Relationship = Marketing; Referrals = New Sales; Perceived Performance = Continued Commitment

The next 5 articles may sound like they’re only for faith-based and/or private schools, but with cyber schools, charter schools, and home schooling, the public school needs to be aware of these fundamental principles which drive today’s marketplace.

Today’s article focuses on relationships, referrals and perceived performance.

When one mentions marketing to a public school administrator, the usual comment is, “We don’t do that,” or “Well, we have a Web site.”  Sometimes, the proffered reason it’s not done is that the community will perceive it as a waste of taxpayer dollars…which could be why many public school district Web sites look like they were created 10 years ago.  While “the waste” comment would hold water if the local public school district spent dollars on billboards, marketing is really all about educating the marketplace.  What makes it difficult is that it’s not “factual” education.  It’s not left-brain, statistical, logical information that will inspire people to be positive about what’s happening in the local public school district.  It’s “emotional” education – right-brain, creative, inspiring, excitement-generating achievements and events that make one proud to be a part of the community because of the great things happening for the students in the school district.

If you just thought, “Yep, that’s our problem. All the news that comes out of our district isn’t flattering,” now you know what you need to do for homework.  Media is not the solution.  Most of the news you’ll see on television, hear on the radio or learn about from your mobile device is “bad” news (especially a most recent report of a public school district superintendent relieving himself on a football field).  Why?  It’s precisely what is described above – emotional education.  Sadly, bad news initially touches the emotions more powerfully than good news, unless the good news is, well, almost too good to be believable.

Therefore, it’s imperative that your district share its good news with the community incessantly, and in an emotionally compelling way.  The goal is to create positive word of mouth marketing, which is fortified by the level of relationship the district has with its community.  The school just doesn’t have the responsibility of educating children; it’s the educational vehicle for the entire community it serves.  Does your public school district offer continuing education classes for adults who may want to improve their computer skills or take swimming lessons? No?  Why not?

If all the community experiences is what they read about in the local newspaper, where bad news makes the front page and the good news is buried six or seven pages back (or, worse yet, not even published on the online version of the newspaper), then there needs to be a way to let the community discover the good things about the school district and its schools.  When they the do, they tell their friends, and their friends may be inclined to get involved as well.  In the business world, referrals lead to “new sales;” in the non-profit space, referrals lead to new involvement.

Once individuals are involved, the goal is to keep them involved, and deepen the involvement to the point of being “engaged” with the school.  Businesses refer to this as loyalty.  If you buy a specific kind of detergent, and you’re happy with it, chances are you won’t change brands unless something impacts you…a price increase, an allergic reaction, or a coupon from a competing brand.  Even though those are “factual” things, all of those will touch you “emotionally.”  For instance, if you’re used to paying 7 dollars for a bottle of detergent, and find that the price is now $7.59, you’re not necessarily going to see if the bottle has increased or decreased in size, and do a cost-per-ounce comparison with other brands to see what the next best value is, especially if you like (an emotional word) how your current detergent cleans your clothes.  Your “like” mentality has been disrupted by a “dislike” of the price increase.  Therefore, it’s not the price increase that’s the problem, since it may be justified due to rising production costs, or competition for shelf space in the supermarket.  It’s simply the fact that you don’t like what’s happened that may cause you to seek an alternative.  If you do, however, you may find that your new choice doesn’t get your t-shirts as bright as your first brand did.

That’s why “perceived performance” is important in retaining students.  Actually, it’s not about retaining students.  It’s about retaining parents, since they’re the ones that are making the decisions to enroll their children in cyber schools or charter schools, or to homeschool them.  While creating an atmosphere for excellence and safety for the children is of vital importance, the results of those efforts must also positively impact parents so that they remain loyal “customers” of the school.  Since they’re the ones that are footing the bill – with their taxes – inviting them to be engaged with your school will continue to solidify its role in the continuing education of the community.