Why Word-of-Mouth Marketing Isn't Working At Your School

When I work 1-on-1 with a Christian school (if you want more information about how, click here), one of the first things I ask them is about their sources of new families coming to their school. While some find you via searching Google and others may discover you from a magazine ad, the #1 source of new families is 99% indisputable . . .

 . . . Word-of-Mouth!

So if families referring their friends is by and large the best way to get new families, I always follow up my question with this:

“So if this is your best way of getting new families, what specifically are you doing to generate these referrals?”



The major problem is that while word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is the most popular source of new leads, unfortunately, schools just operate by the mantra of “it just happens.” However, while marketing folks love organic, grassroots and unplanned attention, schools must be more intentional about creating a micro-system about referral marketing (or some may call it a “subset”). You need mirco-systems about recruiting, retention and referrals, what I call the “3 Rs of School Marketing.”

In the world of referrals, there are some realities of referrals. Understanding these 5 realities will help you jumpstart word-of-mouth marketing at your school:

  1. People love to make referrals because we love to share what we love. It’s bred in us to talk about what excites us. When we experience a great burger, a wonderful hotel, a surprisingly honest mechanic, etc., then we tell our friends. This is advantageous for schools when parents, students, board members and alumni love to tell their stories about their experience at your school.
  2. People don’t make referrals because they are too risky. While we want to share with our friends, sometimes we may hold back on telling the world about it. This is especially important when the investment is significant and emotional. If I tell you about a $3 carwash that ends up being a bad experience for you, then our relationship can withstand this variance of experience. However, if I tell you about my kids school (and therefore suggest they pay tens of thousands of dollars for it like I do), but they do not have a good experience, then there is a possibility that our relationship may hit a glitch from which we can’t recover.
  3. People make referrals when they consistently benefit and see results. The key to overcoming #2 is consistency. When we have a great hotel experience one time, we might give them a 5-star review but likely we may want to wait and see if they have the same experience more than once. If you enjoy the new Italian restaurant, it is likely that you will tell your friends only after you visit the restaurant the second or third time.
  4. People do not refer meaningless, mundane or mediocre. Seth Godin, marketing guru and author of books like “Purple Cow”, says it this way, ““if people aren’t talking about you, there’s a reason. You’re boring – your products are boring, your services are boring, your message is boring, your marketing is boring . . .” When it comes to private education, you must consistently show evidence that you are making an impact, you are equipping and preparing students for post-secondary success and that a parent’s investment is more than worth it.
  5. Schools cannot rely strictly on a passive approach to referral marketing. As I mentioned above, the “it just happens” approach to referral marketing will you a few referrals, but an intentional and systematic approach will generate a steady stream of ideal families who will then bring in new families as well.

Referrals are critical to your school’s word-of-mouth marketing efforts. But the question is is whether you are passive about it or intentional about helping current families send you more ideal families.

In my 1-on-1 consulting engagement, I can help you install a customized marketing system for your school.

Learn more about the different ways we consult with Christian schools around the country.