This is Part 1 of our series on creating a Christian School Marketing Plan.
In today’s competitive educational landscape, a strategic marketing plan is essential for Christian K-12 schools. Many schools struggle to maintain a steady stream of right-fit families in their enrollment pipeline, often due to sporadic marketing efforts rather than a well-defined strategy. School leaders face challenges such as limited time, low budgets, and small or non-existent marketing teams, making it even more crucial to have a solid plan in place.
Our goal is not to inundate you with more ideas but to provide a cohesive roadmap to enrollment growth that addresses these challenges head-on. In this blog post, we’ll introduce the Hourglass Optimization Cycle—a simple tool that can help you create and maximize a Christian school marketing plan that achieves lasting results.
The Hourglass Optimization Cycle
1) Identify the target: Defining SMART goals for each phase of the Enrollment Hourglass
A study conducted by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews revealed that participants who wrote down their goals and actions and shared their weekly progress with a friend were 76 percent more successful in achieving those goals. This success rate is 33 percent higher compared to participants who had unwritten goals.
The implication is obvious: Establishing clear and achievable goals is a vital component of any successful Christian school marketing plan. To reach your marketing or enrollment objectives, it’s essential to define these targets using SMART goals — goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Relevant, with Time-bound objectives.
Before diving into goal-setting, it’s important to distinguish between lead and lag metrics. I like the simple way Executive Coach Dave Schoenbeck differentiates between the two, so I’ll quote him directly, “Lag measures [metrics] are what you want to achieve, the thing you want to improve or increase… lead measures [metrics] are the drivers that affect that result one way or another.”
For example, a lead metric might be the number of prospective families visiting your school, which is something you can actively influence through targeted marketing and outreach. A lag metric, on the other hand, would be the number of kids enrolled at your school, which is the desired outcome of attracting more families to visit.
Now, you may be thinking: isn’t “families visiting” a lag metric for earlier marketing efforts? The answer is yes; it can function as both a lead and lag metric. The key takeaway is that it’s easier to identify actionable steps to achieve the specific goal of increasing visits rather than the broader objective of boosting enrollment.
Given that we are more likely to achieve our goals when we concentrate on a smaller number of them, it’s essential for school marketing and admission professionals to determine one lead metric goal per phase of the hourglass. By doing this, you’ll be able to maintain a clear focus on the most impactful activities that drive enrollment growth in your Christian school.
2) Audit your efforts: Reviewing past and current marketing attempts
After you’ve set goals, you’ll probably want to get right to work making things happen. Not so fast! You’ve “made things happen” before, but have you gotten your anticipated results? Taking a pause to reflect on this before rushing forward could save you from wasting valuable resources, including your energy. Remember, you don’t want to make just any thing happen, you want to achieve your specific lead metric goal.
Before you can create an intentional and focused Christian school marketing plan, you must first identify what’s going on, what’s working, and what isn’t. Some obvious marketing winners and losers will become apparent. Make note of those. Others will fall into the “kind of worked” or “should have worked” buckets. Make note of those also.
Every Christian school should be tracking the impact of its marketing efforts. Two useful tools to help with this process are Google Analytics and a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Google Analytics allows you to monitor website traffic and user behavior, while a CRM helps you manage and analyze the school’s interactions with prospective and current families.
If you haven’t set up Google Analytics or a CRM yet, it’s a good idea to do so as soon as possible. These tools provide invaluable insights into the performance of your marketing strategies and help you make data-driven decisions to enhance your Christian school marketing plan.
If you’re not using these tools yet, don’t worry! You can still start by reviewing whatever metrics you have, even if you’re just using a simple spreadsheet to track data. The key is to begin evaluating your marketing efforts and using that information to refine your approach, ensuring that you’re continually optimizing your strategies to reach more families more effectively.
3) Design a plan: Creating a customized marketing strategy
Once you’ve assessed your current situation and analyzed the impact of your past marketing efforts, it’s time to design a tailored Christian school marketing plan. Don’t worry – we’ll guide you through the process step by step later on. For now, let’s take a high-level, 30,000-foot view of the process.
When designing a plan, you’ll want to consider:
- Your school’s mission
- Best practices and emerging trends in school marketing and admissions
- What your competition is doing (so you can emulate or differentiate)
- What has worked for your school in the past
- An openness to new ways of reaching and engaging right-fit families
A common challenge in designing a plan is knowing what marketing activities matter now, what matters most, and what hardly matters at all. Without clarity on these questions, you may find yourself engaging in “random acts of marketing” that look more like driving fast circles in a roundabout than following a strategic roadmap to reach your destination.
To avoid this, we recommend placing every marketing idea on an “Impact/Importance” matrix. This matrix helps you categorize and prioritize your marketing efforts, focusing on quick wins and high-impact initiatives. Just as importantly, you’ll know (hopefully based on data) what time- and money-draining efforts can be shelved for now (or for good).
4) Optimize systematically: Getting more done by doing less
Most Christian schools have a marketing department of one. And that “one” wears multiple hats and juggles various responsibilities in a tireless effort to continually fill and refill the enrollment pipeline with right-fit families.
If that describes you, you probably know that merely having a marketing plan isn’t enough. In fact, you’ve probably created a marketing plan at some point, only to see those lofty aspirations crumble when faced with the harsh realities of “too much to do, too little time.”
Step 4 of the Hourglass Optimization Cycle addresses this challenge by narrowing the focus, enabling you to get more done by doing less. In the last step, you identified the relative impact and importance of each marketing effort. Now it’s time to act on those observations. By concentrating on the most impactful strategies and prioritizing high-leverage opportunities, you can create a Christian school marketing plan that makes the best use of your limited time and resources.
In practice, here’s what this looks like:
- Review the Impact/Importance matrix to identify the highest-priority marketing initiatives.
- Break down these initiatives into manageable tasks and set realistic deadlines.
- Use the Eisenhower Box to determine what tasks you must Do, Decide, Delegate, or Delete.
- Don’t take on or assign more tasks than can reasonably be accomplished concurrently.
- Celebrate your successes, both big and small, to maintain motivation and momentum.
This approach to getting things done isn’t new or revolutionary. You might call it Productivity 101. However, it can be hard to actually stick to this without accountability. That’s where an enrollment marketing coach can be helpful.
5) Review the results: Analyzing and learning from marketing efforts
I don’t know who said it first, but I love the quote: “I’ve been repeating the same mistakes so long that I may as well call them traditions.”
Raise your hand if you can relate.
Analyzing and reviewing the results of your marketing efforts is the only way to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
Think back to your last Open House:
If you can’t readily access these statistics, it’s challenging to determine what’s working or broken about your enrollment funnel. If you can access this data, do something with it! Use that information to inform the way you conduct the next Open House.
This example illustrates the broader idea that data should play a major role in determining which marketing efforts to pursue, improve, or drop. By continually reviewing the results of your marketing strategies, you’ll gain invaluable insights into their effectiveness and be better equipped to make data-driven decisions.
As you analyze the outcomes of your marketing efforts, consider these steps:
- Compare the results against your SMART goal and ask what contributed to hitting or missing that goal.
- Identify trends or patterns that may indicate areas for improvement or opportunities for growth.
- Adjust your marketing plan as needed, focusing on strategies that yield the best results.
- Document your findings and learnings to ensure that your future marketing efforts are informed by past experiences.
By regularly reviewing and learning from your marketing efforts, you’ll be able to refine and optimize your Christian school marketing plan, ensuring continued growth in enrollment and long-term success for your school.