I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Today's potential student has grown up with the Internet available; most students have been "surfing the Web" since kindergarten. It makes sense that the Internet is where our potential students are most comfortable looking for answers. As school owners, marketers, and admissions, we know this. What escapes the majority of us is how to best reach our potential students with this interactive approach. How does our particular school stand out? How can we compete with "The Big Boys?" How do we best spend our marketing dollars?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> First, we must define interactive marketing and the different initiatives it takes to create a holistic approach to online lead generation. Second, we want to define what an exclusive lead on the Internet is. Third, and most important, is creating an effective interactive marketing mix for your school. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Defining Moments</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Interactive marketing is the approach to generating leads on the Internet by several different means. A lead is an inquiry a potential student initiates through searching online for information about a particular school. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> An exclusive lead is an inquiry that only has the potential to go to your individual school. This lead is generated by a custom campaign and usually will cost a little more on the front end, but the cost-per-start is well in line. A non-exclusive lead is a valid lead that has competition for the potential student's attention. These leads are necessary for most budgets to fill the pipeline and get the inquiries needed to meet start goal expectations.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Webchat, search engine optimization (SEO), pay per lead (PPL), search engine marketing (SEM), e-mail marketing, Websites, micro sites, landing pages… there are so many ways to reach our potential students, but where do we start?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The answer is <b>start with your own school Website.</b> A school's Websites should be the No. 1 lead generator for an interactive marketing campaign. Your Website is your highest converting Internet lead. Use your Website like a sales tool: Make it easy to read and make contact information readily available. Include a contact form on the home page. Webchat should be available, and always have the phone number in large print in the upper right-hand corner of every page. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> After you optimize your Website and it now is your No. 1 lead generator, you need to keep it the efficient tool it has become. By implementing an SEO program, you will ensure your Website is working for you on a daily basis and driving highly convertible leads to your school. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Search Engine Marketing</b> <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Although it's easy to stop there, it is impossible for one Website to do all of the work on the Internet. To enhance your lead generation efforts, you also should create an SEM program and a PPL program. An SEM program will help to market your school on certain key words that are popular for your individual school. Key words such as your name, programs offered, and geographical location will be affordable for your budget, and the cost-per-start should be in line with your goals.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Most schools do not have an unlimited marketing budget, so how do we drive some of the more generic searches to our individual school? The answer: We don't. By creating a successful PPL program, you let the vendors fight it out for key words such as medical assisting, graphic design, accounting, and paralegal assistant. Most individual schools cannot compete with "The Big Boys," and they do not have to. Creating a PPL program on your own may be an overwhelming task that you just do not have time for. Using an aggregator will help you manage time and build an effective program. Aggregators will monitor vendors that will be the best converters for your school's individual campuses and programs, as well as handle negotiation, monitor caps, and police for quality and best practices. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Creating an effective and efficient interactive marketing campaign is not rocket science, but it does take time and attention. The Internet is where potential students are looking for answers, and they no longer are just looking in their own backyards; competition is fierce and far-reaching. It is vital that each school has a voice and that your students are able to find your school's information easily. By creating an efficient Website and keeping it current with an SEO program, you have taken the first step. Enhancing your lead generation efforts with effective SEM and PPL campaigns will further your success and drive the leads you need to prosper in this competitive industry.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Lisa Olmedo manages Gragg Advertising's Business Development Department staff. She oversees all new marketing efforts and business developments. She formerly served as a college admissions director and recruiter and shares her experiences in monthly Webinars that help train hundreds of career school personnel across the country.</i>