School marketing and the importance of brand advocacy

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Peer discovery and recommendation remain at the forefront of referral source.

We trust each other more than the brands that compete for our ever-dwindling attention spans. We also have more choice in terms of the media we consume, selecting what, when and how we view it, and as such are able to avoid brand messaging, unless we choose to specifically engage with our favourite brands via social media platforms.

Consumers trust recommendations from their peers above all other forms of advertising and recommendations. A staggering 92% of people say that they rely on recommendations from people they know. The second biggest influence was consumer opinions posted online (70% of people said this influenced them).

Word of mouth cannot be controlled. It is an organic flow of conversation, in which brands are discussed, compared and commented upon openly and honestly (for the most part), without a marketer in sight. It is for this simple reason that consumers are more likely to trust and act upon the recommendations of their peers.

If “half of all advertising is wasted”, then it is highly likely that the other half is driven by peer-to-peer recommendations!

The big ‘buzz’ today is about the role and importance that ‘influencers’ and ‘advocates’ should – and can play – in getting consumers to consider, try and buy products and services.

Brand advocates are likely to be more important to your brand than ‘influencers’ with ‘brand advocates’ having more passion, love and desire for your brand to succeed.

Influencers can generate awareness but Advocates will drive trial and purchase.

There is a quote from Joe Tripodi (Chief Marketing Officer: Coca-Cola Company) in which he says “awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level“.

You cannot rely upon online alone to do this. You need to find the real world advocates for your brand.

In a recent survey conducted 81% of consumers said that they are influenced by their friends’ posts on social media when making purchasing decisions. But that shouldn’t be a surprise – friends influencing friends is nothing new. It is as old as conversation. People are naturally going to be influenced by the people they care about and this is never more true than when there is so much choice, as there is today.

To reflect this in the education market you can identify how important your current parents are – you want to be the school advocated on the ‘dinner party’ circuit – internal awareness and communications are vital.

Peer to peer discovery mechanisms include, for example, a short video featuring a school Open Morning. Whilst it will not replace a personal visit it may allay any fears of the unknown for parents – from something as simple as a identifying the appropriate ‘dress code’ or to see and hear the Headteacher so when they do meet in person there is an immediate affinity.

The coffee table prospectus and termly magazine still plays a huge part in the digital age – print volumes are increasing and these tangible publications remain invaluable in peer to peer advocacy.

Never before has a school’s ‘Friends of’ had a more prominent role to play – perhaps they, or you, just haven’t recognised or harnessed it yet.

Furthermore the influencing is not passive. It is not just that people are seeing their friends posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest and responding to them. People are actively seeking the opinions and thoughts of their friends, colleagues and family. The big difference now (as opposed to say 5 years ago) is that social networks mean that people are reaching tens, hundreds and in some cases thousands of people with a tweet or Facebook status update.

So what does that mean for you? Well for one thing, this is a huge opportunity. If you can convince even a few people that your school, product or service is the one they need, then they may well start to influence their friends by posting about your school, company or product on your timeline.