Marketing myths

I don’t need marketing: my school is too small and enrolments come from word-of-mouth.

Even before your school opened, the founders began by deciding the type of school it was going to be. They decided the breadth of the offering, the way the education would be delivered, where your school would be located and the fees they were going to charge. Perhaps without even realising it, the founders were engaged in strategic marketing.

When school leaders say they “don’t do any marketing,” they are wrong. What they mean is that they don’t put any meaningful resource behind the ‘communication’ part of marketing, but there is likely to have still been at least some investment of time and money into their marketing. All schools will create a logo or crest, they will almost certainly build a website and probably maintain a presence on social media. If they don’t need marketing, why spend time and money on any of these activities? No school is too small to engage in marketing. Myth busted.

Often, when a school Head says their school is “too small for marketing,” what they mean is that their marketing activities are not significant enough to need a specific employee or a separate budget.

Fact: the primary source of enrolments for independent schools of all types and sizes across the globe is word-of-mouth — creating an experience that is good enough for people to recommend.[1] This is because what other people say and do is one of the biggest influences on human behaviour.[2] Marketing will have contributed to any word-of-mouth referrals that a school receives. However, in the digital age, there is more to consider.

In the analogue age (before Google), it was difficult to be strategic about word-of-mouth. Schools would deliver the best experience possible and hope this would lead to recommendations. In the digital age, we now live in a world where everyone can access and own media channels. Social sharing plays a major part in the propagation of information. Comments, thoughts and ideas once shared face-to-face, or on the telephone, are now shared on social media platforms and messaging apps. Word-of-mouth has gone online.

This represents a huge opportunity for schools. Rather than passively waiting for the next referral, and never knowing when it might come or its source, schools today can both prompt word-of-mouth and measure it.

In the digital age, content is the coin of the realm. This means that, as an owner of media channels, if you want your online presence to be effective you must produce content that will have value for your perspective parents. Fortunately, the digital realm lends itself to testing, measuring and iterating so that you can amplify social sharing and comments. By producing the right content, your school can generate word-of-mouth and, ultimately, engagement.

So, not only was marketing necessary to obtain word-of-mouth referrals in an analogue age, in the digital age it can be leveraged to effectively generate and receive more word-of-mouth recommendations than ever before. In fact, a lack of online presence could damage your school’s ability to compete and win enrolments.

For a school to receive a steady flow of word-of-mouth recommendations, you need an active online presence … which is marketing activity. Myth busted.

[1] Independent Schools Queensland 2019. What Parents Want.

[2] Cialdini, RB 2007. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York, Collins Business, pages 114-166.

Brad Entwistle is the Founding Partner of imageseven. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness. 

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