Making The Grade: How to Measure Your School Marketing Performance
Schools are complicated, challenging organizations to measure—and school marketers have their work cut out for them. Most are held accountable to many different decision-makers, each with multiple, occasionally competing objectives, goals and data points. So it comes as no surprise that, in our 2021 State of Independent School Marketing Survey, 44% of private and independent school marketers said their number one question is “How do I measure the effectiveness of my digital marketing?”
In this article, we offer some tips your school marketing team can use to measure success, understand what’s working and what isn’t, and turn that data into news that school decision makers can use.
WHY IS MEASURING PERFORMANCE SO HARD?
Many (if not most) school marketers struggle to understand how their ads are performing, whether they’re connecting with the right people, and how that performance translates into enrollments—a.k.a. ROI.
If you’re in this boat, don’t worry that you’re “running behind” or have done something wrong. It’s one of the most common issues faced by school marketing teams (and many businesses as well).
Nine times out of ten, this struggle is occurring for one—or both—of two reasons: the data points you’re tracking aren’t directly linked to outcomes that drive your school forward, and/or the technology your school is using has made performance analysis extremely difficult (including SchoolAdmin, Blackbaud, Ravenna, etc.).
As always, building a strong foundation starts with gathering the right data.
Linking Your Data To Outcomes
When asked whether they know what key performance indicators (KPIs) to track, a fifth of survey respondents said they don’t. The good news is, identifying your KPIs is easier than you think: the trick lies in understanding your objectives.
You may know the clicks, visits, and impressions your school’s website receives. But when these data points aren’t tied directly to outcomes that drive your school forward—such as event attendance, inquiries and applicants—you’re left looking at information that’s unrelated to the thing you’re trying to measure. It’s like having every stat in a football game except for the score, and then trying to determine who won.
A solid, workable measurement plan starts by identifying the measurable outcomes that really matter to your school. Only then does it identify the KPIs that directly support those outcomes. Once you’re measuring the right things, you can organize your channels, tactics, and content according to the different roles they play in driving those outcomes.
Once your objectives and KPIs are in place, your next step is finding a clear, actionable way to gather and report on them.
Setting Up A Dashboard That Works For You
Working with industry-specific web platforms can be tricky. On one hand, they offer the unique tools and features that you need to consolidate many of your marketing, admissions and enrollment management functions.
On the other hand, they often make performance tracking difficult, if not impossible.
A good analytics dashboard will make it easy for you to understand how the various parts of your marketing strategy are working together to deliver results. It will show you at-a-glance what’s working, what isn’t, who’s engaging, and opportunities for growth. And it will paint a clear picture of how people are getting to your website, at what points they’re most likely to leave, and what they did while on the site.
Google Analytics is today’s best platform for gathering all of this data, but integrating it with your school’s strategic enrollment management system (SEM) is a highly technical, nuanced undertaking. Each SEM platform has different ways of controlling, sharing and gatekeeping data.
For best results, you’ll either want someone on your team who has proven experience with both Google Analytics and your ERM software, or outsource to a school marketing expert who understands your goals, needs and challenges.
PUTTING THE “VALUE” IN EVALUATION
Friedrich Nietzche once said, “Evaluating is itself the most valuable treasure of all that we have. It is only through evaluation that value exists.”
Gathering accurate and relevant performance data is more than just a formality. By getting the right information in front of the right people (and identifying ways you’ll turn that data into action and results), you’re enabling school decision-makers to make sound strategic choices, demonstrate ROI, justify expenditures, and secure funding. Providing this valuable support can help you turn your board and/or Head of School into an ally for your cause—and research shows that schools with supportive decision-makers are more likely to have larger marketing budgets.
We are pleased to offer the full report on the 2021 NAIS State of Independent School Marketing Survey. To request a free PDF of the full report, click here.