What is inbound marketing, and why should my school adopt it? Let’s dive in.
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 most of them fade into the background.
It’s not surprising either why we forget (or just don’t even notice) the overwhelming majority of these ads:
- According to PPC Protect, in 2021, the average person saw approximately 6,000–10,000 ads each day!
- That’s up from the average of 500–1,600 per day in the 1970s.
- It’s even up from the average of 5,000 back in 2007.
Quick: what was the last TV ad or billboard you saw? What did it say? What were they selling?
Yeah. I don’t remember either.
These kinds of messages get sent into the world with the hope they hit the right target. And they’re known in the marketing world as outbound marketing.
For schools, outbound marketing includes:
- Advertisements (like radio ads, billboards, and such)
- Direct mail (like brochures)
- School fairs
This is the strategy schools have used for decades. But times have changed. With the advent of social media, search engines, and mobile devices, advertising is fundamentally different now.
What is Inbound Marketing for Schools?
Inbound marketing is a strategy unique to the modern digital world. The idea behind inbound marketing is to create a digital presence that attracts high-quality online leads to you.
These are the most common forms of inbound marketing for schools and other industries:
- Blog posts (educational, entertaining, and “edutainment” pieces)
- Social media (such as your school’s Facebook page)
- School newsletters
- Web pages with good SEO (tip: create a school FAQ page)
- Video content (including webinars) and podcasts
- White papers, ebooks, and other long-form content pieces
Outside the world of education, many organizations prefer inbound marketing 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 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 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 (like this one), this totally hypothetical marketing professional gets the attention of administrators and demonstrates 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 administrator connects with the hypothetical marketing professional offline has greatly increased.
(By the way, if you want to connect with that hypothetical marketing professional, click here.)
A Case Study in Inbound Marketing
For another example (that’s a bit less self-serving), we can learn about Marcus Sheridan, who owned a pool installation company. This is the basic story:
- 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.
- Sheridan decided to shift all of his ad dollars away from expensive print, radio, and TV into digital marketing. More specifically, he shifted this money into producing content that would answer questions about fiberglass pools.
- From his low in 2009, when he went four weeks of missing payroll, his company expanded and had the top-ranked swimming pool website in the world.
- As a privately held company, they don’t release sales. But it was enough for Sheridan 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. 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 a number of reasons:
- It’s targeted. Unlike traditional marketing where you pay to reach a 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, one where maybe 5% of the listeners are your prospective parents and guardians, 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 polish your marketing messages and make your digital presence even more enticing to families.
How to Craft an Effective School Inbound Marketing Strategy
Just as no two schools are the same, no two schools will have identical inbound marketing strategies.
However, all good inbound marketing strategies are multifaceted and iterative. That’s just fancy marketing-speak for saying it involves 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 1: Spiff Up Your School's Website
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 this article: The 10 Biggest Mistakes Schools Make on Their Websites.
Step 2: Do a School Social Media Tune-Up
We’ve previously discussed how to improve your school’s use of 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 3: Leverage Search Engine Optimization for Your School's Website
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. It’s an art and science unto itself.
A platform like SchoolMint Engage can help you improve your school’s SEO.
Step 4: 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 blogs 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, where families can get an inside look at the goings-on of your school and get to know their future principal.
Step 5: 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.
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.
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