Digital advertising is the single most effective way to generate awareness and inquiries from prospective families.
It is most effective when they are part of a larger digital media strategy that:
• Connects with your current families
• Builds an audience of community members and supporters
• Leverages that audience to drive traffic to a 'Landing page'
• Collects contact information from prospective families
The platform you use depends on whether you are targeting families who are passively consuming digital media (social media) or actively looking for a school (search engines). More specifically:
Google ads go after intent, meaning they require a parent to be searching for an alternative school for ads to show up in front of them. This is because ads show up AFTER each google search and are linked to the phrase or keyword being searched in order to be effective.
The benefit of this approach is that families that come through Google ads are usually 'warmer'; they have already decided to look for alternatives and are closer to jumping ship and joining your school.
The drawback is that Google ads work for only a sliver of the total addressable market in your community. Showing ads after a search means that you cannot target parents who may have thought about looking at other options but are not actively looking for other schools yet.
These parents often end up defaulting to the safe choice and re-enrolling their children at their current school.
Furthermore, Google ads don't even come close to touching passive parents who are not searching for schools for one more reason: they provide very limited 'real-estate' linked to each ad.
Since such ads are focused on the active prospect they do not provide space for long copy or even images; they are meant to push active parents towards inquiring with a one or two sentence blurb rather than persuade passive parents to start thinking about an alternative.
Facebook, on the other hand, is geared towards passive parents that are not necessarily looking for alternatives.
Interest-based targeting allows us to show ads to parents that have shown interest in their kids' education. Demographic and behavioral targeting provide even more granular targeting options linked to the age of their children, their income level, purchasing activity and much more. The parent, however, is not shown ads as a function of their search activity. Your ads will randomly show up in their Facebook feed as they are passively browsing their friends' updates.
The huge advantage for Facebook is that you can reach the entire parent population in your catchment area instead of only the subgroup of active parents.
In addition, the Facebook platform lets us use long copy, images, video as well as retargeting (i.e. ads that follow us around if we have engaged with them) giving us the tools to pique passive parents' curiosity and slowly persuade them to check out your school over a series of 8-10 sequential ads (online enrollment funnel reflecting your school's story).
This suddenly puts the entire community into play...
The drawback for Facebook is that to properly make use of its awesome power one has to wield exceptional marketing skills (targeting, retargeting, funnel advertising) as well as phenomenal copywriting and design expertise.
Here is some further food for thought based on the above analysis:
⁍ Even for active parents, Google ads are primarily a seasonal venture. This means that you cannot generate leads all year long, build a predictable enrollment system and balance your enrollment department's workload over the year.
⁍ Google ads cannot be used to promote events as parents will rarely, if ever, search for a 'school Open House'.
⁍ Facebook ads go after the entire community population using several content pieces that will resonate with different segments of the parent audience (academic excellence curriculum, values-based education, small classes, summer camp, extracurriculars, Christian values) but will take time to convince passive parents into inquiring.
⁍ Facebook is an investment not a cost in the sense that even if a parent has seen and engaged with your school's entire story (10+ ads about different themes) but decides not to inquire at the last moment, they are still in play for the following enrollment season. You can go back and retarget them with a follow-up ad at a fraction of the initial advertising cost.
In short, Google ads are super effective for a last-minute enrollment push. They will blanket the parents that are in-the-market for a school within a short period. During this short period, they may generate a couple of fast end-of-year enrollments but will lose their potency thereafter as the addressable parent audience is depleted. You cannot continue generating awareness and building your enrollment pipeline for the following year.
Facebook, on the other hand, requires more expertise and patience but can be relied upon for a long-term enrollment strategy that will continue persuading parents and generating enrollments year-in, year-out.