The “professional football championship game” is on the horizon! Everyone knows the name of the event, but since that name’s been copyrighted, I don’t want to risk printing it. Maybe I’ll just start referring to it as PFCG.  And, as in years past, the hype surrounding the commercials that will make their debut will escalate, and sometimes more newsworthy is the millions of dollars that corporations will pay for 30 seconds of airtime just to expose their product or service to the year’s largest group of television viewers. But even though advertisers pay a premium rate for placing ads in great locations where “exposure” to the message takes place, and repeated exposure “brands” the image into the viewers’ mind, that’s still no guarantee that the prospect will act on the product or service they’ve been exposed to.

If the message is made “personal” – that is, it’s delivered by a person – the odds that someone will act on that information increase exponentially. It’s why movies, plays, restaurants and other artistic creations (think a restaurant isn’t art?) used to rely on the “critics” to generate “buzz” about the latest and greatest.  Today, that buzz is generated by social media and the abundance of apps that have emerged to share one’s experience with the people they’re connected to via their little handheld computer.

It used to be thought that if a person is positively impacted by an experience, they’ll be sure to tell at least three people. That didn’t seem like much, but thousands of dollars were spent to impact those same three people through other means – like radio, television, billboards and, now, social media.  Even with the abundance of technology we have at our fingertips, “Word of Mouth” is considered to be the most effective, and the least expensive, marketing strategy.

And although it’s the best, Word of Mouth is the sharpest double-edged sword out there as well. A person with a negative experience used to infect 9 others with the message, and, because bad news spreads faster than good news, one negative experience could have an effect on 250 people – and that was before social media was even in someone’s imagination.  Today, with Internet, smartphone, wireless, social media and cloud-based technologies changing the landscape of communication virtually every second, a person’s good words can share their “like” of something with thousands of others, and since bad news is more viral than good news, a negative experience can be seen by tens of thousands, and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands, in an instant!  Further, those comments may or may not be true, but it doesn’t matter.  If it rings true in the mind of the customer, then, as we’ve all experienced over the past few years, it’s true for that person – whether it is true or not according to firmly established truths.  It’s the perception of the experience that counts.

This means that more than ever, faith-based schools, as well as private schools, need to be authentic to their message. If we say children will have a positive experience, we have to make sure they do. If we say parents will be treated as individuals in order to help build their experience of community, we have to find ways to do that, and not just focus on the classroom. If we say our school exudes academic excellence, we must be prepared to provide evidence of excellent (and not just good or very good) student achievement. If we say children won’t be bullied, we need to make sure they’re not by helping children learn to positively interact with one another. If we say children will grow in faith, then they need to be able to share it by their actions. This authenticity will continue to make Catholic, Christian, and other faith-based schools invaluable – not only to the community, but to the whole of society.

Will we be criticized? Sure! Will we be crucified? Yes! But will we have done our best, so that parents will continue to talk about our school to other parents, sharing the good news about our school to their friends?

The business world calls it, “Word of Mouth Marketing;” we call it, “Evangelization.”

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2022 (Original Publication Date: 20070122)