Your Web Site – Or, More Correctly, Sites

This Marketing Matter is actually a “threefer” – three things in one: an experiment on brain researched as promised several weeks ago, a preview of upcoming Marketing Matters, and, of course, sandwiched between, is this week’s offering.

Brain Research Experiment:

Five years ago, it was said that it took nine exposures to a new idea for the brain to begin to be open to a new mindset.  Today, with the explosion of mobile technologies, that number is up to 13.  Here’s an experiment to test that theory, but first you have to be a person that does not care for the smell of skunk (you know, driving at night on a country road in the spring, and suddenly – that smell…).  Rather than wincing, inhale deeply, and say to yourself, with confidence, “I like this smell.”  After the first time, you may think this is a silly experiment, since you’ll still not like the smell.  However, after the fifth time, it won’t seem so bad, after the ninth time, you may actually like the aroma, and at your thirteenth exposure, you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was such an awful scent.

There’s something important about the process.  It’s the same smell – there aren’t different nuances.  You could conduct the same type of experiment with the smell of cooking Brussels sprouts too.  And you need to hear yourself say the words.  If you’re thinking this won’t work, consider that this is the reason why profanity no longer shocks anyone within conversation.  The media have desensitized us to the vulgar, the obscene and the violent.  It’s how doctors return to their work in the emergency room day after day.  On an educational level, it’s exactly how teaching works.  Patterned repetition.

That’s why one billboard isn’t enough; why ten yard signs aren’t enough, and why only one “campaign” consisting of several billboards is not enough. Want to increase enrollment? Then you have to expose the community to your school repeatedly and consistently!

This can be problematic in an environment of economic meltdown and recovery.  At the height of the recent recession, The NonProfit Times reported that contributions were down across the across the country, and staffs were cut about 15%, consisting mainly of communication, development, and human resources people, as well as support services.  Today, giving levels have almost returned to pre-recession amounts, but staffs have not increased.

Those type of organizations would be people like us.  We cut and cut and cut, and end up wearing more and more and more hats.  The problem with that type of mentality is that it contributes to the downward vortex.  Advancement means to move forward – to grow.  And while pruning is sometimes necessary, you have to know what and where to prune…otherwise, the plant dies.  While marketing and development staffs have been pared back, ceasing all marketing will also send a message to the community.  That message?  “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Coming up:

Since Advent begins next week, the Marketing Matters of December 1, 8, 15 and 22 will focus on low-cost ways to market your school.  That’s not to say these are “easy;” they require time and talent, but not a lot of treasure.

And now, this week’s Marketing Matter:

Your school’s Web site needs to be top-notch.  NOW!   If you’ve been putting it off because it’s too expensive to rework it, or it will take too much time, you will not only lose potential students because people think they won’t be able to afford the tuition, or it will take them too much time and energy to find information about your school if you don’t put it at their fingertips.  And not just a good-looking site, either.  It has to be one that communicates the best of your school to your potential parents…and then some.

Just as fundraising has advanced to development which has advanced to, well, advancement, it’s now no longer just enough to have a nice Web site. Companies like FinalSite, SchoolWires, eChalk and eSchoolView build some of the most high-end, great looking sites out there, but they include forms creation, teacher pages, video vaults, and other solutions which schools need to serve this and the next generation of parents.  If you lead an elementary school, this next generation, the Millennials, are NOW ENTERING YOUR SCHOOL.  The first place they go to for information is the Web; the first people they talk to for recommendations are the current parents of your school community.  Your school, if you’re lucky, is the third place they go…if they go there at all after checking out #1 and #2.

But your school needs to cut back, right.  Of course.  Marketing is easiest place to look at to cut spending.  Institutions justify their decision by saying, “Oh, people know enough about us already.”  Can you say that about your school?  If not, then it’s time to INVEST in a Web site…a professionally-made one.  And make sure it is a responsive site, or else you’ll be creating 2 Web sites.  You need one for those folks connected to the Internet at their desktop computer, but you also need one that is readable on mobile devices.  If you’re not offering this type of experience, parents will infer that you’re not offering the latest technology at your school.  Further, if you’re still invoicing parents rather than giving them online payment experiences, you’re short-changing your school’s image.  Further still, if you do not have an online giving mechanism, parents will assume that you have no interest in preparing their children for the future they’re going to be facing.

Where to get the money?  Ask.  Bring it to your development board.  If your tuition is $3000 per student, reserve one or two tuitions to create a Web site for your school.  If you do that for 3 years, and you increase your enrollment by 7 students in 3 years, you will have a positive return on your investment.   Because it’s the first place parents of prospective students look to get information about your school, it needs to be the best it can be.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2013 (Original publication date: 20081124)