I happened to be walking through a school the other day, and overheard a teacher talking to her students about Noah’s Ark. As you recall, Noah and his wife invited two representatives of each species to enter the Ark. This got me thinking. Was Kinetics a shining example within our sector; a strong enough representative of our species, to warrant an invite from Noah and his wife? If Noah and his wife judged us against our competition, would they deem us Ark-worthy?
Albeit every organization is a bit different from their competitor, simply because the people who work there are different and its processes might be different. But “a bit” is a key word here. There is a baseline of services and attributes every organization has to have to qualify to compete for customers. Sometimes those services and attributes have to be adjusted to reflect a new competitor, new technology or new consumer preferences. Regardless, there will always be a minimum set of attributes that all organizations have to exhibit to catch the attention of consumers – our Noahs, if you will. Now the question – is the “bit” that is different important to our Noahs and does it set us apart from our competitors for a spot on the Ark? In some cases that “bit” is superior performance around the baseline attributes. In other cases it is the price/value proposition. And, finally, there is that something else – an added feature – that makes an offering stand out. The key is that whatever that difference is, it needs to be significant enough to be noticed, appreciated and judged to be Ark-worthy.
As you head off for summer vacation, when you are inclined, give that question a thought. It’s a big question, because it not only challenges your communication efforts, but also your core value proposition. More changes are coming to the marketplace – the emergence of Millennials as our main audience and the continued incursion of technology into more corners of our lives. Even if you couldn’t get an invitation now, you might be able to earn one down the road.
The following piece was inspired by a conversation I had with Doug Walker, Director of Integrated Marketing and Communications at Washington Adventist University. We were discussing the challenges a smaller institution faces especially in the increasingly competitive world of higher education and what his thoughts were on how they move forward. He put it in such compelling context, I asked him if I could share it with our friends. So, here it is in his own words. Enjoy.
As one school year or fiscal year draws to a close, it’s not too early to start planning for the next. I lead marketing at a small university facing some big competition. See below for the four lessons from the story of David and Goliath I’m thinking about.
Knowledge is Power
David was in the right place at the right time because his father sent him on an errand to deliver a care package to his older brothers and their commanding officer. Having left the food with the quartermaster, he wandered down to the front to pick up the latest buzz.
It’s always good to keep up with the state of play in your industry or market.
You Do You
After accepting Goliath’s challenge to single combat, King Saul offered David his own tunic and armor, which David dutifully donned. After walking around in it a bit, he took it off. It was too big, and he was unaccustomed to it.
Be yourself. Find your niche. As Simon Sinek stresses, “Start with Why.” Be very clear about why you do what you do.
As he descended into the Valley of Elah with slingshot in hand, David stopped at the stream, and selected five smooth stones.
If you’re going to war, go armed and dangerous. That might mean brushing up on a subject you should know, but could know better. It could mean doing more research for an upcoming negotiation. It may be time for that market research you’ve been putting off.
Finally, at the moment of truth, “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.” 1 Sam. 17:48 (NIV)
This is no time to shrink back. Meet your challenges head-on!
Doug Walker is Vice President for Integrated Marketing and Communication at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, MD.
This may seem like a bizarre question. Why ask? Of course, it’s special. No one has the same traditions, or the dedicated faculty and staff that your school does. And, the unique and super-talented students. Of course, you’re special.
But are you really? Let’s try this. Go through these questions and tally how many are “yesses” and how many are “nos.”
- Does your tag line have the word “transform” in it?
- Does the notion of “transform” feature prominently in your main body copy?
- Is there a mention of “mind, body and spirit” in your mission statement?
- Is one of your differentiators the individual attention that your child will receive from faculty and administrators?
- Do you have lots of pictures of students in a science lab or in front of a computer to show that you have STEM programs?
- Do you have pictures of your students showing them involved with the community and volunteering their time to a worthy cause?
- Do you prepare your students for future careers that no one can imagine? Is the word “passion” used more than five (5) times on your website?
If you answered “yes” to more than four of these questions, that is good. All the above are the essential basic ingredients in the world of education. It’s what parents expect when they pay a tuition. It may not have been a decade ago, but, today it is. If it isn’t about the singular focus on their child, their holistic development and preparation for future careers – and all these are worthy aspirations – then you don’t even make the first cut.
But, they alone don’t make you “special.” So, how do you show that your school is “special?”
You need to find out what makes your school unique and different. There are resources and activities that make your school standout to perspective audiences, and there are the things no one can replicate. So, to find out what they are, let’s try this:
Step 1 – Make a list of your competitors and have their websites handy. You’ll need them in a few minutes.
Step 2 – Take a piece of paper and write down all qualities that are unique to your school and that make you stand out. Your list should easily have 20-30 quality attributes. (If you can’t come up with 20 – 30, you either aren’t factoring in all the components of what makes up the experience at your school, or you have a bigger problem).
Step 3 – Now, go back to the websites you looked at earlier and strike out all the attributes that are on your list that they also mention. Once you’ve done this, identify the attributes that you didn’t share with your competitors.
Step 4 – Now, you’ve got to be honest and objective. Are the remaining attributes – the ones no one else had – important or significant to your audiences? If not, then you’ve got work to do. As you can guess, you are too similar to your competitors and when it comes to comparing two products and services that are indistinguishable and similar, price always wins.
Step 5 – If you have a meaningful attribute (or two), then you have to weave this into your marketing and communications. Don’t bury it. You have found a meaningful differentiator, so use it to your advantage.
Promoting an organization, service or product, no matter how noble the mission, in a competitive category requires a focus on what makes the offering special and different and, ergo is a better choice for your audience. It’s not easy to figure out what these meaningful attributes are, but when you find them, they are extremely valuable in setting you apart from the rest of the pack.
If you want to discuss further, you can contact us and we can talk.