How to market your language or literacy program: Build trust over time

If you send prospective students a brochure or answer an e-mail, they are not very likely to register in your program. Here’s why…

Marketers tell us that we need to see an advertisement or hear a message at least seven times before we are likely to buy a product. Sales professionals say that it can take anywhere between five and 27 “touches” or contact with a prospective buyer before they are convinced to make a purchase from you.

What does that mean for language programs and literacy organizations? It means that we can not simply send out a brochure to a student and reasonable expect that suddenly he or she will want to register in our program.

The “drip theory” recommends regular, repeated contact – at least six or seven times – with a prospect to ensure that your name sticks in her mind. This does not mean sending out six or seven copies of the same brochure! There is a difference between “dripping” and “bombarding” or worse yet, “stalking”.

Each “touch” needs to be different — and still relevant. For example, connecting via e-mail, followed by sending a brochure, followed a week later by an invitation to register, followed by a couple of monthly newsletters.

The timing of each contact is also important. Bombarding someone in seven different ways in a very short period of time is more likely to turn them off than to convince them that they want to join your program. There is no one perfect formula for how often you should connect with your prospects… Once a week or a few times a week seems to be an accepted norm in the educational and non-profit sectors. There seems to be a lower tolerance for repeated contact in a short period of time with prospects in the social sectors than there is in the business sectors.

In my PhD research, I found that it can take anywhere from two to five years to get a new language program off the ground. That is the “sales cycle” for English as an Additional Language (ESL / EFL / EAL / ESOL) programs. It can also take up to two years to convert a prospective student into a current student.

In Guerrilla Marketing for NonProfits, authors Jay Conrad Levinson, Frank Adkins and Chris Forbes talk about how non-profit organizations often give up too soon. They expect to see results NOW. If they do not get an immediate response (which is highly unlikely) they give up. In fact, they say that most non-profits give up on new programs just before they hit the point of success.

If you get an e-mail address for the prospect and you can send monthly updates about what is going on in your program, you will be using yet another medium to show your prospects that you have not forgotten about them.

Ideally, you want to combine different types of contact: social media, mail, e-mail, phone calls and personal contact. This is not always easy in an international marketplace, but do try for repeated contact in a variety of ways.

If you don’t get any response after several tries, then you can change the prospect from active to inactive in your database. In any case, you are more likely to get more registrants by using the drip effect than by sending an initial brochure and nothing else.

Here are seven ways to help you market your language or literacy program consistently

1) List all of the methods you use to connect with your prospective learners (phone, e-mail, drop-in, brochures, etc.).

2) Set up a spreadsheet with each method of contact across the top.

3) Every time a prospect contacts you, ask for his or her contact information.

4) Note the date that you made contact under the appropriate column.

5) Make an effort to stay in touch with the prospective learner, at least once a week, using a different method each time.

6) If a prospective student shows a preference for a particular type of communication, use that one more often. For example, if a prospective student does not respond to e-mails, but calls or Skypes, then make a note of it. At least once, take the initiative to connect with the prospect in the way that they prefer. It’s about them, after all.

7) Track how many prospective students actually end up enrolling in your program and how long it takes. You may be surprised to find that it take  longer than you think it will, or longer than you would like it to. This does not mean that should try to accelerate that cycle. That can often backfire and turn prospects off. It is useful, however, to show you how long prospective learners may take to make a decision.

It’s not about trying to force them to make a decision faster. It is about cultivating trust and building a relationship with them so that when they are ready to make a decision, they choose your program because they feel that they know you and that you care about them. When the time comes for them to make their decision, trust will often be the factor that sways people one way or another. If you haven’t built the trust with them over time, they may never register. That takes time. In the long run, it is worth it.


This post is adapted from “Idea #17: Be a Drip ” in 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

One Response to How to market your language or literacy program: Build trust over time

  1. Thorsten says:

    Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a top notch article… but what
    can I say… I procrastinate a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.


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