Education Marketing and Advancement

Objectivity, transparency, and a collaborative spirit

Marketing Therapy

with Mike Connor

Increasing Inquiries: Applying Science to Word-of-Mouth

Derby Academy (MA) Communications Director Stacy Jagodowski made some great points about effective direct mail marketing to increase inquiries in a February 21st post on the NAIS Communications Listserv. Stacy points out that most schools give up on it after a few mailings, but the real payoff may be a couple of years of consistent effort. The tool proved to be an effective inquiry builder for her former school, Chatham Hall in Virginia, generating hundreds of inquiries and several enrollments annually.  I'd like to add four comments to hers that I hope will encourage you to put some research and intelligent relationship-building behind your efforts to build awareness and word-of-mouth.

  1. Get behavioral, value, and attitudinal-related information about your potential customers when you purchase a direct mail list.  You can often buy basic demographic lists for about 5 cents per household.  But for a bit more, you can get incredibly personalized psychographic information that will significantly reduce your cost per lead.  This type of research is called "descriptive" or "predictive" modeling.  Not only will it help your message resonate with your prospects' values and attitudes, it will also provide you with a realistic predictor of mission appropriate, best-match families in your pipeline.
  2. Repurchase updated lists frequently (often at a fraction of the original list cost).  Because families are continually leaving and arriving in your area, list accuracy degrades by 3-5% per month.  Reputable companies update addresses every two weeks and update email addresses weekly. You can dramatically improve response rates to direct mail by paying attention to timing, frequency, your call to action, and the integrity and recency of the list.
  3. Create a landing page on your website so you can gather additional information from direct mail responders that will help customize your communications approach down to a one-to-one relationship.  It will also objectively track the effectiveness of your campaign.
  4. Conduct an audit of your image, perceptions, and brand identity among your referrers, community influencers, and your admission funnel.   Determine exactly what perceptions may be influencing factors to pursue your school--or not.  Too often we assume it's all about cost.  More often it's because we don't do a good job listening to what they value.  That could mean that their lack of response may be due to not making an emotional connection with you, or the perception that it's not worth what it costs, or perhaps substantive concerns about your culture, teaching, and learning. "Cost" considerations mask a multitude of factors. Image Audits (also known as brand, perceptual, or identity audits) will give you the confidential intelligence you need to craft messages that will be relevant and compelling. It will also telegraph that you are self-assessing, confident about inviting feedback, appreciate candor, and are interested in being a community asset.

Nothing holds a candle to word of mouth marketing.  So put some science and research behind it and make it even more effective!  And finally, if you plot the areas where your "brand ambassadors" and prospects overlap, you can use predictive modeling as a tool to initiate direct relationships, and intelligently deploy your marketing budget and your volunteer ambassadors. 

Happy prospecting!

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