Why You Should Flaunt Your School's Imperfections


There’s really only one thing school marketing is about…

Building trust with prospective parents.


Really stop and think about what we ask parents to do:

  1. Every time a parent drops their child off at school it’s an exercise in trust. They’re basically entrusting their child to almost perfect strangers for 5-8 hours a day. That’s a big commitment.
  2. Finding an education partner with shared values in their child's upbringing is hard work. It’s never perfect and they have to be willing to give and take a little.
  3. The education a school provides largely defines a child's future success and financial independence. Who wants to send their child to a school where they’re going to receive a sub-par education?  
  4. Asymmetry of information - meaning once a parent has made a choice, they don't really know what is happening at school most of the time.
    They have to trust that the information coming from both the school and their child is accurate.


Enter the Pratfall effect:

The Pratfall Effect is the idea that if you admit a weakness or exhibit a flaw, you become more appealing to people.  Aronson's research in the 1960s showed that when a person makes a mistake, they appear more human, more like others and so more likable. People who are perfect can seem threatening, but people who are imperfect are safe and hence easier to trust.

Northwestern University recently (2015) applied the same research to 111,000 product reviews.

They found that as a product review gets better, the likelihood of people purchasing it increases until it hits a tipping point. That point is somewhere between 4.2 and 4.4 out of 5. If the reviews get any better people are less likely to buy it because it seems too good to be true.

Similarly, parents don't trust perfection.
The best example of the Pratfall effect is the legendary commercial for Buckley's cough syrup which emphasizes how awful it tastes in the most inventive ways:

  • "Everything you want in a cough remedy and nothing you want in taste. Buckley's mixture; it tastes awful and it works."
  • "Parents swear by it and at it. Buckley's mixture; it tastes awful and it works."
  • "Tastes like a hockey puck. Feels like victory. Buckley's mixture; it tastes awful and it works."


The brilliant insight at the campaign's heart: we assume anything that is foul must be potent.

This is a huge opportunity for schools.  


Your competition will be going out and bragging about all their great achievements most of the time.
The key to connecting with parents online is to realize the different pressures they face and responding to them in a transparent and relatable way.
To become a trusted source of advice for parents in your community, focus on authenticity.
You have to become more realistic and honest, rather than portraying some mythical, perfect school, filled with flawless kids who live with perfect families.


Okay, let's say you're convinced!
How do you go out now and admit a few flaws and mistakes?

Don’t just pick a weakness randomly. You really need to put some thought into it. The best schools don’t admit a weakness around their core competencies.

For example, never undermine the quality of your curriculum, facilities, faculty etc.

Developing this flaw or mistake is a two-step process for the best school marketers. Not only do they find something to highlight that isn’t core but they also find a positive counterpart, or a "mirror positive".

So what's your school's favorite mistake?

You're not looking for cataclysmic failures. You’re looking for a small a mistake, screwup, bad judgment call, or missed opportunity that has helped you be a better school ...