Developing Your School’s Word of Mouth Marketing Plan

The number one way that a parent discovers your school is through word of mouth. The prospective parent will hear about your school through a friend, current parent, alumnus or someone else that is connected with your school.

The bottom line is that people will talk and they will talk about your school.

A parent is more apt to consider your school when they hear someone talking positively about their experiences.

Ironically, most private school leaders haven’t considered how to develop their word of mouth marketing plan. In fact, most marketing budgets reflect expenditures for an assortment of advertising strategies while leaving out the most important strategy that drives your enrollment.

It’s time for a paradigm shift in the way that we develop school marketing plans.

Last week I recommended several books. The most important one from this list is Andy Sernovitz’s book, Word of Mouth Marketing.

In his book, Sernovitz recommends a framework for developing your word of mouth marketing plan—the five T’s. These five T’s should be your framework for developing your school’s marketing plan:

1.            Talkers – It is important to begin by identifying your key talkers—the people who talk about your school. These talkers could be from any of your key constituent groups. After you identify them, the most important step is to develop ways to fuel their conversation. One school that I worked with developed a target list of 150 parent talkers and then invited them to attend a special luncheon. During this luncheon the head of school thanked them for their positive talking and then gave them some new stories to talk about. This was a way to get the talker’s talking even more.

2.            Topics – The topics are the core messages and stories that you want your talkers, or anyone else connected to your school, to talk about. This is where you become intentional in developing your core brand messages, usually four to six unique selling propositions (USP’s), and then tell stories that point back to these statements. For example, if a core USP for your school is college preparation, then you will want to tell stories how your school prepares students for college.

3.            Tools – The tools are the methods and strategies that you use in your plan to communicate the message and fuel the conversation. These tools should include web-based marketing mediums (your school’s website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), blogs, email newsletters, parent coffees, small group home meetings, events and more.

4.            Taking Part – In order to fuel word of mouth marketing, you must take part in the conversation. This means that you need to actively engage your key constituents and join in the conversation wherever it is taking place—online, the parking lot or at Starbucks. One school that I am working with, Milpitas Christian School in San Jose, CA, just started a “Dunker’s Club” for parents. Every Wednesday morning parents are invited to enjoy a cup of coffee, pastry and conversation with school leaders. This event is a way for the leadership to take part in the conversation.

5.            Tracking – The final “T” is important as you consider how you will track the conversations and word of mouth that is taking place. Tracking can be accomplished by monitoring online discussions, meeting with small groups of parents, and conducting an annual parent satisfaction survey—to name a few strategies.

So go ahead and make the paradigm shift. The irony is that you already know that word of mouth drives enrollment at your school.

The key is that you need a word of mouth marketing plan to fuel it.