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Dear [Name], thank you for your interest in Niche Academy…
Once upon a time, this was as “personalized” as we could get in the school marketing world. But friends, today there’s a better way. As you think about your outreach strategies for prospective students and families in 2022 in beyond, more targeted personalization is a must. Today’s consumers are used to having hyper-personalized content served up to them, from interest-based videos on Tik Tok and Instagram to recommendations on Netflix. To meet prospective families’ expectations, stand out from the many education options they have, and align with their experiences with other brands (yes, your institution is a brand!), you’ll have to take things a step further.
At Niche, personalization is baked into the user experience. Parents and guardians searching for schools on Niche can create profiles that allow them to build and compare lists of schools based on their specific preferences and needs. If they don’t know where to start, our K-12 Schools Search Quiz can help them identify schools to research further and add to their lists.
The To-Do List in the parent dashboard can help parents stay on track throughout the search process.
This is where personalization and relevance come together—Niche uses information provided by parents to deliver recommendations based on their preferences in the right place at the right time. But what happens when parents start connecting with the schools on their shortlist? From there, it’s important for you to carry that proverbial torch of personalization through the remainder of the parent and student experience.
Here are some ways you can do just that.
A More Personalized Website Experience
You’ve probably heard that your institution’s website is like its front door—if you can’t capture prospective families’ attention right away, they’ll move on quickly. Personalization can help you capture that attention and it can also make your website “stickier” by keeping visitors’ attention for longer periods of time. The first step here is to be mindful of your target audience, which is an ongoing challenge for K-12 schools. For private schools, that’s prospective families first and foremost. The “job” your website should be designed for is to recruit new students—your school can’t survive or thrive without them. Donors, alumni, and prospective employees should be considered secondary to prospective families, and content for current parents, students, and employees should be reserved for community portals.
Public school districts are challenged with the need to serve a wider range of community constituents with their websites, but that doesn’t mean that content for prospective families should be hard to find. Districts should prioritize creating clear pathways to information so various constituency groups can access relevant information in just a few clicks. In the example below, Richfield Public Schools allows various constituents to access information quickly and intuitively with clear calls to action for enrollment and employment information and a “Find it Fast” option for people who simply want to search for exactly what they need.
Website personalization tactics can also include showing different images to different types of visitors, displaying custom landing pages to segmented audiences, and suggesting relevant content based on how a visitor enters your site and the pages they visit.
The Personalized Digital Viewbook
In our latest PK-12 State of Enrollment and Marketing Survey, it was clear that for private schools, viewbooks aren’t going away any time soon. However, traditional printed viewbooks can be expensive to produce and cumbersome to update. There’s also a bit of legwork involved in personalizing them, which we’ll get to in the next section. That’s where the personalized digital viewbook comes in. While this is a tactic that higher ed institutions have been using for some time, it has yet to gain broad adoption in the K-12 space, which means there’s plenty of room for early adopters.
Picture this: A prospective parent or student visits your school’s website and navigates to the Admissions section. A call to action beckons them to complete a brief questionnaire before they’re taken to a customized digital viewbook with content that’s specific to the interests they shared on the previous pages. Then, voila! Instead of flipping through 25+ pages of generic information, they’re able to view the most relevant content about your school and how they might fit in your community. Sounds pretty good right? It is, and with the right tools, your school can provide prospective families with the kind of viewbook experience used by institutions like Bucknell and Carnegie Mellon.
Getting Personal With Print
While personalized digital viewbooks are a great option for targeting today’s mobile-first consumers, you can also create more customized print materials for prospective students and families. As a start, you can look across the pond for inspiration. Companies like Unify Schools are creating personalized prospectuses for schools in the UK that include student and parent names, personalized imagery, and custom content based on a student’s entry year. Schools can create both print and PDF page-turn versions of a prospectus, and print a prospectus on demand.
If you’re using direct mail, rather than purchasing a list and sending out generic postcards asking families to visit, enroll in, or apply to your school, there’s a more effective way to approach that outreach. Many schools have pulled back from direct mail because it can be expensive, difficult to measure, and tough to tie to enrolled students. But there are ways to solve some of those issues. First, instead of sending mail to a “cold” list of prospects based on (likely outdated) demographic data, we recommend sending direct mail to families who are already in your CRM because of previous engagements with your school. When it’s used in tandem with digital engagement tactics, direct mail can be fairly effective—the key here is relevance, and that’s where the personalization piece comes in. In addition to custom prospectuses or viewbooks, imagine sending postcards to families with content that’s tailored specifically to their needs and interests. That’s the difference between receiving “junk mail” and a piece that feels like it was made just for you—because it was!
So how does all of this work? It’s with a process called variable data printing (VDP), which allows you to use software to create customized print materials at scale. You choose your design and pre-set variables based on your needs, and then the VDP software will “fill in” the variables for each family. Those variables might include names, entry year/grade, location, or programmatic areas of interest. If you don’t have your own VDP software, it’s highly likely that your friendly neighborhood print vendor does, and it’s definitely worth considering as you plan for the next school year. Just make sure your data is clean!
Going Beyond the Merge Field With Email
Now we’ve come full circle back to email and yes, there are ways that you can personalize your emails beyond including a first name in subject lines or salutations (which we still hope you’re doing). Relevance, timeliness, and a human touch are key elements of personalization when it comes to email. In addition to personalizing subject lines and salutations, emails should come from a human being, especially for admissions or enrollment-related communications. At a time when inboxes are increasingly crowded, people are more likely to connect and engage with messages that come from other humans, not “Niche Academy Admissions.” And don’t be afraid to use a friendlier, less formal tone. You’re trying to encourage a conversation, so it’s important to sound like it!
Content and timing should be connected to where a parent, guardian, or student is in the process of comparing and ultimately enrolling in schools, and this is another area where clean data can be very useful. Most CRM or email campaign management systems can personalize things like “From” names, subject lines, and salutations. Similar to the print items we mentioned earlier, you can also further personalize the body content of your emails with custom fields based on the information you have in your CRM system like interests, entry year, grade, or division. More sophisticated email systems allow you to dynamically change images or content offers in your emails to better appeal to different subscriber segments. And finally, don’t forget re-engagement. A re-engagement campaign is exactly what it sounds like: a way to reconnect with families who may not have completed the admissions process or may have been waitlisted but haven’t unsubscribed.
As a start, determine the timeframe for re-engagement and simply ask if they still want to hear from your institution. If the answer is “No,” (or they simply don’t engage with your message) that can help with getting your database up to date. For families to continue to opt-in, you can send updates on events and campus news and bring them back into the fold of the admissions and enrollment process.
Personalization has come a long way in the past few years, and not only do consumers expect it, they demand it. Schools that incorporate more personalization into their communications with prospective students and families will stand out from the pack and earn greater consideration during the school search and comparison process.