Would you ask someone to marry you on the first date?

The answer to this jarring question is certainly no.

Yet, that’s what schools and other organizations just starting out with marketing often try doing.

It’s normal. When you realize how easy it is to get the word out in front of the right parents, a sense of power and exhilaration takes over.

“We’re the best-kept secret in town!”

“Let’s get the word out!”

Yet, this doesn’t work anymore.

There is too much noise online.

Parents and non-parents receive too many solicitations.

If you try simply getting the word out, your digital message will meet the fate of so many offline messages. A digital, unopened envelope, gaining digital dust.

That’s when most schools give up, saying that school marketing doesn’t work.

What we do instead takes a bit more time but provides predictable, consistent results.

We follow a framework that marketers use for most high-impact buying decisions.

We follow the three stages of awareness. Actually, the famous copywriter, Eugene Schwartz describes 5 stages (which we condense into 3 for the sake of simplicity):

  1. Completely Unaware: The parent is not even thinking about other schools. It is an undisputed fact that their child will continue going to their current school.
  2. Problem-Aware: Parents feel some frustration with their current school or at least they start feeling a gap; that something is missing in their child’s education, that they aren’t doing everything they can to prepare their child. However, they don’t know there are other options out there.
  3. Solution-Aware: The parents start noticing other schools. They start considering a potential change. They start educating themselves on what each type of school offers. They don’t really know about you, so they are not yet seriously considering your school.
  4. Product-Aware: The parents know about your school. They are starting to dig deeper, comparing you with other options out there, reflecting on whether your school is the best choice for their child.
  5. Most Aware: The parents are almost convinced that your school is best. They just need a little nudge. They are thinking about tuition, financial assistance, scheduling, transportation, and other practical matters. Here’s how Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers thinks of the stages of awareness:

In “The Car-Buying Process: One Consumer's 900+ Digital Interactions”, Google used it’s clickstream data to map how people research cars nowadays. Google was able to confirm that this is not just theory, it’s how people search and make important decisions for cars, houses, and schools.

Google researchers write: “Auto marketers know that the average research timeline for a new car purchase can span months. Within that time, countless intent-driven micro-moments occur when consumers turn to their devices to answer a question or to address a need.”

Following a specific buyer on Google, they found she went through the stages of awareness and conducted 139 Google searches. If they had access to Facebook and other data, they would have seen the same pattern replicated there.

Here’s a fascinating snapshot from one such interaction during the Solution-Aware stage. While looking at the image below, imagine the same process going on as a parent considers different schools.

We also use Google on some accounts but find that Facebook and Instagram fit best in the school search since we can target people in the Unaware stage (not only when they are already searching) and we have a lot more ad types at our disposal.

Facebook thinks in exactly the same way, so here’s what you see when you start creating an ad in Facebook’s Ad Manager:

Following Facebook’s guidance, we’ve simplified our stages into Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.

When we start our campaigns, we want to create awareness - a buzz - thus, building an audience in the process. We are not going for inquiries right away. Yes, you sometimes get a handful of inquiries in the first month, but we aren’t focused on that. Since it is not a sustainable strategy and the inquiries aren’t that great at this stage, parents haven’t gone through the mental gymnastics each of us needs to go through when making important decisions.

When the reach and impressions increase and engagement starts picking up, we enter the consideration stage. Then, finally, we drive increased inquiries in the decision stage.

This approach dramatically increases our results over time.