7 Things Word of Mouth “Is” and “Isn’t” in School Marketing

Word of MouthEvery year I conduct hundreds of focus groups and parent surveys at schools. Parents continue to tell me that word of mouth is the number one way that they discover and consider a school.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while or are brand new to my posts, you will discover my passion for word of mouth marketing. It is the number one strategy that you should focus on in your school.

As I have considered what word of mouth is and isn’t, I wanted to share my thoughts with you. This will help to guide you in your marketing effort as you inspire parents to be ambassadors and advocates for your school.

1—Word of mouth is natural. It should not be forced. Sometimes school leaders want to create gimmicks and incentives to motivate word of mouth. However, the reality is that word of mouth occurs in a natural relationship in a real conversation. It is not something that you can force on your friend.

2—Word of mouth is authentic. It should not be a memorized sales pitch. People crave authenticity in our world today. Parents want to hear the real scoop rather than a memorized spiel. Parents want authenticity instead of a regurgitated speech.

3—Word of mouth should come from your own stories. It isn’t about a slick marketing campaign. Sometimes schools pay big bucks for the right tagline or ad design. However, this really doesn’t sell a school. Word of mouth is driven by real stories from real people. It is about an individual sitting down with a friend to share their own stories at the school. Slick marketing campaigns might look cool but real stories stick.

4—Word of mouth is shared from your own experiences. You don’t have to be an expert on your school to share with a friend. Prospective parents want to learn from the experiences of others. That is why they ask a friend to share their experiences at your school. The parent isn’t looking for the other parent to be an expert about the school. The admissions director and head of school can be the experts with all the right answers.

5—Word of mouth is a conversation. It is not an elevator speech. Word of mouth occurs during natural conversations about real experiences. It is a not a one-minute elevator pitch that is memorized and recited at just the right time. Parents don’t need elevator speeches to share word of mouth. Rather, they need and want to engage in a conversation.

6—Word of mouth nudges a friend to consider your school. It is not a sales strategy to get your friend to enroll. Your parents are not used car salesmen looking for the next sale. Instead, they are the best word of mouth marketers when they nudge their friend to take a look at your school. A simple nudge to come visit for a tour or to take a look online works best. A nudge does not sell.

7—Word of mouth is shared from your own passion. It is not something that can be bought. Just last week I heard from another school that implemented a tuition incentive to motivate parents to share word of mouth. However, the reality is that word of mouth cannot be bought. Instead, it must come from the passion of your parents. If they are satisfied and passionate about your school, your parents will share word of mouth freely and willingly to their friends. Buying word of mouth cheapens it and it often looks desperate.

Since word of mouth is the primary way that parents discover your school, it is critical for you to understand what it is and isn’t. Then, you will be able to inspire your advocates to action.