There are two kinds of competition in every market.
Direct competition is practised by professionals of the same kind in an attempt to lock a larger share of the common target market. In the case of Greek ELT it is schools vs schools, publishers vs publishers, distributors vs distributors and so on.
Indirect competition is practised by those who, although not directly involved with your profession, are involved with your market and can somehow influence it against you if you are not on good terms with them. Usually this competition is positioned locally and can be of determining importance in your market’s decision to prefer your business. They may be neighbouring shops and businesses, or representatives of suppliers who serve many businesses of your kind, while in small towns they can even be suppliers of authority such as bank clerks, local authority officers, state school teachers and anyone who centrally serves a whole community, having the opportunity to gather information and spread rumours on a public level. Of course, the most important indirect competition comes from unhappy or even indifferent past clients, whose opinion matters the most to the wavering potential client, as it is solidly based on experience.
The importance of this peripheral, external environment increases in the time leading up to your actual sales period, when the target market goes out to investigate services, prices and advantages, and seeks out opinions and recommendations.
The majority of the schools we have visited over the past years prove to spend vast amounts of money on advertising, the role of which is to objectively describe their services and competitive advantages. This is important, but only limitedly effective as a part of your marketing plan, as it is addressed without discrimination to a much larger public than your actual target group. On top of that, it has been measured that advertising pushes, even when targeted, grab the attention of only 10% of recipients in terms of motivating them to investigate your business more closely. The public is really fed up with and suspicious of advertising due to the inflation of information and blatant deceit in portrayed messages. The role of advertising has become that of an announcement, so if there is not something new to broadcast to the public and thus appeal to it, then, more often than not, it is money thrown away.
In a profession that is promoted basically by word of mouth, understandably but unfortunately very few have invested money and effort in earning the attention and respect of the indirect but close and determining environment. This is about raising the public image of your school. Many school owners I talk to do admit that they make an effort to co-operate with local businesses, even if prices are higher than those offered by nationwide chains or suppliers, with the sole aim of creating what I would call “a positive vibe” about their business. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as this practice is based on current good relationships, but not on a profound knowledge of who you are, what your professional achievements have been over the years, where your excellence stands, what your competitive advantages are. To cut a long story short, your environment lacks the information that will act as a means of proof that your school is the best choice.
Raising your school’s public image is not rocket science. It is more of an applied art based on specific rules and principles. It usually takes less money and effort to achieve, and it is by far more effective than uncontrolled advertising. Immeasurable advertising can be frustrating, while raising your public image can be immediately rewarding and directly involves live reactions. All it takes is a realization of the need to orientate your school and yourself towards a more extrovert way of being following some basic principles, and the importance of being organized by planning and implementing a respective plan of calendar actions and on-going practices in your school that will become the second professional nature of yourself and staff. More specifically:
1) Remember that indirect competition is all around you and is ruthless. It is definitely negative when they talk against you, but even worse when they do not talk about you at all.
2) Every source of indirect competition can be turned into your biggest fan. They have to have reasons to do so though. Such reasons have always had to do with either profit or other indirect benefits, but most importantly with the emotional factor; how you make these people feel.
3) Work towards improving the COMPOSE of your environment. Inspire Comfort, Power and Security for everybody involved with you and most of all increase the number of those involved with you.
4) People talk about somebody or something because they were impressed, moved, happy, safe, motivated, inspired. All these are emotions and not facts, so work towards creating personal and collective experiences.
5) Every time you announce, advertise, or prove your excellence and advantages, check what the personal impact is on the recipients of your action. Design your next action bearing that in mind, and you will see your message reaching all possible destinations, with your recipients as the vehicle.
6) Investigate within your direct and indirect environment, current and past students and parents, current and past employees and suppliers, what their state of being is now, where their success and happiness lie and ask them how you and your school might have contributed to it.
7) Investigate within your current clients, suppliers, students and employees what could add value to their life and add a whole new experience for them next to your actual service.
8) Implement an adequate knowledge management system, supported by a clear customer care policy for your staff, and analyse the information map of your system frequently.
The benefits of raising your school’s public profile are immense and with time only grow. There is no better or worse time to start working on it. Actually, the best time to start working on it is now.