Obesity can spread like a virus through social networks. How can this finding be applied for school marketers?
Framingham is a town in Massachusetts where medical researchers have tracked a large segment of the adult population since 1948 – and in doing so revealed many of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as smoking. More recently two researchers have crunched the data and made another remarkable discovery: obesity spreads like a virus.
The Framingham data allowed the researchers to construct a map of friendships, and therefore the social network of the town. What they discovered was that if one person became obese, the likelihood that a friend would follow suit increased by 171%. “Your friends who live far away have just as big an impact on your behaviour as friends who live next door… Even if you see a friend only once a year, that friend will still change your sense of what’s appropriate. And that new norm will influence what you do” (said James Fowler, one of the researchers, quoted in Wired Magazine).
I suspect that choice of schools – and particularly whether to use independent schools - also follows this pattern. That is, if somebody knows someone who educates a child privately, then that makes them more likely to at least consider it too. We know from research for schools carried out at mtm that word-of-mouth is the single biggest influencer on choice of school, but this new insight goes back much further in the decision-making process. It influences awareness and consideration of independent education in general and describes the process of people opening themselves to the idea of fee-paying schools.
Here are a couple of thoughts for schools…
1) If you identify those parts of your catchment where you don’t have pupils and build up recruitment there, over time you should see a snowball effect as more local people consider you.
2) If your current parent body is socially homogeneous, you might well be missing out on a whole market of people with money but different lifestyles.
mtm’s Mandarin catchment area analysis product can help schools understand their marketplace and parent body, while our strategic and marketing services for schools allow clients to enhance their positioning. For more details please contact mtm.