A Conversation with Matt Pulley About Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of Mouth Marketing, or as I call it—WOMbound Marketing—is the key ingredient for your school’s marketing strategy.

A couple of months ago, two independent school admissions leaders chose to attend WOMM-U (Word of Mouth Marketing University) sponsored by WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) in Chicago. Both of these leaders understand the power of word of mouth and utilizing it as a key marketing strategy for their respective schools
Because of the importance of this conference, this blog post, as well as my next one will feature interviews with Matt Pulley, Assistant Head of Enrollment at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, AR, and Lane Rice, Director of Enrollment at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, TX.

By the way, WOMMA is sponsoring a WOMMA Summit in Nashville, TN, on November 18-20, 2013, that I would like to attend. I would also like to see several other private school leaders join me at the conference.

The following is my interview with Matt Pulley (pictured in the photo):

Describe what you experienced at the WOMM-U Conference in May? How did the conference meet your expectations?  

“As an independent school, we knew before attending the conference that the majority (75%) of our institutional inquiries came via WOMM and that an even larger percentage of those leads had spoken to someone else about our school, which led to their decision to inquire. In addition, from surveying these families, we had some key hard data that indicated prospective families were hearing about our school via WOM and gathering information both on and offline.  We began the conference knowing this was our greatest avenue for marketing the school.  We just needed some direction in terms of how we enter the WOM conversation and best leverage it as our key marketing channel.

With that as the forefront, the conference was extremely helpful. We were one of only two schools that attended, which made things a little interesting. You definitely have to go into the conference filtering the content through an ‘independent school lens,’ which is not hard to do as the concepts are extremely transferable. You have to constantly ask yourself, ‘How do I see this idea or concept applicable to an independent school or to my school?’ My initial impression was that this was the premier WOMM organization and conference. The people here represent some of the top brands in US and are on the forefront of the WOMM Movement—they are THE industry key leaders, no doubt!

The teaching and content was exceptional! You’re learning from individuals who are highly experienced, brilliant, and leading the way in WOMM. As a school, we were very well received—I found most of the speakers and attendees where kind of surprised schools would attend, but were extremely willing to answer questions and direct our focus in the areas we needed it to be. While the content and teaching was phenomenal, the networking you will do with these industry leaders is even more important and beneficial. We’re connected now with individuals and groups who have helped us take our ideas and formulate a WOMM strategy—our goal was to leave the conference with a shell of how we will implement WOMM in our school and we found people who were able to direct us in that area.  Overall, I was blown away by the quality of creativity, innovative thinking and intellectualism I found at the conference.”

What were some of the most important ideas and takeaway concepts that you gleaned from the speakers? 

“I think we picked up on several key areas: What we know is that people are going to talk about our institution:  positively and negatively. We just have to decide if we’re willing to jump into that conversation and engage people there. We realize that we want to be in that conversation and want to engage people in real and authentic way.

We also picked up on that WOMM is really about great customer service—about what is referred to as the “celebrity experience”. We want to roll out the red carpet for our prospects and communicate with them in a way that changes perceptions and ideas of who we really are.  We’re focused even on the little things—realizing that even the small touch points go a long way and make a huge impact.

We know and understand that WOMM is definitely much more effective than most traditional marketing methods, as our data shows. We are also talking about creating a product that is remarkable or worth remarking about as well as remarkable content, content that people want to share. So, we’re focused on content generation much more now as part of our WOMM strategy.

Finally, we really came away understanding that people mostly buy from those they know well and trust. Trust is really the key in school choice decisions—so, we’re thinking a lot about who are key influencers and ambassadors are and how we can better equip them as they engage prospects in conversations about our school. While the online component to WOMM is key, we also know that the majority of those conversations take place offline and we want to direct most of our attention in that area.”

What are some word of mouth marketing ideas that you plan to implement at your school as a result of the conference? 

“Our goal right now is really to invest in four areas:

  1. We want to develop a formalized group of Influencers and Ambassadors who can help us with WOMM.  These people will work with us as we recruit new families and will be the front lines out in the field, engaging families.
  2. We want to equip them to answer the hard questions, by developing materials they can use to correctly respond to objections and misconceptions about who we are.
  3. We’ll continue to improve and utilize our online WOMM channels.
  4. We want to improve our communication and the customer experience. We really want to change the culture of our institution and how we engage with prospective families, so that we are ‘worth talking about!'”

What are your recommendations about attending future WOMMA conferences?

“First, read Andy Sernovitz’s book, “Word of Mouth Marketing” before you go! It was extremely beneficial having done so.

Second, if you haven’t done so already, do some research and surveying—know where and how your prospects heard about you. Know what channels they use to research and find out your schools ‘real’ story.

Knowing that WOMM was our best avenue for marketing gave us a lot of confidence, helped us frame our questions, and kept us focused in the right direction. Take others from your institution with you!  Some of our best conversations were over dinner or back in the hotel room as we really began to process the content.

Last, and probably most important, NETWORK as much as you can.  The conference provides many opportunities for social gatherings—take the opportunity to connect with these people.  Most of the people are the key leaders in the WOMM Movement and what they know is innovative and extremely outside the box. The fact that you’re there will speak volumes of your desire to change the way you interact with people and they’ll go out of their way to help you. I got more out of my conversations in between the sessions than I did with most of the session (and the sessions were phenomenal)!!”

Thanks Matt for sharing your perspectives on this great conference! I hope that more private school admissions and marketing professionals will consider attending a future conference sponsored by WOMMA on word of mouth marketing.

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