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:

Ten 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.  Five years ago, with the explosion of mobile technologies, that number is up to 13.  Today, it’s even more!  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 recession in 2008, 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.  Five years ago, giving levels had almost returned to pre-recession amounts, but staff size had not increased.  More money and fewer people means more funds for direct service, or, higher wages for workers.

Those type of organizations would be people in faith-based schools.  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, comprise nearly 100% of your school’s parent community.  The first place they go to for information is the Web; the first people they talk to for recommendations are their friends who are 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.  High schools – these parents will be entering your school in force next year!  They’re trickling in right now, but if you lead a high school and you’re not happy with its Web presence, this is the time to get ahead of the curve.

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 today’s it’s not as expensive as you may think it is.  And make sure it is a responsive site – that is, one that looks great on the computer, but, more importantly, one that looks great on a phone or tablet, since designers are now creating sites with a “mobile first” mindset.

Second, you now need a second Web site – not a mobile one as you did a number years ago, but another responsive one that’s specifically for your current parent community.  Back in the day, Web sites used to have two navigation places – one across the top for parents interested in checking out your school, and one down the left side for current parents.  When responsive design began to come into vogue, the left side menu went away, and there were two top menus.  But that became confusing on mobile devices since menus usually aren’t fully displayed on phones and tablets.  Now, there are specific sites created where current parents can access gradebooks, reports, lunch menus or all those other things that you used to send home with students in, as one school used to have, brown envelopes.  Those were the things that always got crunched at the bottom of the backpack, and today, if it’s not accessible on line, then many parents don’t get it.  If you’re not offering parents this type of online experience at your school, parents will infer that you’re not offering the latest technology at your school.  Further, if you’re still invoicing parents from your accounting software 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 $4000 per student, reserve one or two “tuitions” to create a Web site for your school.  If you increase your enrollment by 3 students, 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.  And, since faith-based schools have a higher purpose as its mission, shouldn’t we be giving it our best?

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2018 (Original publication date: 20081124)