9 Strategies Presented at the Word of Mouth Crash Course

Last week I attended the Word of Mouth Crash Course in Austin, TX. This one-day conference provided an intense program of rapid-fire sessions by some of the leaders in the word of mouth marketing movement. This conference provided marketing strategies applicable at a private school.

One of the highlights for me was meeting Andy Sernovitz, author of the book I always recommend, Word of Mouth Marketing. He looked down at my name tag and said, “Ah, you are Rick. You were the first person to blog about this event.” It was pretty cool that he would remember me for sharing his conference through my blog–that’s word of mouth in action! 

I thought I would use this blog to share some of the main themes and strategies from the crash course. By the way, if you want to read more about the sessions at the conference, you can check out the word of mouth blog which provided live coverage of each session.

1. It’s about relationships — Word of mouth marketing is about relationships. You tell your friend about a product or service because you have a relationship with them. You need to do everything that you can to be personal and to develop your relationship with your parents, faculty, staff, students and alumni.

2. Do the unexpected — Sometimes you need to do the unexpected to stand out. Saul Colt gave an example of sending flowers to his key customers. However, instead of actually sending flowers, he took a picture of a plant in dirt and then sent a package of seeds to them. In his mailing he said that seeds weren’t as messy as sending a plant through the mail. What are you doing that stands out?

3. Andy Sernovitz’s lessons on love — I enjoyed hearing Andy share three lessons on love. Essentially, word of mouth marketing works when there is love — a love between someone and a product or service.  First, he said that new love is powerful; it makes you talk. Think about your new families. They love your school and are the ones talking about your school. Second, love and money don’t mix. You can’t buy love and payments or incentives can kill word of mouth. Don’t pay tuition incentives to your parents for referrals. Third, nobody talks more than a lover’s scorn. If your parents aren’t happy, then this negative word of mouth will spread quickly. 

4. Likeability and TrustRohit Bhargava, in his session introducing his new book, said that people don’t chose a product or service based on logic and what’s best, they make the decision based on emotion and who they like best. It’s about trust and likeability. Think about your prospective and current parents. Do they trust you? Do they like you? If they do, then they will likely enroll in your school. It’s an emotional decision about whether or not they will place their precious child into your care. While test scores and graduation rates do matter, it is critical that you are liked and trusted. You will want to pick up Bhargava’s new book, Likeonomics, when it is released on May 22.

5. Tell your Story — Dave Kerpen, author of Likeable Social Media, made a statement that stood out to me. He said, “Every brand has a story to tell. One picture and thirty seconds of text can tell your story.” Word of mouth spreads when we tell our story. With the availability and opportunity on social media, we can tell our school’s story any time that we want. A photo and a caption can be easily posted and shared on your website or Facebook page. This simple strategy will tell the story of your school. 

6. Service Stands Out — As I am writing this blog post, I am on a Southwest flight to Raleigh, NC, to begin work with Wake Christian Academy. I love Southwest Airlines because of their total experience. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest, spoke at the crash course during lunch. She said that Southwest is about serving–their purpose is about serving. Do you know what happens when they serve well? People talk about it. Do you know what happens when your school is focused on service? Your parents talk about it. I talk about Southwest because of the experience and service. Do your parents talk about your school’s experience and service?

7. Celebrate  — Colleen Barrett also mentioned that they take time to celebrate at Southwest. She said that they might do something simple by putting up streamers and balloons to celebrate successes through the people that work at Southwest. A party to honor your faculty and staff can go a long way. Take time to celebrate and to acknowledge the great things your faculty, staff and students are doing at your school. It will be time well spent! 

8. Give Something Away — Several of the speakers talked about how giving stuff away for free can generate word of mouth. Mike Faith, CEO of Headsets.com, talked about this during his session. They practice this at his company by giving away free headsets and offering discounts to generate buzz. While you don’t want to give away free tuitions, you can give someone a t-shirt or travel coffee mug with your logo on it. Everyone enjoys a free gift. Just recently, Shannon Ficklin from Hill Country Christian School in Austin, TX, sent me a Starbucks gift card for recommending a couple of families to their school. This was the perfect gift for me since I love Starbucks and a simple thank-you gift for my referral.

9. Use Social Media to Engage — The final session of the day was led by Ramon De Leon, owner of six Domino’s in the heart of Chicago. What’s interesting about his story is that Chicago is known for its pizza, especially at Giordano’s and Gino’s. You would think that it might be difficult for a chain to stand out among these tasty competitors. Yet, Ramon uses his powerful personality on social media to connect with customers and to spread word of mouth. Customers engage with him on Facebook and Twitter. He provides outstanding service and this generates buzz and sales. Check this video of Ramon presenting at last year’s conference to get a taste of his strategy and he uses social media to connect to the community.

There is so much more that I could share about this conference. I highly recommend that you include the crash course in your future professional development plan.

Make sure you check out the Word of Mouth website blog and newsletter at www.wordofmouth.org for some great resources. This site needs to be part of your professional development!

Which one of these nine strategies stand out to you?

How can you implement these word of mouth strategies at your school?