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The Grocery Store Grapevine: How Casual Conversations Affect Student Enrollment

8 min read
Jun 20, 2023 8:00:00 AM

Here’s how what parents discuss at the grocery store (and other informal locations) can work for — or against — your enrollment efforts.

Imagine this cliché scenario: two moms are standing in line at your local grocery store. While waiting in the checkout line, this casual, highly familiar conversation happens:

  • “Your baby is so cute. How old is he?”
  • “He’ll be seven months old next Friday.”
  • “They’re so sweet at that age. I miss it.”
  • “Oh, how old is your kid?”
  • “She just turned eight.”
  • “Really? So is my oldest! Where does yours go to school?”
  • “Evergreen Elementary.”

And then comes the critical question: “How do you like it there?”

These everyday, informal, in-the-moment conversations parents have — conversations you’d hear at the grocery store, baseball practice, pediatrician, school uniform store, dance studio, etc. — are examples of “word-of-mouth marketing.”

And, as it turns out, it’s also among the best ways to promote your school.

two mothers talking at the park about their older kids school

The Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Schools

Word-of-mouth marketing is a highly influential form of promotion that occurs when one person endorses a business, brand, specific product, or — in your case — school to another person.

Rooted in the well-established fact that people tend to trust recommendations from peers, family, and friends above all else, word-of-mouth marketing is typically regarded as the most effective form of marketing.

Gone are the days of relying solely on traditional advertising methods:

  • Newspaper ads
  • Billboards
  • Direct mail
  • Radio ads

Instead, you should direct your efforts toward cultivating positive word-of-mouth discussions around your school. The key to this lies in creating positive customer experiences for currently enrolled families, who can be your school’s strongest champions in these off-the-cuff conversations.

To improve student enrollment and to establish a positive reputation within your community, here are five reasons why focusing on word-of-mouth marketing is key.Subscribe to the schoolmint blog ad

1. Word-of-Mouth Marketing Builds Trust and Credibility

Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship. And word-of-mouth marketing is built upon this principle. By cultivating a network of satisfied families, you create a powerful web of trust that extends far beyond any conventional marketing campaign for your school.

Positive feedback about a school from a friend, a family member, a colleague, or even a random parent or grandparent at the grocery store creates a sense of reassurance in a guardian’s decision to choose — or not — choose a particular school.

Their feedback provides prospective parents with firsthand insights into a school’s strengths, academic programs, extracurricular activities, and overall environment. For example, you should expect prospective parents to ask parents and peers questions like:

  • What’s the school’s discipline policy, and how’s bullying?
  • How is the principal? Are they easy to meet with? Do they handle your concerns?
  • Does your kid like their teacher? And are they learning and making friends?

Naturally, you want positive reactions to those questions — negative comments can spread and deter potential enrollees, leading to a decline in student enrollment. 

Here’s how that can look in everyday conversation:

Imagine Parent A and Parent B are waiting at their pediatrician’s office and strike up a conversation, and Parent A says your school is one Parent B should “definitely avoid.”

You’re at a disadvantage in Parent B’s mind before you’ve even had a chance to introduce your school and explain why it’s a great choice.

If you aren’t proactive with stirring up positive word of mouth in your community and are instead letting the narrative run its own course, you could be entirely unaware of an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with your school in your community.

What Can I Do?

The tricky thing with word-of-mouth marketing is that you have no control over what’s said about your school. What you can do, however, is increase the chances that when these conversations happen, people will say positive things about your school.

First, address concerns parents have. And not just the concerns you think they have but rather the concerns parents are actually telling you. One way to collect this information is by doing a family satisfaction survey.

How to Improve Family-School Communication with Mobile Platforms

Once you’ve done the hard work of mitigating concerns in your school, you need to get the word out about the new changes. You can do this through social media ads as well as through your school’s regular posting.

While all this is going on, you want to call on your school’s champions — your teachers, other faculty, families, and students who believe 100% in your school — and have them engage with community members.

Create an ambassador program with these champions, and give them pointers on the benefits about your school you’d like them to share when they’re in discussions about your school — and no, this doesn’t mean you’re asking them to lie!

If your school has an incredible performing arts program that few people know about, ask your ambassadors to bring this up.

Likewise, if your school has made huge gains in academic achievement, informal conversations are your chance for ambassadors to say something like, “That was the case five years ago, but Evergreen Middle is actually now in our state’s top 20% after Principal Smith and the curriculum director met and…”

Just be sure you can back up these claims. If you can’t brag about one thing, find something that you can brag on instead. You’ll have a far easier time promoting your school’s positives rather than trying to explain away your shortcomings.

2. Word-of-Mouth Marketing Creates an Emotional Connection

It’s one thing to spit facts about your school: test scores, the size of your facilities, your faculty’s cumulative years of training…

But it’s emotional connections that will resonate with parents. In fact, people are far more likely to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts. Positive word-of-mouth can generate excitement, making your school appear more appealing and encouraging prospective parents to explore further.

When parents speak positively about a school to one another, they’ll likely emphasize the social–emotional growth, happiness, and academic success they’ve witnessed in their child. What they likely won’t emphasize is the fact your gym is 4,200 square feet.

And that’s good, because a prospective parent will be considerably more interested in envisioning their own child in the first scenario instead of envisioning an empty large gym.

Such stories evoke emotions and resonate with other parents, who may be searching for a school — or may be swayed to even transfer their child.

What Can I Do?

Cold, hard facts have their place on your school’s website. I’m not saying you shouldn’t brag about things like your impressively large facilities, your teachers’ training, test scores, and so on — but you should instead know when to use those facts and when you should instead lean on emotional storytelling.

Check out my colleague’s article, Telling the Story of Your School, to learn more about this subject and what you can do to create emotional connections with your school.

3. Word-of-Mouth Marketing Enhances Your School’s Reputation

Your school’s reputation is built upon the collective experiences and opinions of its stakeholders: families, teachers, non-teaching staff, and alumni. Positive word-of-mouth testimonials can significantly contribute to your school’s reputation as a reputable institution that provides quality education and a nurturing environment.

Schools that actively promote positive experiences and foster strong relationships with parents can establish a favorable reputation, becoming the school of choice in their community.

Having a positive reputation is priceless. It requires high effort to create (as you actually have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk), but the returns — better student enrollment and higher family engagement — are well worth your investment of time and energy.

What Can I Do?

As mentioned previously, one way you can promote the positive experiences at your school is by sharing them on social media. You should already be doing this to deepen engagement with current families by posting to your account organically, but also consider reaching new families by putting some dollars behind social media ads.

Social media advertising is becoming more and more commonplace as the enrollment environment becomes more competitive. SchoolMint offers social media advertising through our digital ad services.

While our ad services are relatively inexpensive and provide high returns for schools, if you don’t have any budget at all to spare, check out my previous article, 20 Tips for School Social Media. I offer a variety of tips and ideas you can do even with no budget at all.


4. Word-of-Mouth Marketing Enhances Community Engagement

Word-of-mouth marketing extends beyond the individual conversations parents and grandparents have at the softball field or dance studio. It also contributes to parents’ community engagement and involvement.

Parents who speak positively about their children’s school often become enthusiastic advocates, promoting the school through social media, community events, and parent–teacher associations — without your encouragement to do so. These parents are more than happy to share pride in their child’s accomplishments but also pride for the school and faculty who made it happen.

These parents’ advocacy builds a sense of community and encourages collaboration among other parents, staff, and students. Their positive energy can subsequently attract more families to your school, further enhancing enrollment rates.

What Can I Do?

Champions of your school can be your biggest allies in enrollment. Put their energy and good will to use — but always remember to let them know how much you appreciate their support!

5. Word-of-Mouth Marketing Gives You Invaluable Feedback

While this isn’t the ideal way to get feedback about your school, negative word-of-mouth can serve as a valuable feedback mechanism. When families express criticism or concerns, it highlights areas that need improvement.

What Can I Do?

By listening to what people in your community are saying about your school, you have the chance to address these concerns. The nature of the feedback will determine how you need to respond:

  • If the negative feedback is valid, work on fixing the root problem. For example, if word in the community is that your school has a bullying problem, perhaps it’s time to evaluate your school’s discipline policy — or create a whole new one — and work on healing your reputation.
  • If the negative feedback actually isn’t true, you know the problem lies in the perception of your school. To combat this, promote the truth instead — and be authentic! You have ways to communicate all the positives about your school and to dispel myths. A principal’s blog can be helpful here as well as social media, school emails, your school’s website, and, of course, your school’s ambassadors.

Take Control of Your School’s Narrative

Generating good word-of-mouth testimonials about your school isn’t something that’ll happen overnight — but it’s something you should prioritize immediately.

One way in which you can start making a positive, noticeable difference in your school is to work on improving your customer service efforts.

To get personalized, actionable insights as to what you can do to improve your school’s customer service, learn more about SchoolMint’s enrollment marketing solutions.

By partnering with SchoolMint, we can identify areas for improvement in your current operations, conduct family satisfaction surveys, and go undercover as a “secret shopper” to experience firsthand what the enrollment experience is like at your school — unbiased.

Get in touch with one of our enrollment consultants here or by clicking the image below.

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