In this article, our private school marketing experts offer these eight tips to ensure your open house is as effective as possible in supporting your enrollment efforts.
A well planned and executed open house is one of your best opportunities to attract, educate and convert right-fit families for your school, and shore up your enrollment numbers. Most schools spend $100-$200 per attendee in marketing their open house to right-fit families—and with good reason. If even a quarter of your attendees end up enrolling (which in 2021 is the industry average), it could mean a difference of millions for your bottom line. In the same way, falling short of that target could mean putting your margins at risk.
In this pandemic (and post-pandemic) era, parents are increasingly receptive to the idea of private or independent school education. However, today's education market is highly competitive, and the journey parents take in selecting a school is long and well-researched. Your open house needs to stand out from the crowd and showcase clear, compelling reasons to choose your school.
1. Leverage All Your Channels
No single ad or marketing tactic works in a vacuum. It helps to think of your open house marketing as an ecosystem, with all channels and messaging working together to shepherd audiences down your marketing and admissions funnels. When it comes to converting leads to attend your open house, you should utilize all your available marketing channels to extend your reach and get the right message in front of right-fit families and students, at the right time.
How can you do this for your school? We’re glad you asked. Here are a few best practices to consider.
Get Personal: Make sure you have the infrastructure in place to gather prospect email addresses throughout their customer journey. Then, send a personal invitation to the families in your database (automation is your friend here). A marketing professional can help you with this.
Use Your Network: There may be no stronger tool in your marketing chest than word of mouth. Turn your existing families into brand advocates, by encouraging them to invite their friends personally.
Meet Them Where They Are: A golden rule of marketing is to be present in the places where your audiences are most likely to make decisions. These days, that’s usually online. Dig into your analytics data to understand which social media and other online platforms your audiences are using to make decisions about schools, then find ways to connect with them there. This could mean developing advertisements, Q&As, Live Videos or Events—anything that families can use to learn more about you, sign up for events, and share information with their friends.
2. Make It Easy To Attend
Consider the challenges of a working or busy parent, as well as today’s consumer expectations of convenience and accessibility. Offering a convenient time and day for an open house makes it easy for parents to attend, whatever their schedule. This may require you to host multiple events at various times and formats (in-person, digital) that parents can choose.
3. Take Your Leads Through Micro Conversion Steps
Micro conversions are the small or low-commitment steps a prospect takes on the way to a major conversion event (e.g. submitting an application). Micro conversions could include downloading a viewbook, submitting an email address, or requesting a meeting. These small steps are crucial in allowing you to understand and engage with your lead better as they travel down your conversion funnel.
Consider that the first personal interactions you have with a lead usually don’t happen by chance. They had to click on an ad or a link, or fill in a form to get into your CRM system. Understanding and maximizing the micro conversions that are available at each stage in your customer journey can significantly increase the number of macro conversions, including open house registrations.
4. Leverage Automation
Email automation helps you effectively nurture contacts by staying top-of-mind and providing the right information at key points in the customer journey, so you can turn more leads into thriving student families. Ideally, every open house event you host will have its own automated email workflow.
One of the biggest benefits is that, once it’s set up, your automated email workflow will work 24/7 on your behalf without need for further intervention. You can choose specific criteria to trigger features, such as reminders and thank you emails, at key stages in the customer journey.
Email workflows also nurture leads by following up their interest with helpful information and resources. Once the contact learns more about you—and that they can rely on you for friendly, timely, helpful information—they will be more receptive to the idea of attending or sharing your open house event when you approach them further down the line.
These days, a quality virtual open house is just as important as an in-person event. There are a couple approaches you can take—and ideally, you’d offer both:
Pre-Recorded Virtual Tour: Depending on your budget, you can hire a professional to produce cinematic recorded videos of virtual tours or open houses. Make sure the content and production value reflect the quality your school is known for. A recorded tour has the advantage of giving you total control over what audiences see, and enables them to tour your school whenever it works for them. However, it may not be as immersive and interactive as a live virtual open house.
Live Virtual Open House: A real-time virtual open house via video conferencing platforms or social media offers a personalized and interactive experience that showcases the quality of service and human interaction you offer. You can host multiple virtual events, each focused on a specific program or area of interest (for example, junior school, middle school, and athletics). But remember, when you host a live virtual event, you open the door to potential technical issues, so make sure you troubleshoot ahead of time and provide a high quality, streamlined, user-friendly experience.
6. Stay On-Target
An effective way to create traction for your open house is to ensure a clear area of focus—for your subject matter and your audience. Your school can’t be all things to all people, so start by understanding what your unique strengths are and who these will appeal to. An education marketing expert can help you with this.
Target your advertising based on these findings. This could mean targeting a particular postal/zip code or neighbourhood. Perhaps you host unique open house events for junior, middle and senior school programs, and execute separate mini-campaigns accordingly. This approach will help you increase your ROI by working strategically and efficiently, rather than painting with a broad brush.
7. Optimize Your Landing Page
Your landing page—the final destination for your online marketing tactics—is a critical element of an effective open house campaign. A good landing page will showcase your unique advantage, provide the information right-fit families are looking for, and inspire visitors to take action (inquire, register, apply).
When developing your landing page, you should make sure it’s designed with the customer journey in mind. It should be illuminating and compelling to first-time visitors who are still in the Awareness stage; informative to those who are in the Familiarity and Consideration phases; and provide clear, simple calls to action for those in the Intent and Purchase stages.
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An open house or virtual event may be your best opportunity to convert a family that’s on the fence, so make the experience count. Start by finding out what’s important to your audiences—the people they want to talk to, the information they need, the time, place and media that work for them—then provide that in a seamless experience that reflects your school’s brand, quality and essence. A digital marketing professional can help you do this, and can put the marketing infrastructure in place for future successful campaigns and events.
We help private and independent schools all over North America work more efficiently and execute strategies that deliver positive returns. If you’d like to learn more about how we work and how we can help you, speak to one of our school marketing experts today.