Expert Advice for Maximizing Your Spring Marketing Results
Education marketing veterans share ten tips you can use right now
— Friday, February 25, 2011For anyone who sells products to schools, the spring is a busy season. Over 95% of schools operate on a July to June fiscal cycle, making the spring both a decision-making and planning time for most purchases as one budget closes and a new one starts. Most educators report that they place their orders during the spring, with 40% reporting they usually have funds left to spend at the end of the school year, so spring presents immediate and longer term sales opportunities. With so much at stake during the spring months, it is crucial for education businesses to maximize their marketing efforts during this time period. Read on for advice from six school marketing experts on how to get the best results from your direct mail, email, publicity, social media, and lead generation campaigns this spring...
TIP #1 – In the digital age, more than ever, direct mail is your selling workhorse.
Even as our digital world continues to expand every day, most educators still rely on print catalogs as their buyers’ reference guides for the year. “In fact, direct mail is more important that ever today because it defends against email and online fatigue,” says Linda Winter, President of Winter Group. “However, education marketers do need to refresh their catalog’s messaging and merchandising for spring mailings to address the urgency of the season. Specially focused catalogs or mailers will have the strongest impact.” Along with serving as selling workhorses, catalogs also can be used as drivers to your website, your social network areas, and your “live” events. Postcards, special offer self-mailers, and conference marketing will give you quick, inexpensive direct mail touches to support your marketing in other channels. Also, do not forget that there still are plenty of teachers and administrators who are not well connected online yet. Your direct mail promotions may be the only way to reach those educators to make a spring sale.
TIP #2 – Thoughtful planning brings out the full potential of direct mail.
Attention to the basics of list selection, offer testing, message development, and optimal timing are still the key forces for education marketers to boost their direct mail response rates. You will get even more from your mailings by personalizing them to address the needs of specific segments of educators. Whenever possible, coordinate your direct mail efforts with other channels, and you will capitalize on the powerful synergy of integrated campaigns. Linda’s spring suggestion: Product-specific marketing with really sharp fundamentals is the best approach with today’s tight budgets. Educators at all levels are being asked to do more with less. Adjust your messaging by offering teachers special promotions, strong warranty and replacement policies, and other assurances that will convince them that buying your product this spring is a wise choice.
TIP #3 – Relevancy inspires email engagement, especially during the busy spring.
Every email, especially those you send during the busy spring season, need to immediately answer the question, “Why should I read this now?” Chris Ziemnicki, E-Marketing Solutions Leader for MDR says, “This is even more imperative with prospects who probably do not know the inherent value of your product for their classrooms. If you skip over your value proposition and go right into your offer, your message will probably end up in a prospect’s email trash can.” Make sure your email relates to an educator’s specific professional needs, and she will take the time to read your message. A simple way to confirm message relevancy is to have an outsider take a look at your email to see if he can quickly determine your value proposition. This “fresh eyes” feedback will be more in line with how a prospective educator will perceive your message rather than the feedback you will get from someone on your team who is close to your marketing content. Chris’ spring suggestion: During the critical spring season, watch for signs of fatigue, such as increased opt-outs or decreasing response rates. Teachers’ responses to your emails will be a barometer for messaging frequency and message relevance for future emails.
TIP #4 – Design emails for image suppressionto improve spring prospecting results.
Chris reports that 78% of teachers have images blocked for emails from unknown senders, with only 44% of those educators taking the extra step to enable images. If you have not changed the way you design your email messages to address this reality, then teachers will not even be able to see your message and are more likely to delete your email than click to open images during the hectic springtime. Use tables, background images, a mix of HTML “teaser” text and graphics, and other simple design tricks for attractive emails that survive image suppression as well as mobile viewing. (See Chris’ recent article in EdNET News Alert for nuts-and-bolts details on designing emails for image suppression.)
TIP #5 – Proactive PR will help grow your business.
All positive news that teachers read about your company will build your brand and increase their awareness of your products and services. “With schools in the thick of product evaluations in the spring, now is the perfect time to promote a new case study with data highlighting why your offerings are an essential purchase,” points out Charlene Blohm, President, C. Blohm & Associates, Inc. “Also, if you have information on how your customers have funded their purchases of your products, include that information in your releases to give other schools ideas on how to pay for your school products.” The best way to deploy news today is to post your release to a wire service, because links to your website imbedded within your wired document will boost your search optimization results. You can use PR Newswire or one of the free services, such as PRLog.com or 24-7PressRelease.com. Make your release compelling and share-worthy for the media by providing them with links to video and other multimedia content related to your news. Engage with edu-bloggers, and they will share your news with their readers. Submit your products in an industry award competition so you can tout them as award winners—many contests have spring entry deadlines, so get going on this soon. Charlene’s spring suggestion: Lead time for most industry print publications is up to six months out, so you want to get your back-to-school news to these editors now for PR exposure during the fall. However, do reach out now with any important updates from your company because many educator magazines also publish e-newsletters with shorter lead times, so your story may get some traction this spring through online channels.
TIP #6 – Tell an interesting story around your news to draw in editors and educators.
People like to read stories, so bring a human element into your announcement. In fact, if you are exhibiting at any spring conferences, this is a great opportunity to collect stories from educators who are satisfied customers. These testimonials can be used in catalogs, websites, booth graphics, and ads, to name just a few places where your customer stories can help sell your products. A video story from a customer is even more valuable because it is in their voice and not yours. Post your videos to your website and on YouTube so teachers find them when they are searching for solutions to their professional problems. Aside from trade shows, you can use contests, social media blog posts, and promotions to find customers to share their positive experiences with your products. Blohm stresses that every company has interesting stories, and it is up to you to tell them.
TIP #7 – Align social media with your overall business and measure your program’s results.
To get started in social media, establish a brand foothold with a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and online educator communities, such as WeAreTeachers.com. Engage with edu-bloggers, and they will be more likely to talk about your products over time. “Integrate social media into your company’s various departments and their activities instead of treating it as a stand-alone silo in marketing,” advises Sandy Fivecoat, CEO and Founder, WeAreTeachers . “Find ways to add a social media component to every activity—not only emails, ads, conference materials, and focus groups but also sales and customer service communications—and you will increase the bang you get from every social media buck your business spends.” For example, sales leads that come from social engagement programs tend to be well qualified, which leads to shorter sales cycles. Or consider setting up a closed social forum for your most active customers to engage with each other. Not only will this community give them an easy way to solve each other’s problems and share best practices, but it will also provide your customer service and product development departments with a valuable direct line to educators’ evolving needs and preferences. Sandy ’s spring suggestion: Often the best way to sell your products is to have customer advocates talk about them. Social content from their peers (like guest blogs, video interviews, and teacher-generated resources for using your products) will help educators see the benefit of having your product in their classrooms—so they will buy it this spring.
TIP #8 – Anchor your social media program around business goals and educator value.
Before you begin a social program, you need to attach it to a business goal that is critical for your company. Your purpose may be to find advocates for your brand, collect market feedback to improve your products, locate more well-qualified leads, or perhaps fine-tune email segments to increase open rates. This attention to a business objective allows you to focus on and define success metrics so you can objectively evaluate the bottom-line results of your social media program over time. An effective social program also must deliver real value to teachers. You need both a compelling call-to-action that will inspire teachers to participate in your program and also a viral component (such as voting) that will cause participants to expose your brand’s program to other educators. You can extend the reach of your program further by repurposing any teacher-generated content from your social program into YouTube videos, blog stories, or podcasts. Keep your program focused on delivering on business goals and educator value, and you will be on your way to social media success.
TIP #9 – Constantly audit your lead management program for more conversions.
“You can improve conversion rates without cutting product prices or sales margins simply by optimizing your existing marketing and sales systems,” advises Glen McCandless, Founder, SellingToSchools.com and Focus Marketing Inc. “An audit and tune-up of your processes will increase both the quantity and the quality of your leads, which in turn will result in more conversions. Just remember that all adjustments to your sales process need to be in tune with educators’ buying process.” First and foremost, it is imperative that sales and marketing agree on what defines a good lead for your company’s educational products or services. Next, increase both the frequency and quality of your communications with top prospects with customer-centric marketing, being sure to bring them valuable information that matters to them every time you reach out. Also, regular win/loss analyses must be an integral part of your lead management program. Successful sales and marketing teams focus on understanding why and when problems occur in the lead management process—and that includes investigating everything from why a deal was lost to issues like why landing pages are not converting and why leads are not progressing through the sales process. You can also assess your lead stage descriptions and metrics to achieve smoother lead flow and more consistent outcomes or take a look at your sales coaching and management processes to improve sales forecasting reliability. Get started with an audit of just one aspect of your lead management program now, and you can boost your conversion rates this spring.
TIP #10 – Remove barriers at every step of educators’ buying process for more spring sales.
Attention to every detail of the buying process is even more critical in today’s challenging economic climate where buying decisions are dragging out and the sales cycle is less predictable. At every step in the buying process, there is a unique roadblock to progression. You need to develop and use the right tools for each step so that educators do not abandon the process along the way. Glen’s spring suggestion: Strive to deeply understand the steps and roadblocks in educators’ buying process at every phase along the way—from their perspective and not yours—and then create the tools and resources to remove the barriers to make conversions faster, smoother, and more frequent.
BONUS TIPS! Market NOW to get your share of remaining federal funds.
Anne Wujcik, Senior Education Research Analyst for MDR, expects a bump in the spring selling season. She reports that as of February 18, the Department of Education shows a sizable pot of Stimulus funds still left to spend before September 30, 2011, specifically $4.4 billion in IDEA special education funds and $3.5 billion remaining in Title I dollars. Get going with some targeted marketing now to win these funds that schools will be spending in the upcoming months.
Want even more tips? Our team of experts answered many of the questions you may have about spring marketing during a recent live webinar. Click here for their additional spring marketing pointers. There is a bounty of information on topics like timing, the economy, funding, publicity, strategies, email/direct mail, content, sales, social networking, and market trends. Use these education marketing veterans’ insight to recalibrate your programs for your company’s most successful spring ever!
This article is based on MDR’s January 2011 webinar entitled ” 10 Tips to Maximize Your Spring Marketing Results.” The one-hour online event features six experts on education marketing: Charlene Blohm, President, C. Blohm & Associates, Inc.; Sandy Fivecoat, CEO and Founder, WeAreTeachers; Glen McCandless, Founder, SellingToSchools.com and Focus Marketing Inc.; Linda Winter, President, Winter Group; Anne Wujcik, Senior Education Research Analyst, MDR; and Christopher Ziemnicki, Leader, E-Marketing Solutions, MDR. The webinar provides proven strategies to get the most out of your sales and marketing investments during the critical spring season. It is part of MDR’s library of free marketing webinars and is available on demand for viewing at any time.