Many music school owners consider word-of-mouth marketing their most powerful and persuasive form of marketing. They find that referrals play a significant role in bringing in new students. Surprisingly, despite its effectiveness, few music schools have a word-of-mouth marketing strategy in place.
Different Word-of-Mouth Marketing Strategies
Perhaps some send emails like, “Hey, if you refer a friend, you get a certain amount off of your lessons.” It’s a financial incentive, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but the message is clear: If you talk about us to your friends, we’ll give you money.
Well, that’s very generous if you choose to do that. What I prefer is using different word-of-mouth marketing strategies. When someone comes to me through a referral, I send them a thank-you gift, perhaps an Amazon gift card.
The Real Reason Why People Refer
People will gladly discuss about your music school without needing a financial incentive. They do it when they believe sharing with their social network benefits them.
People don’t refer people to you because they want to help you. They refer people to you because they want to help their friends and make themselves look good in the process.
Why People Refer
There’s no greater feeling than recommending something to a friend, like a movie, and having them come back all excited, saying how much they loved it. On the flip side, nothing feels worse than referring a friend to a movie and they’re like, “I really didn’t love it that much.” There probably are other things that feel worse than that.
The reason why it feels good when your referrals make people happy is that it shows you as a reliable resource and they trust your recommendations. Your taste and your credibility are on the line when you refer a product or a service to your friends.
Referrals Validate Own Taste and Credibility
I have a close friend who’s a musician. I keep sending him videos of artists I really dig, even though I know he’s not into them. I’m always crossing my fingers, hoping he’ll say, “Oh, my God. These guys are amazing. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of them.” It’s validating my own taste and my own credibility.
It’s important to have multiple word-of-mouth marketing strategies, but oddly enough, word-of-mouth marketing strategies are a little more subtle. A little more sublime.
A good word-of-mouth marketing strategy is packed with tactics that don’t beg people to talk about you. Instead, they’re more designed to make people feel good about you. They feel so good that they’re compelled to talk about you to their friends.
Create Experiences That People Want to Share
Let me share a recent experience. We had some major storms in Ohio, and it seems like everyone’s having challenging weather conditions this summer. A tree fell on our house, knocking out our internet. It was all because of that tree. I called AT&T and told them, “Our internet’s down, and I want to change my data plan. We’ll use our phones as hotspots.”
AT&T initially pitched switching my internet to them, but that was too much hassle. I’m with Spectrum currently, and my priority is getting these hotspots up and running. I really wasn’t receptive to their sales pitch. They told me, “We’re gonna increase your data plan because clearly, you’re going through a hardship right now. That will function as some sort of main hotspot that everyone in your house can piggyback off of so you’ll get faster speeds.”
I was so blown away by this. And the best part? They said it wouldn’t cost a thing. They boosted our data plan and sent a device to our hubs, making things even better. Initially, we used them for the internet, not for streaming services. But now, I feel a little more compelled to switch to AT&T after their kindness. I even shared their story with three people because it’s a story worth telling.
That’s what word-of-mouth marketing is all about—creating experiences and generating stories that people feel compelled to share with people.
Exceed Your Customers’ Expectations
To make a real impact, look for opportunities in your music school to surprise and delight families, exceeding their expectations. Think about birthdays, for instance. If you asked families how they’d like the music school to acknowledge their child’s birthday, they might suggest sending an email or even a postcard. These are some obvious ones. Any acknowledgment of a child’s birthday is appreciated by parents. But here’s the thing, if you send an email saying, “Hey, wishing Johnny Happy Birthday,” it means a lot to the parent, although they might not mention that the school sent it to the child this year.
The more you exceed the expectations, the more over the top your actions and gestures are, and the more likely the parent is to talk about it to other people.
The Power of Generosity and Kindness
Imagine someone from your school driving to the kid’s house with a gift bag, knocking on the door, and personally handing it over. It’s a pretty over-the-top gesture, right? Logistically, that example could be a little complicated. You figure out most of your students live just a few miles away from your music school, celebrating birthdays all year. But systematizing generosity and how you’re going to show generosity is a great way to boost referrals and ramp up your word-of-mouth marketing.
Now, one could argue that setting up processes and systems for generosity is so disingenuous. After all, generosity should just kind of happen right in the moment and should come from the heart. Authentic generosity is when you’re out, see something that reminds you about somebody, and decide to get it for them on the spot. And yes, that’s a form of generosity. But what’s disingenuous about creating systems and automating generosity is that the outcome—the recipient’s appreciation—remains the same.
Imagine this: In your music school, you set up a system where every new student receives a postcard from their teacher three days after their first lesson. The postcard simply expresses how much the teacher enjoyed meeting the child and how they’re excited about making music together. You could even have four different postcard templates that teachers can pick from. It’s a fully systematized process.
You might think the teacher didn’t naturally feel like writing the child. But once that postcard goes out in the mail, the parent sees it and is pleasantly surprised by this unexpected act of generosity and kindness. They give it to the child, and it brightens their day—maybe they even hang it on their bedroom wall. When a friend asks how Olivia’s first piano lesson was, Mom is likely to talk about that postcard more than the lesson itself. She’d say, “Oh, it was great. She really likes her teacher. The best part was when we got a sweet postcard in the mail a few days after her lesson.”
That’s a story worth sharing. It’s not dramatic, but any act of unexpected or over-the-top generosity and kindness is an easy and likely story for people to share. You should aim to create shareable stories.
Unexpected Acts of Kindness
So I wanted to share with you something that I always do when this opportunity arises. It’s unfortunate but a wonderful chance to make people feel noticed and appreciated. Plus, it shows your music school families that you genuinely care about them.
I had a conversation with someone about a week or two ago, and he mentioned, “My wife is having surgery on September 1. So I’ll be unavailable for about four, maybe five to seven days after that. It’s not a major surgery, just a procedure.” They mentioned it casually in our conversation, and I didn’t dwell on it at the time. But I remembered the date, September 1.
After our call, I set up a simple process. I scheduled an email to be sent the day before September 1, saying, “Hey, I hope your wife’s surgery goes well tomorrow. I hope she has a speedy recovery.” It was just two sentences. To my surprise, I received a reply from him, saying, “Oh, that was so kind of you. I can’t believe you remembered.”
The truth is, I didn’t remember anything. What I did remember was that I have a process in place for when someone is going into the hospital, and I implemented it right after our call. In the next step of this process, I’m going to send flowers to his wife. I don’t know which hospital she’s at, so I’ll send them to their home with a note from me and my business. His wife might not even know who I am, but when she receives the flowers, she might ask her husband, “Hey, do you know this Dave Simon guy? What’s his business?” Then, he’s going to start talking to her about me and my business, “Oh, yeah, I know Dave.”
Stay Top of Mind
He’s likely to feel positive about me at that moment and might say something nice about me to his wife. Plus, I’ve given him a story to share. I’ve not only improved how he feels about me but also created a story for him to pass along.
It was an unexpected act of kindness. If someone asks him, “Hey, how’s your wife doing? I bet she’s getting lots of gifts and flowers”, he might tell the story, even to people who may never do business with me, and that’s okay.
I’ve helped reinforce whatever emotions he has towards me, and now I’m top of mind. You know the expression, “Top of mind is tip of tongue.” The more people think of you, the more they talk about you.
It was an unexpected act of kindness. Maybe someone asks, “How’s your wife doing? I bet she’s getting lots of gifts and flowers.” Then he shares the story. Even if he tells people who won’t do business with me, that’s okay. I’ve strengthened his feelings toward me and made myself top of mind. As they say, “Top of mind is tip of tongue,” meaning, the more top of mind you are, the more likely people are to talk about you.
Important Tip: Avoid This in Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing
You want people talking about your music school a lot for word-of-mouth marketing. What will they say? “Billy just started lessons. His teacher is well-qualified, went to Berkeley, and the school offers quality music lessons. The teacher gave Billy practice material.” Not very interesting, right?
Story Based Word-of-Mouth
There are various types of word-of-mouth marketing. For instance, when a parent’s friend asks for music lesson recommendations, “Hey, I’m looking for music lessons for my child. Do you know of any places that you’d recommend?” They might suggest your school if they’re satisfied with it. That’s the obvious type of word-of-mouth marketing. The second is story-driven word-of-mouth marketing.
Within your music school, it’s important to look at all the different experiences that students and parents have and think, “Where can we potentially or how can we potentially create a shareable story?”
Here’s a great example. I was recently back home in St. Louis with my older cousin, who’s 78. She has a daughter working at a place called Wally’s, which is like a 7/11 or a gas station convenience store. But they’ve turned the whole gas station and convenience store experience into something over the top. People visit for the experience, not just for gas or a candy bar.
My cousin told me about this gas station, and one of the first things she mentioned was how amazing their bathrooms are. So we checked them out, and they truly were remarkable. They were worth talking about. They had all these jokes written all over the wall, and just really unexpected artwork. Everything about the place was full of potential stories that you could share.
One story that she shared with me was that right in the middle of the convenience store is a really big Winnebago. The one side of it is completely cut out. There are shelves in there, and it’s being used as a display case. It’s just one of many aspects of this business that are worth sharing.
Not only does word-of-mouth marketing help attract new students, but it also helps reinforce in the minds of your current families what they like about you and what they like about your music school.
Acts of kindness and generosity reinforce the values of your music school, which not only play out in the lesson but also in the relationships that you have with the families in your music school.
Don’t simply wait for word-of-mouth marketing to happen; instead, develop strategies that will help facilitate it.