OK confession time. Many moons ago, when I was handling the marketing for a childcare organization, I conducted an entire campaign about the amazing things that we were doing. This was my way of telling parents about how we were stellar in our efforts to have all children fully prepared for kindergarten. Our marketing emphasized how our curriculum was head and shoulders above everybody else and how we built a great foundation for children to have a lifelong love of learning. You’ve heard this all before, right? These things are very typical for us to share with parents who are looking for care. But you know what I found out- after spending way too many marketing dollars on the wrong campaign? That's not what parents were interested in.
This all boils down to one key question - what should I be emphasizing in my marketing and touring efforts to increase enrollments?
What are parents really looking for when they search for care?
Since I had given it my best shot and did not succeed, I looked to someone outside my four walls. Many, many parent interviews later and we found out the top things that parents look for in a childcare center are cleanliness and health/safety. None of this has changed given the circumstances over the past year. In fact, more parents than ever before are prioritizing the well-being of their child(ren).
The curriculum I was so proud of and so excited to flaunt ranked as number three on what parents were looking for. Number one was health and safety. The second priority according to our survey was quality teachers. Parents want teachers who are personable and outgoing that will treat their child well. Finally, the third priority was academics and curriculum. My centers were amazing. They looked beautiful, they were clean, they provided a nurturing environment for children. I just wasn't telling anybody about it. As an educator, I wanted to put our entire emphasis on the academics. Unfortunately, that strategy wasn’t helping us grow our enrollment.
But why don’t parents place a higher priority on curriculum?
The answer is pretty easy- because parents care about what they can see. Many researchers have asked the same question and the answer comes back to “because it’s easy”. You get about an hour to spend with a family showing off your buildings, teams, and programs. In that hour, parents are expected to become experts at early childhood care and education; to be able to discern a high-quality educational program with evidence of developmentally appropriate practice in a way that nurtures and educates young minds. Come on! Accreditation validators, experts in the field, take a full day (sometimes two) to make those types of assessments and yet we think parents - often inexperienced and seeking care for the first time are supposed to see and appreciate it in an hour? Nope, doesn’t happen. They judge you and your programs based on what they know, can see, and how it “feels”. That means cleanliness and safety come out on top.
So, how do you achieve higher enrollment rates?
First, make sure your centers and buildings reflect what parents are looking for. In this industry, curb appeal counts. For example, make sure the place smells good and looks tidy. These are things you already know in your heart but that you may have taken for granted in the past. Imagine you were a parent walking into your center for the first time. Does it feel like a place you would leave your brand new, precious baby? Perhaps, your first-ever baby that you’re extra protective over? Look at your center with fresh eyes to help you determine what changes need to be made. If you can’t look at your business without bias, ask a staff member or a long-time parent that you can trust what changes they might make.
Does this mean you throw education to the wayside? Definitely not! It means that you must first make them feel comfortable with what they know and can see. Show off those clean classrooms and all of your incredible COVID-19 procedures. Talk about it with them in detail and allow them to ask questions. Don’t assume they already know or expect you to have proper policies in place. Once you meet their needs in that way, you can share all the other great stuff you do. That includes talking about your education programs and curriculum.
You make a difference.
It’s important that families are educated one at a time. The next time they find themselves in a situation where they need to search for care, they will be ready to judge in a different way. Why? Because you have raised their level of expectation.
Continue to be out there doing all of the great things you do! Just don’t overlook the basics. Reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter!