Word of mouth holds a lot of sway in the college decision-making process, yet few schools have a deliberate plan for building buzz among their prospect base. Daniel Lemin, co-author of a new book titled Talk Triggers, recently stopped by the Higher Ed Marketing Lab to share some practical strategies higher ed marketers can use to generate quality word of mouth. Here are a few key takeaways from our discussion.

Novelty Isn’t Enough

At DoubleTree Hotels, warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies are an unexpected delight that’s been seamlessly baked into the customer check-in experience. That doesn’t mean we all need to hop on the Tollhouse bandwagon, though. Novelty can be a great conversation starter, but if it isn’t backed by strategy, you’ll ultimately be left with nothing more than a forgettable, flash-in-the-pan gimmick.

Effective talk triggers are remarkable by definition, but they should also be reasonable in nature, easily repeatable and, above all, relevant to your brand. Freshly baked cookies make perfect sense in the context of the hospitality industry, but it’d be a little weird if your dentist offered you one after a root canal, right?

Unlocking Opportunities

If you want to get people talking, the worst thing you can do is the thing that’s expected. The out-of-the-box campus tours offered at New York’s Alfred University are a great example of lateral thinking in action.

Instead of the typical romp across the quad lead by a backward-walking student tour guide, the university challenges prospects to explore campus in small groups via a seven-seater conference bike. Not only is this a refreshing diversion from the traditional tour format employed by most other schools, it confidently telegraphs the university’s plucky “Outside of Ordinary” ethos while zeroing in on a specific, right-fit audience.

Successful talk triggers aren’t happy accidents. And while it can be tempting to put creative brainstorming before research, doing your homework and getting to the heart of your brand will help you confidently project the why behind the what, ensuring that your end result is a resounding wow.

Influencing Every Phase Of The Student Journey

Campus tours aren’t your only opportunity to move the meter on metrics. Even graduation can be leveraged as a platform for your school’s points of differentiation.

To emphasize its identity as a design school, Japan’s Kanazawa College of Art eschews the traditional cap and gown in favor of letting students create their own graduation gear. And Smith College has garnered a lot of attention for its unusual “Diploma Circle” tradition, where graduates receive a diploma belonging to another student and must trade with their classmates to track down their own hard-earned degree.

Examining your school’s student journey from start to finish is a great first step toward identifying gaps in the student experience—gaps that can be translated into opportunities for your institution to do something different and get noticed.

Hungry for More?

My conversation with Daniel covered a lot of interesting ground; way more than I can capture in a single blog post. Check out the full interview for a deeper dive into talk triggers and word-of-mouth marketing.