It’s only simple maths. Being in a neighbourhood with 10 competitive foreign language schools, you are one out of ten. Quality factors and parameters may boost or repress your chances, so it’s pretty unlikely that you and your competitors will take a share of 10% of the local student population each. Still you are one out of ten. Does it sound cynical? It shouldn’t. Especially now, when most private language schools are thinking about their promotional campaigns. How could your school not just be one out of ten when most possibly you will:
a) Invest in a campaign that statistically will cost you an average of 6,500 EUR for the period of mid-August to end-September, along with a few more thousands of private language school owners in Greece. The majority of your direct competitors are, of course, included.
b) This campaign will mainly consist of printed material, with photography or illustration possibly showing snapshots of your school’s activities, happy children’s faces and the usual and self-explanatory information of what you offer. This is preparation for all “recognized” examinations and certificates, levels from A Junior to C2, possibly pre-junior “free” classes and computer assisted learning sessions. Actually, the more you can squeeze onto each double-page spread the better.
c) You will back up your advertising material with small useful objects, like rulers, timetable charts, pencil cases, etc. to be distributed outside schools or central gathering locations.
d) You will invest a lot of effort in convincing everyone that you have developed the best methods, co-operate with the best teachers and that you use the best publications around.
e) You will promise small classes with individual care to each student.
f) You will mention the accrediting body, local association, nation-wide federation, club, closed examination centre, etc., of which you are a member, as proof of acknowledgement by peers in your field.
Parents will, most possibly, have made up their mind by then as to where they’re going to send their child. They are convinced that all schools offer the same service, prepare for the same “valid” exams, and have small classes and lots of “successes” on their windows. They will have asked around their own neighbourhood which school is “better”, less strict or stricter, more or less generous with grades, more or less hours per week. In the end they will consider which school is closer, not across a big road, cheaper, offers classes on the evenings when shops are open, and most importantly which school their child’s friends are going to go to. Does this mean that parents’ criteria are so humble and low? No, it means that your school is one out of many, so for it to be chosen, it has to satisfy the above criteria as well.
If you want your school to be the “chosen” one, you cannot be one out of many, but must become one out of two. You should be on one side and all the others on the other. To achieve this, there’s only one way; your unique selling point. Moreover, your unique selling point must be promoted in a unique way, as this point is not one individual thing, but your school’s whole entity through a characteristic that becomes a “flag”, a projected identity.
This unique selling point must make the potential customer think: “hmmm, it’s still worth overlooking the four language centres on my way there, and actually, I don’t mind paying 40 Euros more per year and having to take my child there twice a week myself!”
What could this be, though, that could make all the others look so outstandingly the same and at the same time you so different to them?
Everything starts with the service you provide. This service is only tuition and exam preparation in a world where parents don’t expect anything more than that. Still, if they see that there is something beyond that, their expectations change. Then your service includes the “experience” of the parent and your student in your school in ways that are tangible and measurable for them. At the moment what you promise takes place in class, and the parent (decision maker) experiences it filtered through their child. For a parent to pay attention, the experience has to be outstanding and involving.
Let’s run through the same list of what you would normally do, but in a rather unique way, from the end to the beginning:
a) Instead of talking about your memberships, have peer members do this for you. Talk to colleagues of other, not competitive areas and ask for testimonials, even invite them to talk at an event about your cross-area reputation.
b) Instead of falling into the trap of promising individual care through small classes, establish individual personality tests and lesson plans based on them. Train your teachers and talk to the parents on that basis and turn your incredible teaching methods into an unrepeatable learning experience for your students. Assess parents’ involvement in co-operation with their children and make the latter reflect on that.
c) Instead of promising the best publications around, organize events, campaigns, newsletters and presentations of who the publisher is, locally and internationally, who the author is, their teaching experience, their international recognition, their success, and have these people do the same for you. Prove that your school is not just a figure for the publisher, but a centre acknowledged by them.
d) Instead of investing money in objects that will be thrown away, invest in building a striking visual corporate identity and printing documents and materials based on that. Make sure these reach your current and potential customers regularly, inspire your community with your organization and gravity in your field.
e) Instead of throwing out money only in September, “throw” your news, achievements, unique selling points, testimonials, announcements and awards to the public on a regular basis, until your prevalence becomes “second nature” to everybody in your area.
f) Create a plan and an implementation policy that is comprehensive enough for your staff to follow and do not forget my COMPOSE theory.
Couldn’t all this make you one out of two? It’s only simple maths after all.