The Dip: Part 1 – The Biggest Mistake They Made In School

You may have attended one of my seminars on marketing.  In the past seven years, I’ve made presentations on marketing to school leaders in the Dioceses of Buffalo, Harrisburg, Wheeling-Charleston, Altoona-Johnstown, Albany, and the Archdiocese of Hartford, as well as to the West Virginia Christian Education Association (WVCEA) and at the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) at their national convocation in Indianapolis in 2008.  My session on “Miracle Marketing” refers to a book by Seth Godin titled, “Purple Cow.” In a nutshell, “Purple Cow” asks the question, “Are You Remarkable?”  I’ve recently updated the presentation, since it’s no longer enough to be “remarkable.”  You need to be able to define your “Distinction” as Scott McKain suggests in his text “Create Distinction,” and you need to “Make the People Say ‘Whoa'” when they talk about your school.

Mr. Godin published a book seven years ago called “The Dip.” Its subtitle is, “A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick).” Since it’s always around this time of year we hear announcement that Catholic and Christian schools may be closing because of rising costs, declining enrollments, shifting demographics and other reason which may mask faulty or neglected business practices, back then I thought, “I have to read this.”

The result – the next three Marketing Matters will apply three of the main points of the book to our schools. This week, “The Biggest Mistake They Made in School.”

(Warning: the following statement may not be suitable for some educators. It has been reprinted here with permission from the author. However, if you’d like to be challenged, please read on…)

Just about everything you learned in school about life is wrong, but the wrongest thing might very well be this: Being well-rounded is the secret to success. When you came home with two As, a B+, and three Bs, you were doing just fine. Imagine the poor kid who had an A+ and four Cs. Boy, was he in trouble. Fast-forward a few decades from those school days and think about the decisions you make today – about which doctor to pick, which restaurant to visit, or which accountant to hire. How often do you look for someone who is actually quite good at the things you don’t need her to do? In a free market, we reward the exceptional. In school, we tell kids that once something gets too hard, move on to the next thing. From a test-taking book: ‘Skim through the questions and answer the easiest ones first, skipping the ones you don’t know immediately.” Bad advice. Superstars can’t skip the ones the ones they don’t know. In fact, the people who are the best in the world specialize at getting really good at the questions they don’t know. The people who skip the hard questions are in the majority, but they are not in demand. Many organizations make sure they’ve dotted all their i’s – they have customer service, a receptionist, a convenient location, a brochure, and on and on – and all of it is mediocre. More often than not, prospects choose someone else – their competition. Those competitors can’t perform in some areas, but they’re exceptional in the ones that matter. (Godin, 14-15).

After reading this you might be saying, “I’ll never read anything from this Web site again”…or, you might be saying, “I’ve got to read that again.” Still, you might be saying, “No wonder the educational standard in our country are falling and our kids are failing.” Many of you probably looked at this thinking that I’m criticizing the educational process, and have included your school within the generalization.  If so, read it again, but read it with the public school in mind.

With that mindset, YOU are the competition! You may not have a gym, but you have a jump rope team that’s been invited to the White House! You may not have an award-winning marching band, but you have 97 percent of your senior class graduate with offers from top-name Universities. You might not have a separate primary and intermediate campus, but you have interaction between younger and older children. Primary school children can look up to Middle School students if they’re in the same environment, and the presence of primary school children soften Middle School students. As a Catholic, Christian, or other faith-based school, you “Celebrate Service!” Where else do we hear that today?  Certainly not the mainstream media, who advises us to “Celebrate ‘Me.'”

In terms of marketing, how are you making this known to your community – not just to your hosting parish or church…not just to other churches in the area…and not just in the neighborhood. THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY needs to know about you, and come to know that THIS environment which you offer is the place where their kids need to be.

“But our tuition…it’s just….so…oh…I just hate to talk about it.” Then don’t. Talk about the remarkable and distinctive benefits of your school. Talk about the great programs you have. Talk about the awards your students have won. Talk about the projects they’re doing. Get people excited about your school. Enrolling children in school is an emotional decision – if it was a logical one, all you’d have to do is show them a flyer and a chart.  If you talk about tuition, you’re treating it like it is a logical choice…and that’s where your school loses out, especially if parents see “no perceived difference” between your school and others around you. Once they’re excited, then you can talk “affordability,” not tuition.  The conversation becomes, “How can we afford to make this the educational environment for your children?”

Or, “How can you not afford to enroll your children in our school?” Need proof? Re-read the italicized paragraph above.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2014 (Original Publication Date: 20090316)