Elementary Programs and Marketing: A Conundrum
Paid marketing channels have been truly amazing for early childhood at Bergamo Montessori School. The ability to find and place mission-appropriate families has enabled Bergamo to scale the school to over 500 students and four locations.
As you can imagine, marketing played a large role in that process. However, it isn’t a magic bullet. In fact, the success that Bergamo saw with Infant, Toddler, and Primary programs didn’t carry through to the same degree when attempting to use the same marketing approaches for Elementary programs.
Digital marketing channels, like Google AdWords and Facebook Ads, and traditional channels, like direct mail, are usually directed toward cold sources. This tends not to be a problem when you’re marketing your Infant and Toddler programs because you’re marketing to families who are starting their educational journey fresh. The same can’t be said for Elementary programs.
Using these same marketing channels for Elementary programs tends to bring in parents who are looking for alternative options. In many cases, that can often signal behavioral issues. Even if that isn’t the case, it is unlikely that the families have a Montessori background. These factors make it much more difficult to find mission-appropriate families for Elementary programs.
We aren’t suggesting that you don’t market your Elementary programs; it is just important to be aware of some of the potential risks and downsides.
Here are some ideas for investing in the long-term success of your Elementary program.
Focus on early childhood
The most obvious solution is to invest heavily in marketing your Infant and Toddler programs. Position yourself to receive families early, then work toward building a strong ascension program. This is the absolute best way to make sure all of your programs remain full and with mission-appropriate families who know, like, and trust you.
While this is a long-term play, it is the most structurally sound. It may not help fill your immediate needs but should still be immediately actionable because of how impactful the residual effects can be. An axiom of marketing has always been that it is many times more expensive to attain a new customer than to work and retain the customers you have.
This is also why it is so important that we work diligently to educate our parents on the importance of Elementary programs. If you’re seeing a lack of retention as children ascend through your programs, it might be a strong signal to invest in building thought leadership in the elementary space.
Remember, we aren’t saying don’t market for Elementary programs. Instead, change your marketing target from “out there” to “in here!” Focus on your existing families and make sure they hear very early and very often about all of the benefits continuity in Montessori education can have.
Build strong partner relationships
Another key strategy that yields strong results for Bergamo is partnering with other Montessori schools that don’t have Elementary programs. These schools can be just as committed to the Montessori model; however, they don’t always have the same resources available when attempting to build a continuity-based narrative.
It’s important to realize the synergistic relationship that can exist, as you’re providing an exceptional value to them as well. The Montessori model is a solution to an immense problem. The longer the line of sight that solution provides, the more compelling it becomes.
By positioning these schools as partners, you’re giving them an additional value-add to offer to their parents during their marketing. They can now highlight you as a partner school for Elementary programs and speak to the value their programs yield in preparing children for elevated Montessori programs.
In addition, these partner schools can now draw upon your pedigree as a Montessori school. You have essentially qualified your partner schools as “approved” conduits to your Elementary programs. That elevated status is excellent social proof that these partner schools can choose to draw upon if they choose.
It can also be a great idea to offer healthy referral fees to these partner schools for any student referral who ultimately enrolls. This partnership can very easily turn into a strong profit center for schools without an Elementary program. They now have the great opportunity to monetize outgoing families, which is a funding source that didn’t exist to them prior to your partnership opportunity.
Market to families moving into town
One conduit that we often miss out on is mission-appropriate families who are moving into town from somewhere else. This is especially applicable for Montessori schools that are positioned in areas of the country that are targets for migration. If these families are coming from a strong Montessori background, they can be perfect fits for later-year programs.
There are a few things you can do to ensure you’re accessible to these prospects. Realize that they’re probably beginning their search for a school well before they move into town. For that reason, it’s exceptionally important that you can be found through an online search and that your visibility isn’t geo-restricted. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Google AdWords
You can run very targeted Google AdWords search campaigns to attract out-of-state traffic. The strategy here is to run a national campaign but only bid on very specific key phrases that very clearly qualify the user’s intent. For instance, Bergamo Schools might bid on “Montessori schools in Sacramento.” If someone in New York conducts that search, they’re a person we want to be in front of!
Remember, this is a speculative campaign and may not work for everyone. It is exceptionally well suited for schools in geographic regions that see a lot of families moving into town. Even then, you might notice that the campaign doesn’t experience a lot of traffic. That’s okay! You’re going after quality, not quantity.
One recommendation I would make is to ensure you aren’t driving this valuable traffic to the homepage of your website. Build a very specific landing page that speaks to your ability to serve Montessori families transitioning from other schools. This is also a good place to put any qualifiers you may have in order to ensure you don’t waste your time or theirs.
- Organic visibility
It isn’t enough to simply rely on paid advertising. Paid ads account for 64.6% of all high commercial intent keyword searches (Source.) Having a “high commercial intent” means the user is ready to engage; when that happens, they are far more likely to click on a paid ad. Sounds great, right?
The issue is that out-of-state families aren’t necessarily ready to engage. In fact, chances are they’re doing heavy research first in order to inform the soon-to-come commercial intent phase. That research is far more likely to result in organic clicks.
This means it is exceptionally important that we can be found online and that our online presence shows us in an incredibly positive light. Here are some tips for doing so:
- Local listing management: Make sure your school has its local listings built out and optimized on all relevant directories. This includes national directories (like Google Places, Yellow Pages, Yelp, etc.) and local directories that are specific to your area. [Third Plane subscribers: You get local listing management through Nido Marketing!]
- Reviews and reputation management: Social proof is one of the most valuable assets you can have online. Aggregate good reviews by building in the prompt to review your school throughout your internal marketing. And make sure to respond to any bad reviews directly to show prospects that you’re proactive and engaged.
- Invest in SEO: If organic visibility is mission critical for your school then we’d recommend investing in search engine optimization (SEO). Please be cognizant of the fact that SEO can be expensive and time-consuming. However, when done correctly, it can also help position your school as one of the first organic search results.
If you want to do a deep dive...
We have found that successful Elementary programs are the byproduct of successful retention and ascension within our current families. As with all things, this is much easier said than done!
However, there are ways to alleviate the workload and (dare I say) even put some of it on autopilot. Intrigued?
You may already be familiar with the term “marketing automation.” This refers to software tools that will allow you to automate certain processes based on predefined criteria.
For example, you might build a sequence of weekly emails that slowly and strategically begin educating your new parents on the importance of continuity in Montessori education. This helps to plant a powerful seed as their children grow and pass through different phases in your school.
The problem, of course, is that this is difficult to do! Remembering to send out these emails is hard enough. Adding the task of segmenting parents by where in the process they happen to fall makes it all but impossible.
This is where marketing automation comes into play. You can build pre-written email sequences, each tailored to a specific “type” of parent according to your understanding of your family base, and then define when parents enter each sequence.
Setting up this type of “nurture” allows you to add new parents to the sequence whenever they join and ensures they’re receiving quality, targeted content from you.
Nido Marketing is building courses, content, and assets on automation that we plan on releasing early 2018. Stay tuned!