitors being time poor, it can be challenging to get them through the door.
Tip 1: Review your Open Day dates
Just because you have always had the same dates every year doesn’t mean you should stick to them. It’s worth reviewing your competition, if you and your competitor school’s Open Days regularly fall at the same time, then you might considering moving them. It may work better for parents, as then you are not forcing them to choose between you, (although if you have a very strong proposition, you could employ the opposite strategy if you are confident that parents will pick your event over your rivals). Look at your data from past events; what are the demographics of the people visiting, how many visitors do you get, and what is the year of entry? Which events result in the most subsequent visits and admissions? Reviewing these may well indicate that, for example, moving your Open Day later in the academic year may be more effective for targeting those earlier in the decision-making process, at a time when many schools have completed their events for the year. Once you’ve finalised your dates make sure you’re using timed page notifications and banners on your website Open Days.
Tip 2: Tell stories
With the independent school market being so saturated with schools, (and worse than that, a section of the market offers a very similar product for free) it is vital that you create something that makes your school stand out. This is where storytelling comes in: you need to create content that will drive your key audiences to sign up. Understanding why parents, pupils and agents choose your school is vital here. These reasons should support the school’s brand (if not, then you should consider refining this), and it should form the foundation of your inbound marketing communications. Engaging content delivers stories and information that drives awareness and results; and isn’t this what all marketers are trying to achieve? Ideally, story-led content shouldn’t contain overt sales messages, as your audience is way too savvy for that, if it does, it's likely to have the devalue what you are trying to say. Take a look at the LEH school website homepage, it provides an excellent example of how you can answer your audiences’ pain points and share school stories. Content should be bespoke, generated to target the needs of each of your target audiences, and customised to ‘push their buttons’, identifying needs that they have, that your school can fulfil. You’d be surprised at the number of opportunities your school website offer to tell these stories, from creating memorable infographics that share your school’s academic results to Head’s and student blogs and video content created by pupils. It doesn’t have to be you doing all the work either, Finasite’s Post’s module makes it quick and easy for multiple contributors to tell your school’s stories. If you’re looking for inspiration the Canford school news page provides a stunning example of how schools are using the Posts module to engage their school community and ensure their news gets the attention it deserves!
Looking to start a school blog? Wondering what to write about? Start here.
Tip 3: Customise your content
Firstly, you need to know who your customers are! If you aren’t sure, then check your admissions database. Review your social platforms and web analytics too; what are the demographics of your followers, and what posts get the most response? Once you have done this, you can create personas for each of these groups. There is an element of intuition/stereotyping required, but spending the time to create personas is far more effective than delivering the same content for every audience.
Once you’ve started creating the bespoke content for each persona, you can also create the event-specific landing pages. These important pages are designed specifically to drive visiting traffic to convert into a lead. They are far more effective and powerful than driving visitors to your home page. Landing pages can be easily created in Finalsite’s CMS, Composer. They should contain a form in which your contacts confirm their attendance at the event, and other data you may wish to capture. Remember: don’t get carried away with asking for too much data here; after all, you don’t want to put them off, and you can always collect more information later. It also goes without saying that you need to ensure you have gathered consent, and are compliant with GDPR regulations
Once your landing pages have been created, don’t forget to create your thank you pages too. This gives them a reassurance that the form has been processed, and of course, it’s polite to say thanks too! Moreover, this is the time you can further information about the event, and I would recommend offering some more content here. Offer a digital download of your prospectus or other relevant content.
Tip 4: Decide on distribution channels
So what channels are you going to use to share all this amazing content? Social Media platforms are great for this and Finalsite's social media integration tool allows you to pull in social media posts from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by account or hashtag. Having a social media mashup on your school website also means that you reap the benefits of organic social media without steering your audience away from your school website to a social media platform. Just make sure the content is delivered in a timely way, with relevant, bespoke content. With Finalsite’s latest Inbound Marketing tools you can also develop workflows to send more information to your attendees before the event, reminders to those of your database who haven’t yet responded, or further updates about the event.
Tip 5: Follow up
You’ve received record numbers and the Open Day was a great success. Wonderful! Now is not the time to rest on your laurels. This is where the work begins to move those leads along the pipeline. Thank you emails should be sent to every attendee. These can be automated using Finalsite’s email workflows tool to save time (it’s even nicer to create bespoke versions if you can, by persona), and they should include personalisation with the attendees and child’s names in if you can. This is also the time to offer more content, whether it’s an invite to an assessment event or details of school sports programmes. Don’t forget to send an email to those unable to attend; you can share highlights of the event, and use the opportunity to invite them the next Open Day. If you are doing this, remember to create a new landing page with an enquiry or registration form ready for them to complete.
Your digital content should also include a follow-up, it brings this Open Day story to a close, sharing highpoints of the day whilst opening the door to them attending the next event (with links to your newly created landing pages, of course!)
Tip 6: Review and assess
The beauty of inbound marketing is the data it can provide. Social posts, blogs and landing pages allow you to test and measure the efficacy of your campaigns, which you can then use to refine and improve future activity. You can see where to concentrate your efforts and answer questions like which target group was most responsive? As well as what channel created most leads and which image on social media created the greatest reaction.
Using Finalsite’s new inbound marketing platform you can also utilise workflows to create lists of your data subjects. These allow you to create even more tailored campaigns, delivering content designed for those potential customers. This could be created for persona groups, or perhaps by interest (music, rugby, dance) or by the event they attended. Once you have created these lists, you can automate workflows to send them particular emails and content depending on their response. It will feel highly personalised to them when in reality, it’s all automated in advance. And of course, you will be able to track their responses, as they move along the admissions pipeline.
Using this data will support your marketing efforts, and help your campaigns deliver content that is engaging and inspiring, allowing your school to make its voice heard within a noisy market. So go on, give it a try!
A highly skilled marketer, Jessica has a wealth of experience gained within the telecoms IT, and healthcare sectors, and has worked within education since 2012. An expert in both traditional and digital marketing, she utilises her extensive marketing knowledge to help companies create strategies and campaigns which make them stand out from the crowd; driving awareness, engagement and sales.
- School Open days
- UK School Admissions