We’re inevitably moving into the age of millennial and Gen Z parents, who bring with them a host of new expectations and requirements when it comes to marketing. These modern parents are vastly different from those who came before, and if you want to keep up you’re going to need to pay attention and tailor your marketing efforts toward them.
In Episode Four of The Admissions Club, our experts run you through everything you need to know about marketing to the current, and next generation of parents.
Modern parents expect personalized interactions with your school at every touch point. The challenge is that most of those touchpoints are now online, and as a school marketer you need to know how to position your school in the digital world to help you create long-lasting connections. For your school to remain a good choice for the current and the next generation of parents, you need to be where these parents are.
“I don’t think that schools can afford to rest on their laurels, as this generation is arguably less sentimental about the heritage and legacy of past generations. So it’s important for any school to keep the focus on their brand and marketing.” Anthony McCausland
Now that millennials form the bulk of today’s parents, it follows that they’re the ones enrolling their kids in school. At the same time, it’s important to start future-proofing as the first Gen Z parents slowly enter the scene too, who will undoubtedly bring with them new expectations and challenges.
Millennial and Gen Z parents are always on the lookout for authentic schools. They want a school that aligns with their values, is warm and welcoming and serves their child's particular needs and passions. Millennial and Gen Z parents aren’t just focused on academics, but they’re also looking to see what social and emotional support systems you have set in place for their children.
Modern parents also expect schools to have up-to-date digital processes. These modern parents were among the first to use their phones for information gathering, and they natively use apps, Google, and social media to do their research, and are very well informed before they even decide to connect with your school. Once they do connect, they expect the school to be at the very least digitally competent.
It’s also important to consider that parents’ expectations are shaped by the brands they interact with daily, which includes some big brands (with big budgets) that deliver excellent experiences. So while parents may come to your school thinking about their child’s education, they’re expecting similar excellent experiences as they get with those big brands.
“This quick-fix culture we live in, where products can be delivered overnight with the click of a button means that parents now expect a fast turnaround from schools. Especially quick responses to questions and problems. A school’s delayed response time to any of these things can lead to a negative experience, and a lack of trust in the school partnership.” - Aubrey Bursch
Parents expect to have all of the information about you in order to make their decision. This starts with your website and user experience to make a good first impression. Ensuring that your website and forms are mobile-friendly is key because that’s where most parents (who are constantly on the go) will find you.
Parents don’t want a text-heavy email. They want information that’s accurate, timely, and conveyed on the channels of their choice.
“Communication via technology will be the second most important currency behind what has always been number one: will my kiddo get a good education and be happy?” - Trevor Waddington
In general, the school that can find the right mixture of personalized, human-centric marketing with the right digital-tech approach is going to win the day.
Traditional marketing isn’t easy to measure. If you’ve ever made a bus stop or local newspaper ad, you’ll know they’re great for boosting school awareness, but it can be difficult to say how many new enrollments you get, and what you need to improve.
Traditional school marketing includes:
It’s important to keep in mind that we’re no longer living in an age of paper and print marketing, and you have to use a combination of traditional and digital marketing to really make an impact.
Digital marketing is all online, and the good news is that most schools already have an online presence where they can be reached. Think about your school website, your social media pages, and maybe even Facebook and Google ads if you’re running them.
The great thing about these channels is the ability to measure your marketing efforts with metrics, like the number of website visitors, or views on your social media ads. Because you can measure digital channels, it’s much easier to learn which ones are performing well, and therefore hone in on what you’re doing right (and where you can improve).
Traditional and outdoor print is still effective, but can be quite expensive, and harder to measure success. Look for opportunities where you can bridge the gap. For example, you could turn your digital prospectus into a digital resource, like a PDF or a flip book that can be used across multiple platforms and that can engage different audiences.
“The transition to digital marketing is about taking a traditional concept and delivering it in an innovative way, which can open up new opportunities for richer experiences and new marketing channels.” - Anthony McCausland
“I’ll spare you all the tech jargon and keep it simple. Google is your number one marketing tactic - full stop. Please take that away from all that you get today. A consistent, that’s CONSISTENT in all caps; a consistent umbrella messaging strategy is broken down into segments for the personas that best align with your school’s ethos.” - Trevor Waddington
If your school tries to be all things to all people, your footprint is going to be washed away in the tide. You need to deliver the same message in a way that speaks to the right parent, and nuance that same message so that it appeals to the parents who have diverging priorities.
“Have you ever watched a Nike commercial or animal shelter ad? If you’re like me, you get a little teary-eyed. You walk away inspired to take action. You’re emotionally connecting with the story. And as schools, that’s what we want parents to feel when they’re engaging with our website and online presence. We want them to feel how amazing our school can be for their child.” - Aubrey Bursch
When dealing with prospective families, a good rule of thumb to remember is that people make decisions based on emotion, and then back them up with logic. Let’s say a prospective parent is faced with two potential websites:w
Put yourself into the shoes of the parent, and ask yourself which you’d choose. Most likely it’ll be Website B, which will better capture and hold their attention. The more relevant information, clever interactions, and rich experiences you can deliver online; the better your chance is to connect with families and engage them in a conversation, which may start online but will hopefully lead to an in-person relationship.
Parents also want to scope out the school and do their research way before they fill out any forms on your website (much less show up on campus for a tour or open house). They expect real reviews and testimonials and want to authentically learn about your school. After all, this is the biggest (and most expensive) decision they’ll make for their family, and they need to feel confident in their decision.
“We like to say that parents researching schools go into stealth mode before even contacting you. They’re like top secret agents trying to find out all about your school - the good, the bad, and the ugly.” - Aubrey Bursch
Choosing the right channels starts with identifying your goals and understanding who your target audience is. If your school’s looking to grow enrollment numbers, then paid online ads which are targeted at a specific age and geographic cohort are a smart way to go. On the other hand, if you’re a school that’s well known but struggles to convert inquiries, then it’s a good idea to tailor your content toward your desired persona and make it easy for them to see how your school is different from all the others.
If you’re looking to outsource tasks and roles that you may not have the time or expertise to handle yourself, it’s important to consider your return on investment. In particular, what is the energetic and monetary return your team will see by investing in an outside service?
“For me, when I was an admission and marketing director at a school, I knew that I needed to be investing in digital marketing, but I didn’t have the bandwidth to invest the time I needed to get it right. I’m the type of person that if I’m gonna do something, it’s gonna be done right, gosh darn it!” - Liz Yee
Not everyone has the time to spend on upskilling in multiple different areas, and you may recognize that your strengths lie elsewhere. You may be great at giving tours, conducting parent interviews, training staff, working on retention, or any other area, and it’s here that you want to concentrate your efforts.
“I ended up outsourcing my digital strategy so that I could really focus on the work on campus and get an expert whom I could rely on to help ensure our digital marketing was on point.” - Liz Yee
As the biggest parent cohort, millennial parents (with Gen Z starting to trickle in!), you need to be able to keep up with the changing expectations. By following the guidance of our experts, you’ll be well on your way to catering to the specific needs and requirements of these modern parents and becoming a more attractive school in the process.