Word of Mouth School Marketing: What it Is and What it's Not

Posted by Sue Carback on Oct 4, 2016 3:00:00 PM

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Word of Mouth can be considered among the most valuable and effective marketing strategies when it comes to growing school enrollment.  And, if you ask most heads of school, they will reply, “Yes, we do Word of Mouth marketing.”  However, when pressed to define how they do Word of Mouth school marketing (WOM), the response is usually, “Well, we just kind of rely on our parents to talk to their friends about us.”

Is that an effective strategy?  Think again.

Word of Mouth School Marketing: What it is Not

For prospective families, WOM provides endorsements about your school from trusted friends, family and community members.  For school leaders it offers a low-cost way to market your school.  And with budgets already stretched, many school boards and administrators feel relieved that very little money needs to be allocated to this form of marketing.

If WOM doesn’t require a line item in the school budget, everyone is behind it. But that doesn’t automatically mean it will work.  To be effective, WOM needs to be done correctly.  In other words, WOM is not something to be left up to chance.

Carefully consider your school’s enrollment trends. Are you growing because you are adding new students to the existing community or are you just maintaining enrollment by replacing students who have moved on?  Do you truly have an effective WOM strategy in place to impact this or are you simply leaving things up to chance?

For many school administrators, what I’m about to say may blow up the comfortable place you have settled into regarding your school’s marketing strategy. But hang with me, I want to show you a better way. I want to challenge you to start getting intentional about a very powerful and effective form of marketing.

School Word of Mouth Marketing: What it Is

First, let’s agree on a definition of Word of Mouth marketing. According to Andy Sernovitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing, it’s “Giving people a reason to talk about your stuff, and making it easier for that conversation to take place.”

Within that definition, can you sense that there is some intentionality? Sure, people just naturally talk. However, when you are trying to grow a Christian school, should you simply hope that parents are going to mention your school to their friends at church? Or is there a more proactive and productive way to empower others to join you in spreading the word?

As you consider WOM marketing in your school today, take this quiz to see if you are on the right track:

  1. Do I have a written WOM plan?
  2. Do I have a WOM committee or team?
  3. How have I been building relationships to support my WOM team?
  4. When are my WOM committee meetings?
  5. What is my strategy to recruit WOM team members?
  6. What specific tasks have I assigned to the WOM team members?
  7. What tools have I provided to my WOM team?
  8. How have I been empowering my WOM team with stories?

If you can’t answer most of these questions, you probably need to reconsider your WOM strategy.

word of mouth school marketing

Word of Mouth School Marketing Strategy: Things to Consider

To become more intentional about your WOM marketing efforts, here are some things to consider:

1. WOM marketing is effective.

Word of Mouth marketing is effective because it offers parents of school-age children the opportunity to directly convey testimonials and stories to other parents of school-age children.

These testimonials and stories can dramatically illustrate the ways your school is educating and ministering to children and families in your community. They also offer a means for those prospects to see the school as a trusted resource, which in turn strengthens the brand of the school.  

WOM can also be of benefit when it comes to your retention efforts.  The act of having current families hear and share testimonials and stories that convey your school’s vision and mission to prospective families can reinforce for them their decision to place their children at the school.  And when retention rates are high, new families are more likely to want to join the community.

2. A WOM strategy demands leadership and accountability when it comes to carrying out your school’s mission.

If people are going to be talking about your school, don’t you want them to be talking positively about it?  If you are intentional about WOM, then you’ll also need to be intentional about carrying out your school’s mission.  

Having a WOM plan is going to demand that you to do some soul searching about what’s really happening in your school. You will be forced to take a hard look at your mission statement and determine if you are delivering on what you promise.

If you see areas where change is necessary, are you willing to take the initiative to act? For example, if it becomes obvious to the school community that adding a gymnasium is necessary to carry out the mission of the school, will you address the need or ignore it? It takes courage to talk about the elephant in the room. You will foster a sense of trust if parents see that you are identifying areas that need improvement and have a plan in place to make progress.

Do your school families trust you? Are you honoring God in the way you are providing an education to children in your community?

3. WOM creates ownership and community.

One of the best side effects of an effective WOM marketing strategy is the positive attitude that seeps through the culture of your school.  This begins with the recruitment of a WOM coach and team.

A coach is able to identify the strengths of his players and place them in the positions where they will be most effective. A head of school or other administrative staff with marketing responsibilities is wise to enlist the help of a team of enthusiastic parents and friends of the school to execute a word of mouth marketing strategy.

A successful team is one armed with stories to tell, helpful resources to share, and specific tasks that align with their gifts and personalities.  It is led by a WOM chairperson who is delegated to keep the team on task, continuously feed them compelling stories and track their progress. An efficient WOM team understands the importance of their role and takes their job seriously.

Word of Mouth school marketing can offer a powerful and cost effective way to retain and grow your school’s enrollment.  However, to be successful, it demands a plan, a budget, and people to make it work.

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Topics: School marketing, word of mouth marketing