For those who are marketing faith-based schools, it’s more than a job. It is a calling.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!
Most faith-based institutions operate on tight budgets. This can be a big limitation to how well the school can market itself.
However, marketing faith-based schools does have key advantages that you can leverage – without costing very much at all!
I’ve been helping small, faith-based colleges and universities leverage their unique advantages in marketing, almost always on a shoestring budget.
So here are some things I’ve learned along the way that can help you out, no matter how much or little you have to spend.
1. Clarify Your Vision
One of the biggest advantages a faith-based school has is its vision.
When a school gets to a certain size, keeping sight of the vision gets harder and harder as more departments, programs, and staff come into play.
However, small private colleges and universities can also lose sight of their vision.
Often, this is because they think to be successful, they have to be like everybody else.
But the opposite is really the truth!
On our podcast, The Higher Ed Marketer, Dr. Mark Jobe shared how defining their vision was the first step to marketing the widely influential Moody Bible Institute.
Where are we going? What is our mission?
If you don’t define your current state [and] where you’re going, someone else will define it for you. So we started to define this as who we are. Let’s be clear about who we are and who we’re not. And let’s be clear about what we want to accomplish in the next 10 years.
Moody may be a small school, but it has an outsized influence on the Christian community across a variety of religious affiliations.
This influence is what ultimately makes them successful, even if their annual enrollment remains modest compared to much larger institutions.
They know what they have been called to do. Their vision is clear.
So start there.
What do you want to be? What is it that you’re uniquely called to do?
2. Determine Your Unique Value Proposition
Also called a unique selling proposition, this is a critical piece of language to nail down when marketing faith-based schools.
This statement is how you differentiate yourself from other schools like you.
It conveys the value you uniquely provide to potential students, as opposed to what everyone else is offering them.
This statement should exist in kind of an essay or manifesto format as well as a shorter, elevator pitch version.
In this statement, you want to dive into the values, beliefs, philosophies, or methodologies that make you entirely distinct from the rest.
For example, you might train ministers like many schools do but with a hands-on approach where each student leaves with 30 ministry experience hours.
Another example could be that you focus on missions work abroad alongside of your academic courses.
Whatever highlights the things that differentiate you from the rest, you’ll want to place here.
3. Tell Authentic Stories
One of the most impactful ways to market faith-based schools is storytelling.
But the kinds of stories you tell make all the difference in the world.
Even at the expense of production, keep authenticity at the heart of the content you produce.
I agree with Dr. Jobe’s analysis on telling authentic stories:
There was a time when the stories we told were very clean, formalized, and very produced.
The greatest stories nowadays are authentic, raw, less produced. They’re real, they’re unedited. [They give] people a sense of “I understand who these people are.”
So I believe that we need to be telling more raw, authentic stories, especially via our video platforms.
Lean into your institution’s quirkiness, theological distinctions, and activities.
Don’t try to copy other school’s video content.
And don’t worry about spending millions on a production studio.
Raw and authentic trump formal and over-produced.
And definitely have some fun along the way. It’s contagious!
4. Think Mission-Fit, Not Just Program-Fit
There are a lot of prospective students that would fit your programs.
Perhaps they fit the demographic profile or academic background you’re looking for.
But are they a good mission-fit for your school?
In other words, do they share your values, your outlook on the world, or your views on education?
I’m using “mission” in a very broad sense here.
It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are.
You might even call it a culture.
Use your marketing messaging to help prospective students self-identify or self-exclude. The objective here is to find students who match your mission, not just those looking for an engineering, medical, or law degree.Click to tweet
5. Find the Watering Holes
I’ve been blogging a lot lately about this concept that I call finding the watering holes.
That is, find out where your audience is already hanging out and place your messaging there.
This way, you’ll be leveraging the traffic that’s already there at the watering hole rather than working hard to create traffic to your content.
For instance, if you are marketing a Christian school, you can target “Christian” watering holes such as these that are a good mission-fit with your institutional identity:
- Christian coffee shops
- Christian-themed stores
- Christian concerts and worship experiences
- Youth rallies
- Camps and conferences
- Christian schools
- Reddit discussions
- Facebook groups
- Christian hashtags
I’m sure there are many more places where you can find your prospective students, but this is a good list to begin targeting in your local area.
6. Invest in Paid Digital Marketing
Besides targeting popular spots where your audience already hangs out, try thinking outside the box when marketing faith-based schools.
I recommend investing in paid search engine marketing and social media marketing.
Using paid advertisements to drive traffic to your gated content doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
You can budget for costs as little or as high as you like.
The most important thing about this strategy is that it can bring prospective students to your channels that you wouldn’t normally see at the typical watering holes.
7. Use Data-Driven Marketing
Finally, every faith-based school – no matter how small – should be using traffic and social media analytics to create reports on how well they’re doing.
Tools like Google Analytics are free to set up.
Basic social media analytics should come with every social media platform you open, and advanced analytics should be included in every paid campaign you launch.
These analytics reports will help you see how your campaigns and messaging are working and give you data to back up your future marketing decisions and investments.Most important, when talking about marketing faith-based schools, is how data-driven marketing can help you find the right students.
This is how Tim Bohling put it in our conversation with him.
The data driven orientation from a digital-first model perspective enables us to understand what works and doesn’t work.
Often what I find across many industries is what I call a “set and forget strategy.” [This is when you] build an incredible strategy, put it to market, and wait and see. Surprisingly, it may not work!
[By contrast,] what we do is what we call “sense and respond.” Every day, we are measuring the degree of engagement with all of our messages.
[When we understand deeply] who the prospective student is, we then ensure that we deliver a meaningfully unique and distinct value proposition.
While you can pay big money for expensive analytical tools, you don’t have to spend a lot to get robust data from your campaigns.
In fact, none of the strategies I’ve listed here have to cost a lot.
But when you put them all together, they create a lot of momentum!
For more help on boosting your enrollment marketing results, please contact us today.
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Featured image by Gorodenkoff via Adobe Stock