For anyone working to advance a school (whether you’re a registrar, a school marketer, a teacher, or even a technology provider), you have a very unique challenge to face over the next few years, but also a great opportunity. There are currently three generations of parents that need to be reached, and if you want to succeed you have to be really smart to be able to connect with their wants and needs. 

First, you need to pay attention to how each generation accesses information. Gen X, Y, and Z will all look for information in a completely different way. For example, Gen Z looks for everything online, and if your website doesn’t have the info they’re after, they’d almost have to reach a state of desperation to call you.

You also have to look at each generation’s perception of marketing material. Gen X tends to appreciate stock photography or photos of awards or academic achievements, while millennials want to be sold ‘the dream’ (think catchy brand slogans and images of happy students receiving a holistic education). Gen Z, on the other hand, will see straight through the marketing gloss. They want authentic, almost raw views into what the product or service they’re investing in will be like. As a result, they respond better to marketing that speaks to intelligence, rather than emotion.

That brings us to the next point: each generation’s expectation of technology. Gen X is tech savvy and happy when technology makes their life easier. Millennials and Gen Z have much higher expectations; they don’t want, but expect technology as part of their buying experience. Every aspect of their lives is run on an app, from banking to grocery shopping, booking travel to dating and relationship advice. So think about your own enrolment application - is it user friendly?

Your admissions journey vs your lead pipeline

Your admissions journey is not the same as your lead pipeline. For those of you who might not have a lead pipeline set up for your school, it’s effectively a funnel, and within that funnel you’ll have progressive steps for a family to move through to reach enrolment. 

One of the first steps for a family might be to send an enquiry form or email to your school so they can receive more information. After this they might attend an open day, fill out an application, sit down for an interview, and finally receive an acceptance letter. 

It’s important to remember that your lead pipeline represents the actual administrative steps you need in your sales process, while your admissions journey is much wider, and is really all about the touchpoints you do or don’t control that leads to a student wanting to attend your school.  

When trying to optimise your buying process for families, there’s a handy thought experiment you can use to figure out their buying behaviour. Imagine a family sitting down at a kitchen table to discuss the pros and cons of enrolling at your school, and try to determine what specific points they’ll bring up. Put yourself in their shoes, and analyse your school’s community, facilities, sports programs, academic programs, and anything else that would be relevant. By determining what it is they’re looking for, you can use your school marketing to help them find it. This is the place where your digital and traditional marketing channels come together for discussion at the table.  

Your admissions journey

When it comes to your admissions journey, it’s helpful to picture it as a flywheel, a concept made famous for business by Jim Collins, who used it to explain how businesses can go from good to great by paying attention to every touch point with the customer. 

We can adapt the flywheel to the admissions process, where each step of the flywheel has a specific goal. As we work our way through the steps, let’s use an imaginary family to make it easier. 

Mary‘s looking for a new school, her parents have recently taken up new jobs in Brisbane. Mary will be heading to kindergarten next year, and her parents are currently looking at neighbourhoods, browsing different schools, and weighing up their overall options. Let’s take a closer look at the steps involved:

1. Awareness

When it comes to finding schools, millennial parents use smartphones to search (using Google, Facebook groups, etc). The millennial family will also visit the neighbourhood, where they might meet with local friends or see bus stop ads and other school related signage. As a school, your goal is to get on the family’s shortlist, so it’s crucial to let them find you in an online search, where they can click through to your website and potentially fill out an enquiry form. When trying to make it easy for families to find you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who exactly is performing the search?
  • What is important to them (your keywords give a great indication of this)?
  • What information do they need at this point?  
  • What action do you want them to take?

Instead of just having parents land on the homepage of your website; when they come in from Google, you can build a specific campaign page for the main Google search terms in the family’s area. 

If a parent searches for ‘schools with strong community Brisbane’ for example, the page they see and enter won’t be your school’s home page, but rather a campaign page on your website that positions the school as the top choice for the local community. This immediately sets your school apart from others who are trying to cover three or four different USPs and landing families on their homepages.

Because this approach is more tailored to what your audience is searching for, you’re more likely to convert families and produce enquiries on this page. It’s a clever way to integrate them into your lead nurturing campaigns. It’s important to place a strong call to action on these pages, so families can make contact via an enquiry form or a download, rather than a telephone number.

2. Consideration

Once you’ve made it onto a family’s shortlist, the goal is to start making that emotional connection and nudging them to attend one of your open days. 

Think of the family around the kitchen table, and ask these questions:

  • What do each of the people around the table care about? Keep in mind it might be different for each of them (Mum might be wondering what the community is like, Dad if Mary will fit in or what it’s going to cost, Mary if the music program is good, etc.).
  • What information do they need to make the next decision?
  • What emotional connection do you need to create here?
  • What technology are they using at this point?

You need to make sure when Mary’s family sits around the kitchen table that they’ve had a few highly personalised emails designed to build the foundations of your relationship. It’s important to realise that the family is likely moving from a mobile phone to a tablet or laptop for this conversation, so it’s likely they’ll respond positively to video at this point.

But the physical moment is also coming up. It's a good idea to provide something that can be reached for on the table, for the family to flick through. This is where your prospectus (or if you’re really smart) some form of physical branded item comes in. We’ve seen schools send a piece of their uniform, or even a little teddy bear dressed in the school uniform to families. Your ultimate goal here is to make it clear that you want Mary and her family to come to one of your open days, where you can continue to build that relationship.

3. Events

So your plan worked, and Mary’s family has registered for your open day. Here’s your moment to shine! 

Likely, there’ll be two kitchen table moments when it comes to open days; a bit of a checklist before the actual open day, and a deep dive after. We’re seeing more and more children making their own checklist, but it’s important to connect with every member of the family, and events are a crucial part of this. You have to make sure your parents are convinced, but also that Mary has the best day ever!  

Although they’ve chosen to come to your open day for a reason, there’s still a lot of potential uncertainty for the family. Will they fit in? Will they be able to afford the fees (if they don’t know what those are yet)? How will your school help them transition after their interstate move?

The biggest question for you here is how do you make the open day as tailored to Mary and her family as possible?

Let’s say Mary’s parents landed on your campaign page and your community stood out, and now you’re on their shortlist for open day after you sent them personalised emails designed to display your community and parent network. Now they’re at your open day, and you have the opportunity to show off your school and it’s community! You can get to work creating a deeper emotional connection with the family. A great example is using your student ambassadors to promote your culture, but there are plenty of potential tactics you can use. 

As mentioned before, there’s likely to be two kitchen table moments when it comes to events. The most important is probably the deep dive conversation, which you have after a family has attended a few open days. It’s important that you stay fresh in their minds, even if this conversation happens a few weeks after your open day. 

This is where your follow up is crucial, and really needs to stand out. Families are likely to have questions that come up on their drive home - “Aaah, I should've asked that!” type of questions. One way to make sure your follow up is spot on is by automating some of the messages after an open day. 

Imagine Mary’s family gets a personalised email the week after with a thank you message and an invitation to an online ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) session a few days later. An online AMA is a great way to host a mix of your admissions and other staff members on a drop-in conference call, where families are welcome to join and ask a question and either stay or head off again. As a little bonus, the questions from these AMA sessions are great feedback for you and your team, and you can make sure this information is available at your next open day. 

Lastly, Mary and her family are likely to be looking at reviews or referrals. The kitchen table moment here is likely to happen around a laptop again, so video is a great way to add social proof as families prepare to apply. It’s hard to overestimate the value of high-quality video, and you should definitely look into it for your school.

4. Application

You’ve convinced your family, and they’re applying! That’s great news, just remember - paperforms are out, electronic forms are in. If you take one thing away, it’s to look at your application process and see if it still includes paper forms. Save a tree and take it online, please!

Remember to make it easy; many parents struggle to actually write. Think about the last time you used a pen for a considerable amount of time. By going digital, you’re helping not just your families, but also yourself. 

On the emotional side, take a moment to think about how big of a day it is for families once that application goes in. There’s the anticipation, the realisation that your child is getting older, and a dream in there too for most parents. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Who’s filling out the form?
  • What emotions are they experiencing?
  • What’s your follow up plan?
  • For larger schools: how can you scale your follow up responses?

If there’s a long gap between applying and knowing the outcome, how do you keep your families engaged on scale? You need to make families feel valued throughout the process of application. It could be as simple as clear and transparent ‘what to expect’ follow up emails. You also have all the information you need to send birthday wishes; or in Mary’s family’s case, invite them to community market or day at your school or include them in your newsletters.

5. Welcome

Before they know it, Mary’s been accepted, what a joy! However, prepare yourself for a host of questions from her parents, and remember to keep them engaged and make them feel part of your community. Cognitive dissonance can set in very quickly after the emotional high being admitted fades. Ask yourself:

  • How will the family celebrate?
  • When’s the best time to let them know?

Now’s a great opportunity to use welcome gifts and packs, so you can let everyone in the family feel welcome. It’s an anxious time for the whole family, so gestures like this can go a long way.  Welcome emails can also go a long way when they celebrate the new enrolment, or even invite the new family to an event, or show next steps to take the anxiety away.

You can also follow up with a phone call, anote from a student ambassador, merchandise, or any other tactic that can help to improve your relationship and make them feel more comfortable.

Wrapping up

By optimising your admissions journey to work with your particular target audience, you’re allowing yourself to streamline the entire process and find the best students for your school. Schools need to pay close attention to the specific steps of their admissions process, and remember to take into account the generational differences and expectations of parents.

Published 10 June 2022