Those who know me wouldn’t hold back to say that I tend to lose my patience quickly with people who are full of hot air (working in LA for 3 years was a very difficult time for me). As such, while clients enjoy The poliARC Experience, other people who can be described as those who “…do marketing…” tend to get annoyed by my constant “Where’s the beef?” attitude about marketing plans. This is particularly true for vocational school marketing plans where the paramount rule should be: if there isn’t a specific point in the path to capture a lead, don’t do it!
If someone makes lots of promises and sounds impressive, but offers nothing more than buzz words to back up their claims: run away! Quickly. You’ll thank me later. Schools need to focus on what works... and once you’re making $10M+ in annual revenue, then you can afford to flirt with spending money on viral marketing and PR campaigns to enhance broader branding efforts.
My approach to advertising vocational schools online is basically the same as how I deal with buzz-word-only “marketing” people: don’t waste my, or my clients’ time unless it directly converts. Advertising for vocational schools has one goal: capturing leads. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Advertising gets you leads, Admissions are the masters of converting those leads to students, and Marketing is the management umbrella that coordinates the two to increase efficiency.
PR and social media marketing for vocational schools can be fun and keep your staff busy when there isn’t much to do around the office, but for over 15 years now, viral, social, and PR campaigns have only proved one thing: they do not get a school more students. That’s not to say you ought never exercise such tactics as part of a broader marketing plan, but if anyone ever tells you, “Post more stuff on facebook and you’ll get more leads” then they’re fibbing to you. Why? Cost of tuition.
… and don’t even get me started about how wrong people are when they say “We’re targeting people who don’t know they want to attend your school yet.” That’s a 1980′s skinny tie mentality that sounded cool as a pitch to clients before Google was invented and the general public was able to research everything under the sun by themselves. Moreover, it’s wholly bogus if your tuition is more than the average used car: 99% of people do not make point-of-purchase decisions when the cost is in the thousands.
The pre-knowledge of products before you get a chance to speak with the potential costomer is directly proportional to price-point… so don’t waste your time trying to convince people who don’t even know they want to extend their education yet — target the people who already know what they want to do, but don’t know which school to attend yet. That’s the target where you’ll get the biggest bang for your advertising buck. It’s like buying a car: people know they want a car first, then they research which one to buy. That’s the way high price point purchasing works.
ONLINE ADVERTISING FOR VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS
Remember rule one: all roads should lead to capturing the lead. This requires all people involved to be very deliberate about process. It’s not like putting an ad in a magazine and waiting by the phone, you have to have a plan and a decision path for every online marketing campaign you run. If you are going to be paying anywhere from $20 to $50 for each lead, then you want to be 100% certain that once you get a lead, that you are ready to be smart about converting the lead into an enrolled student.
This means spending your ad dollars on trackable methods. If “marketing people” offer you some ideas, first thing you should ask: “How do we track this?” If they can’t answer, don’t do it. Tracking requires a combination of the right online ad placements coupled with technology on your end to understand from where the lead originated.
Sometimes this is easy. For career schools, there are a lot of pay per lead companies out there who own hundreds of web sites and charge schools for each lead, so yo know exactly from where they came. The quality of these leads has gone down over the last few years, but if you get on their case whenever you get a bad lead (i.e. you are clear about 18+ years old, but you keep getting 14-year old inquiries), then you can generally get your money’s worth. Track these leads through a good CRM through a couple enrollment cycles, and then you have a cost per lead, cost per application, and cost per enrollment for that single referral source.
The best online advertising for vocational schools continues to be a very well managed AdWords campaign (the Bing demographic is too old). Why? Because the best possible lead a barber school in Los Angeles can get is a person who went to their web browser and typed in a search box, “barber schools in Los Angeles.” The person knows what they want, they just don’t know how to get it, and that is where vocational schools (and their highly trained Admissions team) come into play. These are all pay per click advertising methods, and with a few months of optimization good managers should be able to get the cost per lead to under the CPL that most companies who deliver leads like mentioned above.
Another note on SEM: don’t blindly trust what the “optimization team” that works for Google say you should do. They’re wonderful people. but that doesn’t mean they have an intuition about every product ever made – not all things are math. If you spend enough money you’ll get calls, and a “crack team” of people who work for Google and know AdWords inside and out will make all new campaigns for you. I’ve seen this 5 times now… and every time what they did won worse results what what we did internally at the school. Why? Because schools understand their students, people who work at Google do not. They don’t know the nuances of your industry, either, which means that you are much better qualified to create negative keyword lists to weed out poorly qualified leads. There are many technical things with which they can help, but never accept that they know your product nor your students better than you.
Other keys to SEM: good landing pages and remember to track them through to enrollment. You MUST know the cost per enrollment for every search engine marketing campaign you run.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING FOR SHORT COURSES WITH LOWER PRICE POINTS
While I think pure social media marketing (posting, sharing, etc.) is a waste of time when it comes to admissions and quick enrollment pushes, advertising on social media can get you some traction… as long as you are not counting on those inquiries to turn into students within one enrollment cycle. Social media advertising for high-priced schools will get some leads, but they rarely convert. SMM ads are OK, however, for capturing soft leads early on in the decision process. It’s your job, then, to keep them in your database and engaged: invite them to events: open house, free seminars, etc. You can also use those sorts of leads to build a general awareness base for your more expensive courses. If you also offer short courses that only cost a couple hundred dollars each, then social media leads can actually convert to students for those short courses.
That’s it. You really don’t need more to get a decent value out of your marketing dollars online: advertise online for expensive courses where people are searching for them, and for short courses on social media and websites with applicable content. Never forget to take the cost of tuition of your programs into consideration. Always remember: 99.9% of people don’t buy cars on a whim, so it follows that they’re not going to sign up for a $20k educational program and commit a year’s-worth of their lives to to go school simply because they like how savvy you can be with 140 characters and a hash tag. For expensive education, the required commitment level is too high for likes, shares, and re-tweets.
If “people who do marketing” tell you they can convince a 20-year old to spend $20,000 on a career school by getting them to like your facebook page… run away. Be smart and be deliberate with your lead capture tactics. Never hope, you are the one who controls the sales funnel online, so plan out every step.
Be where your prospective students are searching, and don’t waste your own time trying to lasso the moon. Get good leads where you know they are, and have the best Admissions team on the planet to get them to enroll. Keep it simple and you can be very successful… bling and buzz tarnish very, very quickly.