Devising a new digital marketing plan for your school? Putting pen to paper can be daunting, so we’ve put together a simple, five-step plan to get you started.

If your school doesn't have a marketing plan, you’re not alone. A recent study by Smart Insights showed that 45% of organizations surveyed don’t have one either. Unfortunately, this means you are running the risk of your marketing team losing direction and optimizing for their own (arbitrary) objectives. Without a clearly defined strategy, it’s difficult to pull together and work towards a common goal. A marketing plan gives teams the structure they need to achieve some amazing results for your school.

But first, what's a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is a written strategy for how your marketing team will act to achieve your school’s objectives. It’s highly strategic and includes objectives and metrics and the steps that you will take to achieve your goals. 

It doesn’t have to be long — in fact, we recommend keeping it short, sharp, and to the point. A well-written marketing plan has enough detail to give your team direction, but not so much that anyone who tries to read it gets bored halfway through. This guide will set out the 4 steps you need to follow to create a digital marketing plan that gets your whole team on board.

Step 1: Define your school's marketing objectives

Before you start writing, it’s important that you know what your school is looking to achieve. Your marketing objectives are usually drawn from your school’s business plan and will help to give you some direction and ensure you are working in sync with your wider school team. Business plans are usually annual, whereas a marketing plan will likely cover a shorter period of time (e.g. a quarter or 6 months) so that your team can measure and make improvements more frequently. 

Here are some common marketing objectives you’ll encounter.

Increasing brand awareness

This objective looks at increasing the number of prospective families within your area that is aware of your school. It’s the first step in the admissions customer journey, and therefore an important factor in attracting families to your school. You’ll usually find this objective in business plans for schools that need exposure, such as schools that are smaller or new. 

Supporting enrollment efforts

This is usually top of mind for all schools, however, it may be more of a focus for your team if there is a concern that you won’t meet your enrollments targets in a given year. By working with admissions teams, marketing managers and coordinators can play a large role in driving prospective parents to apply by nurturing parents through the enrollment funnel.

Ongoing brand management

Even if you are a leading school in your area, it’s important that you remain top of prospective parents’ minds — particularly when they are considering schools for their children to attend. Do you ever wonder why market leaders (think McDonalds or Nike) continue to advertise? They want to remind customers of the benefits of purchasing from them and ensure their brand awareness doesn’t fade.

Improving communication with parents

Every school recognizes that engaging parents in their child’s education is a big step forward in improving students’ attendance, behavior, and achievement. Even if your school has refined your communication channels with parents, there is always room for improvement.

Step 2: List your marketing initiatives

Now that you’ve established your objectives, it’s time to start putting together your plan. This step is where you’ll write down the activities you are planning to undertake in order to achieve these objectives. In this step, it’s helpful to think about the actions that users need to take in order to achieve your objectives. Then, work backward and ensure that you’ve made it as simple as possible for them to take this action.

For example, if your objective is driving more enrollments, you might determine that you want more parents to complete their enrollment online rather than completing a document and mailing it in. Once you’ve decided this, you can check whether: 

  • your website is ready for your digital marketing activity
  • the online enrollment process on your website easy to access
  • parents are aware that you offer online enrollments
  • your online ads lead parents to a clear and effective enrollment landing page.

If there are any obstacles on parents’ path to online enrollment, you can then include them in your marketing initiatives. 

Step 3: Pick your marketing channels

Now comes the challenging part. Think about the digital channels that you can use to drive traffic to the part of your website through which they need to complete your desired action. Will a Google Ads campaign for a certain search term be successful in driving your form completions? Will a Facebook Ad push users toward online enrollments? Will email marketing increase your audience’s awareness of your school?

Remember, you don't have to choose just one channel. Instead, we recommend developing a multi-channel outreach strategy that combines a host of channels to deliver a seamless and consistent experience for your customers.

Ensure that you are choosing channels that:

  • fit within your budget
  • support your marketing objective
  • your target audience uses regularly
  • you can use to reach your target audience. 

Not sure where to start? Inbound marketing is a methodology where you engage customers through company-created content, such as your blog, social media, informational documents, and more. Ultimately these channels will draw leads to the business naturally, rather than you pushing your messages under their nose.

Step 4: Set your key performance indicators (KPIs)

Once you’ve established where you are going, it’s time to figure out how you will track your progress in meeting your objectives. Your key performance indicators (or KPIs for short) are metrics that help you measure how your marketing initiatives are performing. 

Many objectives have natural KPIs. If your objective is to meet admissions targets, then your KPIs would likely be related to the number of enrollment applications you receive. If you are looking to improve parent communication, your KPIs would be measuring the adoption of new communication channels — for example, downloads and usage of a parent communication app.

Sometimes it’s tricky to determine the best KPIs for your objective. It’s hard to quantify brand awareness as the real ‘measure’ exists in your customers’ minds. In cases like this, you will need to get creative to see whether your efforts are accomplishing meaningful outcomes for your school. Can you attribute related metrics (such as increases in website traffic and improved conversion rates) to your marketing activities? Can you survey parents in your area? It’s important that you ensure you can measure your marketing initiatives so that you are ready to...

Step 5: Refine, measure, and improve

As you iron out the final details of your strategy, consider any minor details that will be important to include, such as timing, creative and tone of voice. The timing for your campaign might have a huge impact on its success: will your strategy fall during the school term, school holidays, or right before enrollment deadlines? Your creative and tone of voice are also crucial to ensuring that your school’s brand is represented consistently.

If it’s a new campaign and you’re unsure of how it will perform, set up tests. A/B testing is a great way to test different aspects of your digital campaign to understand what is working best. A/B testing means running two versions of an ad, a web page, or an email in unison in order to understand which resonates better with your target audience.

Finally, use reporting to know what to change next time. One of the advantages of digital marketing is the amount of custom reporting that is available. Use the data from your digital marketing campaign to understand what aspects of your marketing plan were successful, and those that could use improvement. 

Published December 8 2020