Back in the day, the industrial age chugged along and real estate was the foundation in which market share and wealth was built. Factories, warehouses, roads and store fronts were mechanisms for commerce. Those who owned the real estate controlled the wealth. Does McDonalds make more money selling hamburgers or through their real estate empire? What was drilled into our heads in Business School is Real Estate is the foundation investment for all millionaires, blah, blah… You get the picture.
With the arrival and development of internet technologies over recent years, traditional physical constraints to commerce have evaporated:
- You can buy anything from anyone from anywhere in the world,
- Governments are being overthrown by revolutions organized on the internet,
- Companies such as Skype have run around the phone companies, and
- Craigslist have replaced the classified sections of most newspapers having stripped out collectively about $30 billion in revenue out of their coffers.
- Expedia and friends have neutered travel agents…
We are just getting started. The internet will move us in ways that most of us can’t imagine.
I would argue, when marketing a school, that owning your piece of the internet is at least as important as owning buildings or other forms of real estate.
Online Real Estate?
We feel marketing a school on the internet can now best be explained by using the Real Estate analogy;
- Your website is your office space,
- Banner advertising is like the billboards on the side of the road,
- Search engines are like libraries/book stores
- Facebook is like a big network of coffee shops
- Twitter is like a massive night club or pub
- Nurture or opt in marketing is like a power or water utility
Online Real Estate…own, rent or squat?
If the internet is the 21st century version of Real Estate then the question begs asking do you want to be an owner, renter or squatter;
Lots of businesses have a crappy website without any way a prospective client can engage and run some basic email and that’s it…Next time you are bopping around the internet look at the number of websites that do not have their phone number and hours of operation prominently displayed. Would you take a brochure to the print shop without a phone number? People that use bare minimum tactics are like squatters.
You have a decent website but you really don’t have the ability or inclination to recruit students to your website and in turn your phone line. Renters will use third party vendors to generate traffic to your website. Pay per click portals, yellow pages.com and the myriad of SEO experts who will optimize your website for a few hundred bucks a month are examples of third party contractors who will send interest to your website.
Some of these vendors are good, some are horrible and I’m not up for debating their merits in this writing but here is the one often overlooked issue you need to ‘really’ understand. When you abrogate responsibility for your online real estate to ad agencies, lead gen portals SEO contractors etc, you are renting. When your relationship ends with your lead gen vendor your presence online ends also. There is little in the way of residual benefit in terms of your brand. This is particularly true regarding search engine marketing. Remember most of the activity on the net still drives through Search Engines, so you need to protect your Search Engine Real Estate at all costs.
The solution, if you do contract with agencies or vendors, absolutely make sure you can purchase and maintain your good standing on search engines in particular after the relationship ends.
Renting is great in that it is cheap to market a school in the online world, but not so good in that you do not own your online real estate. Ideally, you want to own your own internet marketing initiatives. Let’s use Google Adwords as an example. If you control your own Google Adwords campaign you will bid on maybe 50 or 60 keywords that line up with your offering. All roads lead to your school. It is crucial if possible, that you own and control this function. Owning your own Search Engine presence in particular is like a retailer owning their high traffic store location.
The problem with owning is like owning real estate, it costs money. Whether you use a contract management firm or run it in house, you need to spend realistically several thousand a month in fees to own and protect your online real estate.
So, in summary, portals and ad agencies offer cheap and easy to start up, but you end up with a sack of hammers when the relationships inevitably end. Owning your own online presence is a great strategic move, ‘but’ like owning real estate, it costs money.
Before you start talking about marketing your school you need to land on the key question will you be an owner, renter or squatter.