Of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (Ries and Trout), the one that blows me away (and transformed my career) was Law #2, which I will paraphrase: “If you’re not #1 in a category, create a new category in which you are #1.” As school communicators, admission personnel and marketeers, we must start our marketing initiatives at the beginning….building a foundation by asking, “What is it that we do that no other school does?” (Day schools may inject, “...that no other school within commuting proximity does?”) This exercise is particularly critical for residential schools, because boarding schools operate in a global marketplace in which differentiation is critical to success.
Your school will flourish in all ways to the degree that the market position that you identify meets a real-world market need. As an admission director, I never missed the opportunity to tell a visiting family, “This school has its own genetic code….a set of qualities that—taken together—make it wholly unique.” Notice that this strategy contracts the wide end of the mythical admission funnel! This approach takes guts. You’re becoming Seth Godin’s Purple Cow.
When someone asks,
“With whom do you compete?”
“I can name the schools with which we overlap
with applications most, but we are
not competing with anyone.”
What does it look like to have successfully differentiated your school in the market? You’ll be more knowable. More families will know you via word-of-mouth publicity from current parents and alumni, enabling you to redirect resources from advertising to human-to-human marketing strategies. You’ll see an increase in appropriate (admissible) applicants for admission, and a decrease in inappropriate applicants. A higher percentage of your student population will experience success—however that concept is defined by your niche. You will speak less about “excellence” and “close faculty-student relationships” (which are the minimum ante for being in business) and more describing teaching methodologies, institutional values, remarkable aspects of curriculum and your school’s definitions of success. When someone asks, “With whom do you compete?” You’ll reply, “I can name the schools with which we overlap with applications most, but we are not competing with anyone.” You will speak with authenticity, providing anecdotal examples of your unique strand of DNA.
To be successful, you must be remarkable. Take responsibility for this and identify your unique market position! Accomplish this and you can consider your marketing strategies and media efficiently, for less cost, and with greatest outcome.