Changing Times Mean Changing Marketing Strategies for Seminaries
November 14, 2017
Marketing your seminary in 2020 is more challenging than ever before.
The costs of higher education are skyrocketing without a corresponding uptick in the salaries of full-time ministry leaders. It is no longer feasible for these leaders to quit their job and enroll full-time in a seminary program. Denominations no longer have the legacy pull that they once had, so attendance and giving are on the decline in our mainline denominations.
LeAnn Snow Flesher, Professor of Old Testament and Academic Dean at American Baptist Seminary of the West (ABSW) stated that the most common new enrollment demographic for seminaries is older, caucasian women who have pastoral experience but may not have a Bachelor’s degree. Typically, these students are on a second (or third, or fourth) career path, have full-time jobs, and need a seminary alternative that will work with their lifestyle.
The old models of seminary no longer work.
As models of engagement for seminaries change, how they market themselves must also change. Seminaries and churches typically lag 5-10 years behind on technology integration. With the fast-changing landscape of digital marketing, this lag will make you obsolete fast.
Being behind the times digitally could mean certain death for your school.
So what is the answer?
Our team has countered this challenge with seminaries all over the nation by employing a simple checklist. We’ve found that when the items on the checklist are effectively addressed, seminaries and Christian schools not only survive, but thrive. Use the checklist below to evaluate your school. Rate yourself on how you are doing with each item on the list (1=weak to 5=strong). Ask a couple incoming students to rate you too.
Item 1: BRAND
Branding is telling your story in a compelling way through a combination of visual elements and digital media (video-storytelling, blogging, social media engagement). Storytelling is the single-most effective way to engage younger audiences. Not only is storytelling a great way to engage your audience, it also creates the perception of a higher value of your product or service.
Storytelling humanizes your brand and in attracting ministry leaders, this is key. You are selling a service to humans that will help them be better in their career that is all about people. Ogilvy encourages us to:
Use your marketing to tell human stories to human customers in a human voice, you’ll be able to make your brand appear more, well, human.
Stories humanize your brand elements and bring them to life.
Item 2: WEBSITE
This is a no-brainer, but often overlooked because – let’s face it – higher education often has red-tape and endless bureaucracy that takes months or even years to weed through.
If your website update is caught in the milieu of red-tape, you are hemorrhaging possible students.
This statement alone should prompt administration to push through that new website request that has been sitting on their desks for eons.
Your website is your digital storefront. Students will visit your website to get a first impression of your school. If it uses old technology, is hard to navigate, and doesn’t contain an engaging brand voice and the right story, your visitors are probably bouncing faster than you can sing “Amen.”
You only get one chance to create a first impression, and your website is the primary vehicle for this impression.
Item 3: SOCIAL MEDIA
Erik Qualman, best selling author of Socialnomics stated in 2010 that: “Social media is the biggest shift since the industrial revolution.”
And in 2017 he updated his statement to this “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the choice is how well we do it.”
We no longer have a choice.
Erik updates his socialnomics videos each year. The stats are mind-blowing, but the change in percentages to the statistics are even more noteworthy. (Check out some of the differences between 2009 and 2017)
The question is how to best use social media, which channels to invest in, and how to create a brand voice, client engagement, and brand evangelists. If you are scratching your head looking at what we just wrote thinking “I don’t even know what those things mean,” don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of schools we work with do not know either.
Here are a few tips to get you started with social media:
- You have to use a variety of channels in your digital marketing: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Find out where your influencers are and use those channels.
- There are a range of ways to optimize social media usage to drive traffic to your website: (here are some of our blogs to help PPC, Facebook Ads)
- Your brand voice on each of these channels will create engagement if it is unique and matched to your target audience.
If social media makes your head spin, we can help.
Item 4: VIDEO
Video is proven to drive engagement with all age levels. It requires less mental processing power than reading, so wherever you can use a strategically placed film or animated video, you will have higher engagement. We have written at length about the power of video to convert – so rather than rehashing the statistics here, check out the following blogs:
Engagement rises with every customer we have interacted with when we integrate video into their overarching strategy. Here are some case studies to review:
- Case Study: How CCEF Used Film to Reach More People & Get Over 20,000 Views
- Case Study: A Bookstore with Heart
- Appalachian Running Company
- Shalom Christian Academy
Item 5: ONLINE EDUCATION
Remember the first section above when we noted the newest demographic to hit seminaries is a second or third career woman? We are going to call this persona Molly the Mom. Molly is a 47-year old accountant who lives in a thriving suburb near Chicago and is the mom of 3. Her kids are all in high-school and she works 30 hours a week. She has been a women’s ministry leader in her church for 25 years. Her church is delighted at her service and has been really encouraging her to go back and get a seminary degree because they want to bring her into full-time ministry staff once her kids graduate from high-school.
To accomplish this, she has to be able to access educational alternatives that are:
- In the evenings after her regular work hours and family responsibilities are done
- Online so that she can avoid the commute
- Less expensive than traditional schooling since her family is on a budget and about to face 3 kids going into college
Providing this demographic with an online education alternative sends the message to students like Molly that, “We recognize our non-traditional students and want provide you with a quality seminary education because you matter to our school.”
Schools and seminaries all over the nation are in competition for students like Molly, so if you have not created some great alternatives for these non-traditional students, a competing seminary most definitely has.
We hope this checklist has been helpful to you as you evaluate your digital marketing needs. If there are ways we can help you with your digital strategy, please contact us!