Creating content that attracts prospective families to your website is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. First, you need to consider your target audience (the persona) and then factor in the stage the family is at in the Candidate’s Journey. There are three stages of the journey a candidate family walks through before choosing the school that’s right for them: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.
When you clearly understand each of the three stages, you can be proactive in your marketing strategy and create content that speaks to mission-appropriate families in each stage of their journey.
A candidate family’s journey leading up to applying to your school can vary in its length. Some families decide quickly and others take a bit longer. Whatever pace they set, each of them go through three stages to get there: Awareness, Consideration and Decision.
While you’d rather have them skip straight to submitting an application, the reality is there are very few people who make an investment of this size without conducting research and learning about their alternatives, particularly when it affects their children and lifestyle.
It all starts with awareness; that moment when something changes and a potential family realizes they’ve got a new challenge to solve or opportunity to grab hold of. Maybe they’ve decided to move back to their home country after years abroad. Perhaps mom or dad are being transferred to a new posting in a foreign country. Or maybe the family just isn’t happy with their current school situation.
Whatever the change may be, it is the reason a family embarks on the candidate’s journey to find the best school for them – even if a school search is not where they start.
Let’s look at an example of how your school can provide content that builds trust and a relationship without selling your school. Jane Smith just found out that she is being transferred to Frankfurt for a three year posting within her company. She has a husband and two children who will make the move with her and her first concern is where the family should live. Having never been to Frankfurt she is not familiar with the city and has no idea what neighbourhood would best suit her family.
Where her family will live is her first “awareness pain point”.
So Jane takes to the internet to start searching for “the best family neighbourhoods in Frankfurt” and one of the results is your school’s e-book, “A Family-Friendly Neighbourhood Guide for Frankfurt”. Jane is pleasantly surprised to see that a school is providing this content. She downloads the e-book and it becomes her biggest resource when they begin their house hunt.
Remember, this neighbourhood guide has absolutely nothing to do with promoting your school. It does, however, accomplish three things:
- Your school provided the answer to Jane’s biggest pain point even though it had nothing to do with your school directly.
- You’ve established a relationship and earned her trust by being a valuable resource to her.
- Your school captured Jane’s information when she filled in the form to download the e-book and she has become a marketing qualified lead.
Now that Jane has become aware of her situation and is immersed in the many details of moving a family overseas, she moves from the Awareness stage of the journey to the Consideration stage.
In the Consideration stage, candidate families now understand their goal or challenge (finding the best school for their children) and have set out on the path of finding a solution. They are evaluating the various options available and are and conducting research to gather all relevant information.
This doesn’t mean it’s time to start “hard-selling” them on your school. In this stage of the journey, candidate families are not looking for a specific school, they’re looking for solutions to their problems. This is your opportunity to nurture them further through the journey by providing them information on their options.
You can, however, begin to show them how your school fits their needs. We find that this can be the most challenging stage to create content for because you’re endeavouring to demonstrate how your school can meet their needs without launching a full-on sales campaign.
Remember to create your content for this stage from a solution perspective rather than a vendor perspective. We have found that these types of content work well in the Consideration stage:
- Checklists. Create a list of questions families should ask when speaking with various school admissions departments.
- Comparison Charts. This is a great way to showcase your school’s solution to their problem as compared to your competitors without putting your brand front and centre. Don’t forget to be honest in the comparison and give your competitors their due credit. If you don’t, readers will see through this tactic which devalues the content.
- Blog Posts. A blog post is a good platform to dive a little deeper into your persona’s pain point. You can offer a more in-depth perspective on solutions as well as include calls to action that direct them to relevant content offers.
- Video. In 2016, Google found that almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store (school). Video is powerful and has the ability to elicit emotions and create connections like no other platform.
Again, knowing your target audience (or persona) inside and out is essential. By understanding who you’re speaking to, you are better able to identify their pain points and frustrations and create quality content that speaks directly to them.
The Decision stage is where families are choosing the school that’s right for their child. They’ve identified what they’re looking for and now they’re seeking out facts and hard data about their various options.
How do you know they’ve entered this stage? Maybe they’ve downloaded a piece of content that you’ve designed for this stage. Or perhaps they’re reaching out to the school with inquiries and are booking school tours. Your analytics data would show they are also viewing admissions pages such as tuition or how to apply.
How are you continuing to nurture them through this phase? What information are you offering to help them make their decision? Decision stage content focuses solidifying your relationship and assuring them your school fits their needs.
If a family is in the decision stage this means you’ve already established trust and formed a relationship. While we don’t think it’s ever a great idea to adopt a hard-hitting sales approach, it is time to take the information you’re providing to the next level.
Think about the last time you were making a purchasing decision. What helped you decide? What did the company do or offer that make the difference? Was it a testimonial or review? Did you watch more videos? Look at a detailed comparison of the features and benefits? Or maybe you made your choice on how easy it was to make the purchase.
Know what your persona needs and create content that provides answers. Recommendations and word-of-mouth referrals are often the biggest source of leads for an organization. That’s why testimonials and case studies are very powerful during the Decision stage. It is very reassuring for a candidate family to hear how happy current and past families are with their experience at your school.
Engage your alumni and grads during this stage as well. Hearing first-hand stories about student life on campus and where their education has taken them could be the final piece of information a family needs to make their decision.
Ultimately, your goal is to have a mission appropriate family click on the Apply Now button on your website, but if that is the sole focus of your content marketing strategy, you will fail. The road to an application submission is filled with content, content that helps solve your personas’ pain points and speaks to their specific stage in the candidate’s journey.
The awareness, consideration, and decision stages are part of creating an overall inbound marketing strategy. Download the free Inbound Marketing Guide for International Schools and learn how to attract, convert, and close prospective families.