Fueling the Funnel

Fueling the Funnel

From The Yield, Winter 2013

Since the dawn of the internet, con­sumers have embraced the oppor­tunity to shop products, services, and resources from the comfort and anonymity of their homes. When the consumer ultimately makes first contact with the seller, he/she has determined the value of the prod­uct and is ready to make a purchase. Why would shopping for an inde­pendent school be any different?

The opportunity for admission offic­es to establish first contact is being pushed further into the admission funnel. All admission teams are shifting their strategy to find new families and increasing the inquiry numbers of years past, discovering new prospects, engaging those fam­ilies, and getting an enrollment con­tract signed.

Chip Broadway, Treasurer for the Episcopal Church Schools in the Diocese of Virginia, said that some of the diocese schools faced declin­ing inquiries, but more dire, was that this translated into either mergers or possible closings. “The enrollment numbers at some schools were tell­ing — we knew something had to change,” asserted Broadway. “As a numbers guy, my first thought con­cerned the additional cost associat­ed with new strategies to find these families, whether it was through hiring a marketing firm or some other consultant to help us build our funnel. How would these substan­tial investments and costs affect the schools’ bottom lines? It’s daunting, but also an opportunity for creativ­ity.” Broadway looked at St. Mar­garet’s School in Tappahannock, Virginia as the first school to build a cost-effective solution that integrat­ed other marketing tactics. The team decided to use direct marketing lists to launch several mini-campaigns to inspire students to apply to the girls’ boarding program at St. Margaret’s. The key was becoming comfortable venturing outside St. Margaret’s traditional geographic zones to find qualified leads. The team looked to The Enrollment Management Association’s Admission Search Initia­tive (ASI), which provides The Enrollment Management Association member schools, who require the SSAT for admission, with lists of SSAT test-takers, who had opted to receive more information from member schools, and who indicate their specific interest in boarding schools, day schools, or both.

Broadway had heard of The Enrollment Management Association’s Admission Search Initiative (ASI) and saw the minimal investment as both budget-friendly and low-risk. “Our team took the lists, did an email campaign, then dissected the information the students self-dis­closed in their responses to the email,” explained Broadway. “We then created various landing pag­es linked to our school’s website to draw prospects into the application process according to interests. We utilized another low-cost vendor, Constant Contact, to manage and track multiple campaigns in order to improve our yield with prospects. It was an effort focused on attracting candidates from both new markets, and historically successful regions, using marketing tactics that proved successful in the past. St. Margaret’s yield numbers are up and we were looking at other resources to contin­ue this successful campaign.”

Similar success with ASI was noted at McCallie School in Chattanoo­ga, Tennessee. Dean of Admission, Troy Kemp, utilized ASI to promote school visits and tours. “We know that if we are able to get a family on campus, we’re more than halfway to signing an enrollment contract,” said Kemp. “During a visit, the defining and distinctive qualities of McCallie show better than anything in print or online. The advantage of using the ASI to manage our invitations to come and learn about McCallie is that these families are already seek­ing options for their boys. They are actively pursuing an independent education by sitting for the SSAT. In essence, our use of ASI is like starting a game with a few points on the scoreboard.”

Liz Flaherty, Admission Associate, at the Madeira School in McLean, Vir­ginia, had a similar experience. “With the ASI,” asserted Flaherty, “We are able to code and track our effective­ness better in bringing families from our target regions to campus. Once they are on campus, we feel good about our chances of converting visi­tors into enrolled students.”

Broadway’s reflection on the initia­tive is indicative of the skills and attributes necessary for today’s suc­cessful admission leaders. “Admis­sion directors need to think outside the box. Word-of-mouth marketing and traditional tactics may not pro­vide the number of applicants need­ed. Using a tool like ASI requires a different mindset about admission work, and it changes the focus of a director’s energy towards the man­agement of a process,” he said. “St. Margaret’s goal was to increase ex­ponentially the top of the funnel. Now we see our admission directors procuring, using, and analyzing data. It is much more of a business mind­set, and it has led to meaningful contacts with the prospect pool and higher enrollment.”


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