Congratulations! You made it to the second half of the ‘20/’21 admission season, being described by most educators as the most unusual they’ve ever experienced. As you turn the corner from open houses and tours to activities that will yield mission-fit families, the school that does the best job speaking the language of BENEFITS rather than FEATURES will rule the day.
Doing this will entail flipping the script you’re likely using, talking less about the what of your program, and more about the why. When prospective families understand why you do what you do, they will fall in love with your school for the right reasons. Here’s how to do this well:
The first step to flipping your script is understanding the difference between features and benefits. Let’s use a dog leash for an example: the features are: it is 12-feet long, has a retractable handle, and is made of nylon. The benefits are: it prevents your dog from jumping on people, running away, and having conflicts with other dogs.
Now let’s apply this to a popular school feature: school uniforms. The feature is: Students wear the same uniform that their predecessors wore sixty years ago when the school was founded. And the benefits are: When students dress alike and with intention for their school day, they learn respect for themselves and their schoolwork, forge connections with fellow students and alums, and displays of socioeconomic status are diminished.
Now that you understand this critical difference, you’re ready to put it into practice.
While your school’s programmatic features do play a role in your school’s story, they have no place when families are introduced to your school for the first time.
Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective family and count how many virtual events they’ve likely attended this fall, from Zoom Open Houses to virtual campus tours to Zoom admissions interviews. Now triple that because we know families are comparing [on average] three schools. Think about making perhaps the most critical decision in your child’s education without ever stepping foot on a campus. It’s daunting.
We’ve audited a fair number of these virtual visits and noticed a trend: schools are inundating families with programmatic features sharing charts of their daily schedules, and long lists of courses, extra-curricular activities, clubs, and athletics teams.
The problem for prospective families is, by and large, independent schools offer similar programmatic features. So, what are they to do with the information that the schools they’re considering all have rotating schedules, advisory programs, “no-cut” athletic policies, and robotics clubs? How do families distinguish between seemingly excellent schools that offer all of these things?
Introducing your school’s reason for being first—“we believe x and so every day we do y”—is essential to helping prospective families understand what sets you apart. When they understand your vision first, they will undoubtedly cozy up to their screens, eager to learn about the features that enable you to live it.
When families understand the BENEFIT of your uniform policy, your rotating schedule, your advisory program, and your robotics club because you’ve told them the WHY before the WHAT, they’ll start to appreciate that everything your school does and offers is in service to your broader reason for being, rather than simply a collection of disparate parts.
Here are a few benefit/feature combinations to help you develop the muscle:
As you evaluate and plan messaging for the remainder of this admission season, don’t miss the opportunity to connect with mission-fit families in a more meaningful way. You can differentiate your school by focusing on the WHY of your mission, vision and program features. When you do you’ll stand out from the other schools those families are also considering.
Reach out to Mission Minded if you would benefit from a more comprehensive overhaul of your brand and key messages. Good luck!
Director of Education Strategy Romayne Levee leads our education practice, working with independent schools and educational organizations to raise their profiles with strategies that benefit school leaders and their communities immeasurably. She has developed dynamic strategic plans and brand strategies for Mission Minded clients from coast to coast, including San Francisco Day School, Friends School of Baltimore, and Marlborough School (LA). Romayne is the founding Board Chair of Vistamar School, an independent high school in LA, and currently serves on the Board of Lewis & Clark College.
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