A Trip to New York City and Implications for Marketing a Private School

Rick and Janine in NYCThis past weekend my wife, Janine, and I visited New York City. This trip was a Christmas gift for my wife. I gave her the choice to go anywhere in the U.S. for a long weekend and she chose New York City (she would have to choose one of the most expensive cities in the U.S!).

Preparations began a couple of months before our trip. Since neither one of us had been to NYC (I was there for a day about 20 years ago but this doesn’t really count), we asked friends who had been there. Their experiences and recommendations were important to us.

We asked our friends about hotels, restaurants, places to visit, taxis versus subways and the weather. We wanted to know what to do and where to go based on their recommendations since they had experienced the city.
My friend, James Anderson, who works at Eastern Christian Schools in New Jersey, recommended that we eat at Del Frisco’s. My friend Shelly McGuire, Director of Admissions at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School in Memphis, who used to live in the city when she worked at another school, sent me a list of her top recommendations. Included on her list was an awesome Mexican restaurant, Rosa Mexicano. Dave Livermore, a close friend from my college days, also gave me this same recommendation. Shelly also recommended Bar Pitti, an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, as did a friend of my wife’s.

All of these were excellent and memorable choices. We also found a few other places online that were highly reviewed once we became comfortable with the city.

In total, we both talked to about six people that we knew to share their experiences about New York City. Then, based on their recommendations, I mainly searched  websites, including TripAdvisor, to read other reviews and to finalize our decisions. It is interesting to note that I didn’t see one print or radio ad about New York City in my search.

Our trip to NYC was successful and memorable because we talked to our trusted friends and did additional research online.

Does this experience sound familiar?

This is the typical process that people use in their own consumer experiences.

The same is true for parents searching for a school.

Based on my research in the school search process, parents primarily rely upon word of mouth to guide them in their decision. They talk to their trusted friends, just as I did when I planned my trip, about the school that they sent their child. Another person that has experienced a school is the highest form of recommendation that a prospective parent seeks.

Once the parent talks to their friends, their online research usually follows. Conducting searches on Google, reading reviews on GreatShools, viewing Facebook pages and reading school websites become tools to further support the word of mouth from their friends.

Keep in mind that if a parent is relocating to an area, then this web search most likely begins first. The parent is likely to talk to realtors, relocation specialists, and the boss or colleagues at the new job. So, word of mouth works even in this case.

Let me suggest some applications from my own NYC experience as it parallels the school decision process for your prospective parents.

1. Word of Mouth is primarily a face-to-face experience (Andy Sernovitz, Ed Keller and Brad Fay all support this in their respective books). Just as I asked my friends in person, parents do the same. Parents reach out to their friends in the neighborhood, at church, at Starbucks or wherever else they may connect.

2. Word of Mouth is most influential when it is based on the trusted recommendation and experience of a friend or another person. Your prospective parents will base their decision to attend your school on their friend’s experience and recommendation.

3. While websites, online reviews and social media sites may not be the number one way that parents discover a school, these are valuable tools that are highly utilized in the search process and help to support word of mouth. These tools can provide helpful resources to help your prospective parents further discover your school.

4. Most of us rely upon word of mouth and the Web to make our own buying decisions instead of traditional advertising. Parents in the market for a private school won’t likely be influenced by print or other forms of Outbound advertising. Most likely, they have already decided that they want to seek out a private school for their child. Because of this, WOMbound and Inbound sources are the primary influencers in their decision.

Think about the next time you plan a vacation or make a significant purchase. Your process probably looks the same as mine.

Think about your prospective parents and the process that they use to select your school. Their process probably looks similar.

Is WOMbound (word of mouth) and Inbound (web-based) marketing strategies the focus of your plan? Are these strategies the focus of your budget?

By the way, if you are considering a trip to New York City in the near future, let me know and I will share some of my experiences and recommendations with you.