“Is 2014 the year of personalization?” Examples of personalization in marketing abound from the sublime of Virgin America's Chatter initiative that will use video screens to deliver a personalized travel experience to the ridiculous of Nordstrom's personalized panties.
For any business or organization, personalization is an important, and maybe even essential way to differentiate and build strong customer relationships. So, how do independent schools jump on the bandwagon and begin to offer their customers a personalized experience?
Let's start with the obvious. Parents expect that their children are going to receive individualized attention and that any interaction related to their child's progress will be uniquely focused. But let's face it - meeting the individual needs of diverse learners isn't exactly groundbreaking in 2014. You are more likely be notable by the absence of differentiation, than by its presence.
Also, let's be clear about who the customer is. Parents pay for the education their children receive. From a customer relations perspective, students are essentially a proxy. If you want to impress the customer, it's the parent that must be the focus.
First, let’s deal with the prerequisites to personalization.
Data is the foundation of personalization. It starts with basics – contact info, names of other family members like siblings or grandparents. Beyond that good data could include birthdays and other milestone dates. However, the real crux of useful data is that the details of every meaningful interaction a parent has with the school must be recorded whether its a meeting with a principal or a negotiation with the tuition office. That leads to the next point.
Data discipline and consistency are vital to personalization. Every staff member must understand the importance of recording the details of interactions and effective data conventions must be in place. Something as simple as recording a date as 3/5/14 as opposed to 5/3/14 can yield disastrous results. This also means using the right tools. Schools need a database that provides necessary structured data fields as well as the ability to create specialized areas in which to record information that is particular to the school.
What can you do with all this data? Here are a few basic ideas that share one common theme. Parents want to know that you know who they are.
Personalize the personal meeting. Any time a head of school, a principal, an educational consultant or someone from the business office meets with a parent, it’s essential that they access to detailed information and ideally have familiarized themselves with it. It’s both impressive and comforting to a parent when the person with whom they are meeting can ask about other family members, knows about unique circumstances and the details of previous meetings or calls.
Acknowledge important events. This should include personal letters recognizing a birth or a death in a parent's family. Personal birthday wishes for students are commonplace. Take that to the next level and send each parent a birthday greeting. What if you sent birthday cards to siblings not yet at the school? You can also recognize significant achievements in parents’ lives, whether those are in business or in communal efforts.
Personalize the business experience. Think about your last call to a local utility or financial services company. It makes a huge difference when the person with whom you are speaking can access notes about your individual circumstances and previous interactions. A parent’s communication with the school’s business is no different. When a parent calls, the person on the line should be able to call up a database record and speak knowledgably about that parent’s circumstances. In addition, every form that a parent is required to fill out, whether online or on paper, could have the name, address and contact info fields already completed.
Tailor the web. A school that I work with recently introduced a personalized parent dashboard that upon login, presents essential links for each child including teacher names and contact info, class lists and parent resources. Using cookies would make it possible for a parent visiting the website to be presented with the items he or she viewed most often.
While these may all sound like common sense, in a busy school environment, it takes forethought and discipline to make any of these happen on a routine basis. Think about all the ways a parent interacts with the school and be vigilant about finding ways to personalize the parent experience.
What do you think?
Is personalization a key to independent school success? How are you personalizing the parent experience in your school? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Every now and then you come across an idea that is just brilliant. Do yourself a favour and read a Harvard Business Review post from a couple of years ago called, "Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?" In it, Michael Schrage a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, argues that just meeting the needs of customers or even addressing their pain points, isn't good enough.
His assertion is that most business owners see customers only as a means to the end goal of growth or profitability. True success however comes from making the customer the raison d'etre of all business activity and asking the question, who do you want your customers to become? Shrage turns the classic approach to innovation on its head. Instead of asking how can we design better products and services, the more powerful question is how can we design better customers. Think about Apple. Ten years ago, their customers never imagined the ways in which a smartphone would impact their lives.
It's a powerful idea. But does it have practical application for the 99.9% of businesses that lack the god-like aura of Apple? Can a manufacturing company or a professional services firm really transform the lives of its customers? The answer is a resounding yes but it demands that you answer an incredibly challenging question. For my business, what do I want my customers to become? Do you want them to use products differently or implement new processes or take a more sophisticated view of an industry? Another way of looking at it is what is the intersection point of a better state of being for my customers and improved business performance for me?
The path to changing the reality of your customers begins with a very practical question. How can you begin to transform the lives of customers today? Here are 4 ways.
Engage. You can't begin to think about making customers' lives better without knowing who and what your customers are today. Give them tons of opportunities to tell you about what they want and need. That can be done using social media or various forms of market research. Or better yet, go out and meet with your customers. In person. Nothing can replace the power of a face to face conversation.
Inform. Make sure your customers are up to date with the latest trends and best practices. Yes, they should be subscribed to your blog and receiving of all your case studies. But you can also point them to other sources of information – industry sites and newsletters, conferences and webinars for example.
Connect. Create communities for your customers. Give them the opportunity to talk to others in the same industry or those from different industries with similar challenges. How? You can create online forums or social media communities. But the low tech approach may be the best. Introduce your customers to other customers – one-on-one or in gatherings. Enable them to develop the relationships that will make a difference to their business.
Inspire. Help customers set the bar higher. Empower your customers to see beyond their current realities and imagine something better - whether its a new product, process or ultimately better results. Provide your customers with white papers that detail the cutting edge of the industry. Connect them to inspiring people. Talk to them about – or better yet introduce them to – businesspeople who dared to dream. Share your own aspirations.
The reality is that by making your customers both the means and the end goal of business success – by putting them at the very centre of what you do, you not only have the potential to transform your customers, but you will create a truly powerful relationship with them. No pricing strategy, customer satisfaction plan or quality assurance program can match the impact of transforming the lives of customers.
What do you think?
Is the goal of customer transformation reasonable and attainable? How would you achieve it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
There are consultants and firms that will develop surveys and provide analysis but like all good things in life, they come at a cost. On the other hand there are numerous online alternatives, many of which are very robust and cost effective – and are worth using. But, for your research to be effective, you need to know what you are doing. With that in mind here are a few (nine to be exact) tips on how to create surveys so that you get results that matter.
1. Link questions to decisions. Think about the questions you need to have answered in order to make important decisions for your organization. You may want to start with a list of issues that are currently under discussion. For example, you may want reaction to the new product line, the revised curriculum or updated donation opportunities. Survey questions should also support decision-making on longer term issues like service, quality and pricing because it's not going to be practical or meaningful to survey more than once a year.
2. Make it actionable. Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions. If you can’t or are not prepared to act upon the results related to a particular question, don’t ask it. You don’t want to ask your customers how they feel about your hours of operation if you do business in a mall where those hours are restricted. Similarly, you don’t want to ask for feedback on your organization’s mission or philosophy if is there is no mandate from the Board to make changes. In addition to wasting the time of the respondent in answering these questions and your own time in tracking results, you will be setting unattainable expectations. If you ask me whether I would prefer to have expanded donation opportunities, I assume that by answering the question I may influence change. If that change is not possible, you’re just leading me toward inevitable disappointment.
3. It’s got to be measurable. If you just want to hear what people are saying about your organization, you can monitor social media or stand in the school parking lot. The point of surveying is to arrive at results that you can analyze and compare – year over year or to other similar organizations. Questions have to be framed in a way that allows for measurable results. Have respondents rank or rate statements or choose from a list of potential responses.
4. Make questions precise. You want to zone in on exactly what it is you want to know and make sure the question will provide the response. Instead of asking a respondent to rate their satisfaction with the service provided, ask them about the various aspects of that service. Was it prompt? Were their questions answered? Was it delivered pleasantly? This will not only provide precise information, it will be a more effective guide to changes in customer service you may want to consider.
5. Use clarity. What you are asking the respondent needs to be crystal clear. Test your question by imagining yourself in the shoes of your customer and ask yourself whether you would understand what’s being asked. When people take a survey and don’t really understand what’s being asked, they skip the question or answer indiscriminately.
6. Be polite and conversational. Phrases like “Now we want to ask you some questions about why you support our organization” are effective because they show respect and they may even make the intent of the question clearer. Questions that begin with please – as in “Please rate the following ….” value the respondent and by making the experience more pleasant. In that way, you also increase the chances that someone will complete the survey.
7. Open-ends add context. Open-ended questions – those that require a narrative response – are important for two reasons. They add context to the measurable parts of the survey. By reviewing the open-ended responses you will likely begin to understand the reasons for empirical results. In addition, respondents often want the opportunity to express an opinion or tell you their story. The responses can be very rich. Just be prepared for the bad news as well as the good.
8. Be time sensitive. There are probably tons of questions that you would like answered but a survey that is too long compromises the quality of responses in two ways. This research from the people at Survey Monkey proves that the longer the survey, the fewer people will complete it. But the deeper finding is that the longer the survey, the less time respondents spend on each question. While greater respondent affinity (as is the case with schools and religious organizations) buys more time tolerance, your survey should take no more than 10 minutes for maximum effectiveness.
9. Report back. This is the step that is probably most often missed by organizations that conduct research. Close the loop by reporting back to your stakeholders on the results of the survey. You can brag about the positive responses and in addition tell your community what action you are taking as a result of negative responses. It demonstrates accountability, transparency and a commitment to your customers and to continuous improvement. It will also encourage people to participate in future surveys.
Done well, surveying stakeholders will allow you to gauge satisfaction, determine the effectiveness of marketing or operational initiatives and verify the assumptions you are making about customer behaviour. Perhaps most importantly it is the best way to evaluate the success of branding efforts.
What do you think? Do you have any advice for those doing their own research or any experience wit your own research that you think can be helpful?. Please share.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
First, some ground rules. For the purpose of this discussion I am using Seth Godin’s definition of a brand: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” So, you can see that a brand is infinitely more than logo, tagline and ad copy.
Now, to define branding gaps we need to accept that organizations effectively have two brands. One is the promised brand – the one that marketing, communication, mission and other efforts have been designed to convey. The other is the delivered brand. This is the one you find out about when you survey stakeholders and ask them to characterize their experience with and perceptions of your school. In organizations that really have their branding act together (think Apple, Whole Foods), the two are aligned. In most organizations, there are going to be differences between the promised brand and the delivered brand and those differences are the branding gaps.
There are many sources of branding gaps. Most of them can and should be considered proactively. Here are some ideas for where those gaps maybe lurking in your school and what to do about them.
Teachers – There is no one more important to delivering your school’s brand than teachers. For most families, they are the most common point of communication. It’s critical that teachers know and understand the school’s brand. Clearly it should be reflected in all their communication with students and parents and that includes classroom websites and email blasts. I would contend that the brand should also be evident in the classroom. I know a Head of School that challenges teachers to consider the changes they would make to classroom content if the mission of the school changed. If mission and curriculum are married, then brand must also be part of the educational product.
Everyday Communication – Parents are recipients of what sometimes seems like an endless stream of communication from the school. While this often deals with day-to-day issues like early closings, lunch programs and upcoming events, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t reflect the school’s brand. The danger is that much of this type of communication is often written hastily by people other than marketing and communications staff. There are a number of solutions. Many of these communications can be anticipated and templates can be prepared in advance. Everyone in the organization should be brand-trained and understand how that affects even the most mundane messaging. Finally, a review system that gives the communications staff the final say could help maintain the brand.
Office staff – We all know the adage about having one chance to make a first impression and office staff are the front line of most interaction with stakeholders – whether in person, by phone or by email. Like everyone else, they need to understand the school’s brand promise but more importantly they need to know how to incorporate that into daily activity. Front-line staff in a school that emphasizes inclusivity and diversity should communicate differently than those in an elite IB school.
Board members – Lay people are often represent the greatest brand challenge. Their implicit contract with the school is not employment based and requires more refined management measures. Yet they wield tremendous influence –within the school community and the community at large. Brand training for board members is essential. What’s more is that lay people are often not aware of the ways in which they subtly make brand impressions in their everyday conversation.
Mission/Marketing Misalignment – Finally, it’s possible that everyone in the organization is delivering the brand experience dictated by its mission or even brand strategy and the real problem is that marketing efforts have missed the mark. What’s being promised isn’t what’s being delivered. Assuming that most people are satisfied with their interaction with the organization, the fix is to re-tool the marketing effort.
The real solution is the 3 M’s - You can only fix branding gaps that you are aware of. The key to brand management is to measure, monitor and modify. You have to survey stakeholders on a regular basis to determine if you are delivering your intended brand. Likewise, it’s critical to be monitoring social media including the parking lot that, in a school, is often the most potent social media channel. Final, you have to be prepared to act based on what you discover.
Branding gaps can undo the most masterful marketing efforts and create enrolment crises. Knowing how to find them – and bridge them – will undoubtedly improve results.
What do you think? What branding gaps have you uncovered in your organization and what are you doing about them?
Monday, January 28, 2013
I read an article last week that promoted the use of content marketing in automobile sales. It started by detailing the way the Internet has changed the relationship between salesperson and customer. Salespeople used to have exclusive access to product and industry knowledge. With it came credibility. They were the experts. Now that consumers can use online resources to know just as much as the salesperson, the power balance in the relationship has shifted.
So, how does the salesperson re-gain control? The article suggested that the solution was for salespeople to use various content marketing techniques. A post on the Dealer Communications site makes the point that product information is ubiquitous online and that consumers are actually looking for perspectives to help them parse all the data. That in turn provides opportunities for salespeople to provide consumers with unique insights using blogs, videos and other online content.
As I was reading this, I kept thinking about a famous quote from the hugely successful insurance salesman Ben Feldman. “Sales is 98% people knowledge and 2% product knowledge.” I began my working life as a headhunter, which is the most challenging sales environment you can imagine. My experience then and throughout my career has proven the wisdom of Feldman's words.
It seems to me that content marketing addresses the product knowledge portion of the quote. But that’s only 2% of the sale. What about the other 98%? Sooner or later, the sale must be consummated in a personal meeting. What happens then?
The same Dealer Communications post makes the following assertion. “When customers consume your self-published content prior to sale they have a stronger connection with you.” Really?? This assumes that sales connections are built on the knowledge or perspectives of the salesperson as opposed to the salesperson’s knowledge of the customer.
In his Sales Lion blog, Marcus Sheridan talks about using content marketing to boost the sales of a company that installs inground pools. The company changed its sales approach from a traditional model to one where a request for a quote is met with an invitation to review the company’s vast online resources (blogs, videos, e-books). I found the next two steps in their sales process astounding:
Once a potential customer educates themselves through our content, they tell us the pool and options they want, at which point we send them via email an actual quote.
If the customer reviews the quote and agrees to its terms, we then go out to their home to confirm there are no hidden costs and write up the contract.
It would appear that we’ve gone one step further and virtually eliminated the salesperson. The first personal contact with the company is to confirm the details of the order. According to e-how.com the average cost of an inground pool is $20-30,000. I’m not sure about you, but there’s no way I would make a $20,000 buying decision without seeing someone. And even if I was prepared to do the preliminary work online, my interaction with the company rep would have huge impact on my decision. Content marketing may deliver the salesperson to my doorstep but it’s her sales ability that’s going to close the deal.
Even companies like Zappos that do all their business online have staked their success on the quality of the personal interaction with the customer. Tony Hsieh’s mantra of Delivering Happiness cannot be rendered by content alone and the training and selection of their customer service reps is now legendary.
In talking about great salespeople, Enterprise Rent-A-Car CEO Andy Taylor says, “the people who are the most successful are the ones who listen most closely to the customer.” Continuing, he adds, “We follow the two ears, one mouth rule here.” Sales success is built on asking tons of questions and listening carefully to the answers. Moreover, sales is always a transfer of emotion. The only way to close a sale is to deliver what the customer has told you she wants in an way that makes her feel good about her decision. Content marketing can’t do that.
There’s no question that content marketing is valuable to the sales cycle. It can definitely generate leads and it can even help to qualify prospects. But capitalizing on that value and making the sale is going to take that 98% of people knowledge. The bottom line is that to improve sales results your human resources are still more important than online resources.
What do you think?
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Major Gifts lately. No, my Powerball number hasn’t come up but I am co-authoring a book based on interviews with many of Canada’s top philanthropists. I’ve been considering how I can use what I’ve learned to help fundraising organizations. The yardstick I often use in approaching challenges in nonprofit organizations is what’s the equivalent for-profit situation and what would the ideal business response be.
I was trying to think of a business that offers products or services that range in price from $10 to $10 million. I couldn’t come up with one. And yet, that’s exactly what a hospital or college foundation is doing. They are selling opportunities that range from two digits to those that often exceed seven digits. Even if your organization’s definition of major giving is 5 digits, that’s still an incredible spread. I suspect that if you proposed a business venture with those parameters to your local bank, you’d be given a lecture about how a $10 sale requires a very different approach than one that is worth tens of thousands or millions.
And yet fundraising organizations have no choice but to do that which would be scoffed upon in the business world – and that’s why I say that major gifts fundraising isn’t normal. So, what’s a fundraising organization to do?
Be honest about the challenge. The for-profit world understands that a large ticket item requires a very different sales approach and so should you. Major gifts fundraising is, in may ways, its own discipline. It requires distinct knowledge and dedicated resources. If you’re going to be successful at it, you have to make the investment in time and people.
Resist the temptation. News of a philanthropist’s record-setting gift to a local organization is like the lure of a lottery ticket. “If she can give that organization $1 million, then maybe she will give mine $100,000.” You likely know nothing about that donor’s interests and have no relationship with her, but that doesn’t stop many organizations from thinking that they are going to secure that donor’s support. The reality is it's not going to happen. So, save yourself the time and the heartache and mine your current donor base. Maybe, the rule of tens (for every ten donors at one level, there is one donor who has the ability to add a zero to their gift) will work for you.
Be true to your organization. I mean this in two ways. First, define a major gift according to your needs and resources. For some, that will be a four digit amount and that’s OK – especially if it’s within your reach. Second, concentrate on developing a powerhouse case for giving that is authentic and compelling. In the interviews we conducted with major givers, we found that the the most likely determinant of whether and how much a philanthropist would give is the confidence that their gift would make a difference as well as the passion of the cause and its prime mover. There were also many, many instances in which a philanthropist gave more than asked – because the case for giving was so strong. If you worry about building a strong case and even stronger relationships, you may find that major gifts opportunities are less contrived and more organic.
It’s not for everyone. Let me completely contradict myself (I do it often) and say there may be organizations that are simply not set up for any kind of major gifts programs. Maybe that’s ok – as long as you can build a funding model that works on the volume of smaller gifts.
Normal or not, the challenge of major gifts is extremely demanding. Developing a realistic strategy that makes sense for your organization will help you save your sanity.
Monday, January 7, 2013
But I had an experience last month that ought to send a shiver down the spine of any independent school advancement professional – or for the keeper of the brand in any organization.
I was speaking with a woman whose oldest child is a grade one student at an independent school to which I consult on marketing and admissions issues. She told me that as a parent she didn’t really know how to articulate what distinguishes this school from others. And in a moment of panic, I thought, “Houston, we have a problem.”
You see, this is a school that mounts aggressive recruitment campaigns with very healthy budgets. And the marketing is effective. It generates hundreds of inquiries and provides a school of over 1500 students with enough new students to offset attrition and maintain stable enrolment.
The problem seems to be that four years after they signed on, parents clearly can’t remember why they chose the school and what makes it different. The reality is that current parents don’t see all the fancy advertising. The expensive viewbook they were once given is gathering dust somewhere – assuming it was spared from the recycling bin. They don’t look at the admissions section of the website.
And yet current parents are any school’s greatest salespeople. If they can’t articulate the brand, the return on marketing investment isn’t going to be very exciting. So, what to do?
Here are some suggestions for what is not an uncommon challenge.
1. Live the brand. A brand is way more than a logo and a tagline. If the brand is that which truly distinguishes a school, then it is defined by the sum of all experience with the school. Every interaction has an impact on that brand. Based on that, the goal is to have everything that happens at the school – educationally, programmatically, even administratively, reflect the brand. It’s possible that although the parent in my story felt that she couldn’t distinguish what was different about the school, her description of her family’s experience at the school may in fact reveal unique qualities. If she’s living the brand, she becomes an effective ambassador.
2. Communicate the brand. Current parents should be just as much a target of communication efforts as are prospective parents. Knowing what’s going on in their kid’s grade one class isn’t enough. They have to know about the notable events and successes throughout the school. More importantly that communication should also reflect the brand. Whether you’re using e-newsletters, social media, websites or old-fashioned print, what you say and how you say it has to convey the values, priorities and essential characteristics of the school.
3. Measure the brand. Let’s start this one with the basics. You absolutely need to be surveying your parents regularly. Are they satisfied? What areas need improvement? How do they assess the quality of core curriculum components and key aspects of student life? Assuming that those elements are reflective of the brand, those questions are already measuring your success at conveying the intended brand. You can go further. Ask parents about the extent to which they identify with the principles that are at the core of your brand.
An interesting question then arises. What happens if parents don’t identify with those principles? Well, you have two choices. One is to redouble your efforts to live and communicate the brand. The second choice is more intriguing. Even though the brand being articulated by your parents is different than what you intended, it’s possible that brand is more authentic and equally attractive. Maybe you need to rethink the brand.
Any way you slice it, branding and marketing efforts must be inbound as much as they are outbound. That way, current parents become powerful brand advocates for their school – and you reserve your spine chilling moments for horror movies.