Marketing for Strategic Growth – Thoughts from GCSLS

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On January 30 to February 1, I attended the Global Christian School Leadership Summit in San Antonio, Texas. CACE was one of the sponsors of the event that drew over 1100 attendees from all over the world. If you were not able to attend the summit you can gain access to some of the content by registering for the GCSLS eSummit.

I am thankful to have been a moderator for a session titled “Marketing for Strategic Growth.” Marketing experts accompanying me on stage included Kimberly Ellefsen (Valley Christian School in San Jose, CA), Rudi Gesch (Eastern Christian School in Haledon, NJ), Debbie Johnson (Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, TX) and Andy Lynch (North Star Marketing).

Our goals for the session were to engage in conversation on how to best maximize marketing dollars for strategic growth as well as have a discussion on what has been effective in the past and what future opportunities are available for school leaders. We saved a good amount of time for questions for the panel as attendees could text message questions that they wanted to ask during the session. I was amazed at the number of questions that started to come as we went through the conversation.

We touched on a lot of relevant topics, including traditional advertising versus digital, how to track and measure the marketing initiatives, ways to maximize resources with limited budgets and how much focus should be given to marketing current school families. Personally, I feel the two most important ideas discussed were about understanding your audience(s) and how to develop formal and informal influence with school leadership in order to achieve the results necessary for strategic growth.

Understanding your Audience(s):

To most effectively market your school or specific program, it is incredibly important to know the audience you are trying to influence. This includes more than understanding who they are but what they value, their interests, buying behaviors, motivations, fears and ultimately where they can be found. Some of the panelists discussed creating personas to help the school better communicate to prospective parents and students. Personas can be helpful as it is a representation of a potential customer. Once we understand who our audience is, and create personas, we can better target them in where we place our campaigns and what message we communicate. This will help increase our effectiveness and maximize our marketing investment.

Develop Influence:

As marketers or enrollment professionals, it is essential for us to gain influence with the Head of School and the Board. Confidence has to be earned by them before a significant investment of dollars is made. To best do this, the panel was unanimous in saying we must know the data and be the experts on our school’s campus on marketing to prospective families. Using research and understanding the benefits and weaknesses of different media platforms, we can speak with conviction on why we are recommending certain initiatives.

To understand your audience(s) and grow influence at your school, marketing and enrollment leaders must be inquisitive and willing to ask the difficult questions to better identify the reasons of why families are choosing to enroll and not enroll. While important to raise awareness, the true focus of the marketing plan is stronger enrollment and greater fulfillment of your schools mission.

Lastly, the panel reminded me of the need for us all to have others in our network to bounce ideas off and to share concerns. It is critical for long-term success to have people we can reach out to and discuss potential strategies when trying to solve complex marketing and enrollment challenges. One of the great by-products of attending events like GCSLS is that you have the opportunity to rub shoulders and grow your own network with others who are struggling and striving to do the same thing. Unlike most other industries, these other leaders are not competitors but co-laborers in driving to grow Christian education.

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