Private School Marketing Lessons from the Breakfast Camp

Breakfast CampI love going on vacation with my family. Summer is the perfect time for our annual trip to the Smoky Mountains. Last week, we enjoyed our time in the mountains including whitewater rafting and zip lining.

One of the things I love to do on vacation is to try new restaurants.

On our first morning in Gatlinburg last week, I had planned to take my family to a pancake restaurant for breakfast. Since my boys were still sleeping, I decided to check out Trip Advisor and Yelp for some online reviews.

The restaurant across the street from our hotel was very convenient and had received some good reviews. However, when I was scanning other restaurants, I noticed a highly rated restaurant in Gatlinburg was a brand new place called, Crockett’s 1875 Breakfast Camp.

I read through the reviews, scanned the posted pictures and then Googled the location. After I saw that this restaurant was only two short blocks away, I decided to take my family there for breakfast.

The irony is that I had driven by this restaurant on the way to our hotel but I didn’t see it. At the time, I wasn’t looking for a restaurant as my focus was on finding our hotel.

We thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast. The building and décor was perfect for this mountain location. The options on the menu were plentiful and the price was right.

In fact, it was so good that we took the rest of my family (my parents and my sister and her children) back to the Breakfast Camp two more times during our stay!

Ironically, the manager stopped by our table on our last visit and asked us about our meal and experience. After hearing our positive reviews, he asked us to go online and write a review for the restaurant based on our experiences.

As I thought about this restaurant experience on the long drive home to Florida, several lessons and applications to private school marketing came to mind. While I realize that selecting a restaurant is not exactly the same as choosing a school, there are some similarities:

First, prospective parents will most likely find a school when they are actually searching for it. I drove by the restaurant I ultimately selected the evening before without seeing it. In fact, I didn’t even know it was there, just two short blocks away, until I discovered it online. I wasn’t looking for a restaurant at that time and therefore didn’t see it. Unless a parent is searching for a school, it is unlikely that your school will even be on their radar screen.

Second, the power of word of mouth through an online review can take the place of a trusted friend when you don’t know anyone in the area. Obviously I am not a local, and even though I have been to Gatlinburg several times, I don’t know everything about the area. Since I didn’t know anyone in the area, the power of online reviews influenced me. Think about prospective parents moving to your area. If they don’t have anyone to ask, they will the will use keyword searches, read online reviews and check out your website. Your online presence is critical for prospective parents to discover your school.

Third, when the first impression and first experience matches and/or exceeds your expectations, you will come back. My family and I ate breakfast at the Breakfast Camp three times on our vacation (three mornings out of eight!). In the past, we would have gone to other restaurants, including the Pancake Pantry, which is also very good. However, because we liked this one so much, we chose to return. When the educational experience match or exceed expectations, your parents will return.

Fourth, the manager chose to spend a few minutes talking to us to ask us about our experience. Once he heard that we enjoyed our breakfast, he asked us to share it with others by telling our friends and writing an online review. As a leader in a school, you have the opportunity to reach out and talk to your parents. This connection is very important and should be a focus of your job. After all, your parents provide the revenue you need to operate your school. You have to get out of your office to connect with your primary constituency. As parents share positive experiences with you, ask them to share it online or with a friend.

I believe that we can learn a lot about private school marketing just by observing our own behaviors and buying decisions. While selecting a private school may not be exactly parallel to choosing a restaurant for breakfast, there are many similarities and lessons that can be applied to your marketing effort.

What experiences have you had that you can apply to private school marketing?

Are there any lessons from my story that you can apply to your role at your school?

By the way, if you are ever in Gatlinburg, TN, make sure you stop by the Breakfast Camp (they are only open from 7am-1pm since they only serve breakfast!). Check out this review of the Breakfast Camp.

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