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Branding Your Early Child Care and Education Business Without Getting Burned

When I was a young girl growing up on a Midwest farm, branding meant the yearly task of burning our farm’s symbol into the hides of our cattle with a branding iron. Though lots of other farmers had cattle, no other farm had a symbol exactly like ours, and every animal that displayed our brand could be identified as one of our herd.

Branding in the early child care and education marketplace is very similar to branding on the farm. It refers to the specific image your company develops and promotes to make your services unique, recognizable, and memorable in the minds of your prospects and customers.

In The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, authors Al and Laura Reis, say, “A successful branding program is based on the concept of singularity. It creates in the mind of the prospect the perception that there is no product on the market quite like your product.” In the giant soft drink industry, there is only one “Uncola” – 7-Up.  “You’re in good hands” with only one insurance company – All State.

The more saturated with competitors an industry, or even your individual marketplace becomes, the more important branding becomes.  The more saturated it becomes, the more difficult it can be for prospects to tell the differences between you and other early child care and education providers whom they are considering.  When the competition heats up, the good branding program can help you capture a niche that sets you apart from the rest in the minds of your target audiences.

You want to establish a niche that not only appeals to prospects, but holds their interest enough to make them want to contact you about the services you provide.  Some businesses do this by developing a niche that has more to do with the customer service they provide than with claims about the quality of their programs, products, or services. For instance, in the overcrowded pizza industry, Dominoes pulled away from the pack by developing a unique niche with only two words, “We Deliver.” Pizza Hut and others quickly followed by promoting a similar service, but could not capture the Dominoes brand. Instead, Pizza Hut developed its own niche as the home of deep-dish pizza. Papa Murphy later entered this market and branded themselves as the place to get gourmet take-out pizza ready to cook at home.

Creating Your Business Image

So how do you establish a nichedevelop a brand, and market that unique image of your early care and education business?

The first step in creating your business image is to determine exactly which products and services you offer.  Are you in business to care for children while their parents are away at work, to provide a quality learning environment for preschoolers and young children, to provide employer sponsored child care services, to offer innovative, leading edge forms of education, or a combination?  Is your environment more like a home or a school?  Are you a child care center, preschool, an after school program, an enrichment center, or a day care?  Do children enrolled in your center spend most of their time in educational or free play activities, on DAP, or something else?  Is your philosophy of service delivery built upon education, unstructured activities, guided play, DAP?

Once you can define what you offer, the next step is to determine what sets you apart that is also desirable to your prospects. Start by writing down five things that are unique about you, your early care and educational services, and the way you do business. I call these your BCA’s or Basic Competitive Advantages. Go beyond “quality program” and “caring teachers.” Managers in nearly every center say that, and though important, it is not unique in the prospect’s initial perspective. What do you have or do that is just a bit different, or more focused, or a cut above the norm? Once you have your list, circle the two or three that are the most true for you and will be important to the kinds of customers you want to have.

Using two or three key image phrases, brainstorm combinations of words that briefly define your niche. Doing so will create a unique image message, or tagline, for your early care and education business.

A tagline is a short phrase or motto that conveys your niche clearly and precisely in  seven or fewer words. The tagline message should create an image of you in your prospect’s mind. That image has strong impact on their decision to investigate further and ultimately to enroll. Here are some examples of taglines and image messages for existing early care and education businesses. What niche do they claim to hold? How have they branded themselves?

            Where Lil’ Minds Grow

            Excellence in Educational Child Care

            Care You Can Count On

            For the Love of Children

            Building a Foundation for Success

Once you create your own tagline or image message, try it on some industry colleague; then on friends and a few people who don’t know what you do. Ask them what image your message communicates to them about your business. What does it say you provide? More importantly, what do they think they could get from you if they were your customer?  Does it make them want to learn more about you?  If their response is what you want to hear, you are ready to begin marketing your niche or brand to potential buyers and referral sources.

Marketing Your Niche

How do you get your message out to all your target markets in a manner that leads them to inquire? You use traditional and some non-traditional marketing tactics to drive your brand right into the minds of your prospects and customers. Once there and authentically delivered, it is amazing how powerful it can be. Take Evian, for example. It is just clean water, but it has been niched into such a powerful brand that many people pay more for a liter of Evian than the same amount of milk, Coca-Cola, or beer.

Put your tagline everywhere the name of your company appears. Put it on your letterhead, business cards, signs, premiums, and flyers. Include it in ads, brochures, and on your website. Talk about your niche during inquiry calls, center visits and community marketing activities.

1)  If your niche is the place that best prepares young children to succeed in school, make sure you have a variety of ways you illustrate that brand in your ads and in campaigns, on your brochure, in your center scrapbook, on your website, in your centers themselves.

2)  Write an article about the progressive new Pre-K curriculum in use in your centers. Submit it to local papers and city magazines read by your prospective customers.

3)  Become known as a credible source for information on successful preparation for elementary school. One way to do that is to have presence in the venues where parents come to learn from the experts.  That may mean speaking on this topic at conferences, corporate lunch and learn programs, or for groups such as MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).  When you do that, always bring and distribute your business card.

4)  Sit on the board of one of your local elementary schools.

5)  At community events that draw parents of young children, have a booth with a banner that includes your name, tag, and web address.  Have activities for children of passersby that illustrate your curriculum.  Give out business cards and take away materials with your center’s name and contact information on it.  Have a map of your center’s location and inquiry cards available so you can book future center visits right there.

If developing and driving a brand or niche is not where your talent lies, seek the help of a professional marketer. As columnist and author, Jeff Gitomer, recommends, “Pay a marketing specialist an hour or two fee and bounce ideas off the person. I’d rather have $200 worth of good advice than a $200 ad that gets no response.”

I once heard another speaker say, “Find your niche and strike it rich!” He was referring to what Reis calls the Law of Singularity. Do not try to be what absolutely every potential enrollment buyer needs. Stake claim to a niche that is authentically yours, develop it into your own brand, then use marketing to drive that brand, so prospective customers and referral sources recognize and remember it when the time comes for them to investigate or refer early care and educational services.

Without a unique niche or brand for your early care and education business, your prospects may tend to view you as just another center in the growing child care industry. Faced with multiple choices, potential customers will gravitate toward those centers whose image they recognize and whose niche appeals most to them. Including a branding program in the marketing plan for your early care and education business can help you be one of those centers. Do it well and you’ll never get burned.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Your Are What They See

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Within the first 60 seconds on the telephone and five minutes on a center tour, child care prospects form an impression of you that is often a lasting one.  The image you project communicates messages to your prospects, customers, and the community around your center.  The needs-satisfying information they find in those messages determines to a great extent whether or not your prospects enroll, your customers stay, and the opinion influencers in the community refer you and your child care services.

Let’s consider the prospect who is seeking child care for the first time.  Despite the recommendations in many publications, most working parents do not spend a great deal of time selecting a child care center.  They gather available information from referrals and other resources, make inquiry calls, visit an average number of centers or homes, and make a decision.  Because that decision is so emotionally based, the centers that present the best image leave a positive, decisive impression on the prospect.  It causes what we call in marketing terms positioning.  And only the better players are going to survive say Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors ofPositioning: The Battle For Your Mind (New York: Warner Books, 1981).

Positioning is the impression left by the image of a brand of product or service.  When you think of McDonald’s, what image comes to Mind?  Golden arches, juicy hamburgers, Ronald McDonald, a quick dinner, change in your pocket, convenience, that you deserve a break today?  Your prospects’ perceptions of you are based upon their image of you, and that becomes their reality.  In their minds, this impression positions you amongst your competition according to the benefits they seek in selection child care.  In our industry, the differences that distinguish one child care provider from another- in the prospect’s mind – can be very small.  For example, a parent who experiences a center director bending down to warmly greet a visiting child may form the impression of that center as a loving, caring place for her child to be.  If caring attention to her child is a primary benefit she seeks in her child care selection, that center will be well positioned to secure this enrollment.  It is this positioning that creates a pattern of attitudes that affects a parent’s ultimate choice of child care providers.

Marketing Your Image Throughout Your Center

You can create your center’s market positioning by managing just how you present your center, the materials you distribute, your staff, your program, and yourself.  Imagine yourself in your prospect’s position, remember that they base enrollment decisions on feelings, and think about the following:

  • Telephone personality

Most prospects’ firs interaction with you is on the telephone. Within literally seconds, they will form an initial impression of you, based upon how you handle their calls. If you can offer empathetic assistance while you assess major needs, gather necessary factual information, and ask each prospect to book an appointment to visit your center, you will lead the conversation and create a good first impression.  Remember, most prospects call because they need not only your services but your help in making the child care buying decision.  They need a friendly expert.  What they do not need is a voice on the other end of the line reeling off questions as if it were a recorded message.

Think about what you say when you answer the telephone.  How do you sound?  Since your prospect does not yet have the benefit of face-to-face contact with you, your voice becomes who you are.  What distracting noises around you might be commonplace to you but disturbing to a first-time caller?  Are you smiling?  Put a small mirror on the counter behind your telephone and look into it and smile as you speak.  One center director I know says, “You can hear a smile on the telephone.” A voice with a smile says all the right things about you.  How does yours sound?

Since people tend to remember what they hear first and last, a pleasant conclusion is important in your telephone conversation with prospects.  Repeat the commitment you have secured and conclude with an inviting statement, such as, “miss Terry, the teacher in the three’s room, and will look forward to having you and Sara visit us this Thursday at 10:00. Thank you for calling Apple Day Care.”

Good Telephone Personality Traits

  1. Friendly, informative greeting dialogue
  2. Pleasant voice tone, volume, and rate of speaking
  3. Minimal surrounding noise
  4. Empathetic, helpful, focused conversation
  5. Readily available inquiry card, tuition schedule, etc.
  6. Appointment booking skill
  7. A big smile
  8. Pleasant concluding dialogue
  • Center appearance

When prospects visit your center, they form a first impression within about four minutes.  Consider their first view-the exterior of your building.  Does it look inviting?  Is it in good repair?  Is your sign bright and visible?  Is your van clean and parked in a noticeable spot?  How does your parking area look?  Are weeds under control?  Think about the sights that may have become commonplace to you but not to first-time visitors.  I once visited a center that had a very attractive appearance except for a dead plant hanging just outside the door! Little things count.

Once inside your center, prospects will immediately respond to the environment around the reception area.  Is it clean, warm and inviting?  Is there a parent board?  Do you prominently display special program offerings, your sign out system, notice of upcoming parent events, your center’s newsletter?  A nice welcoming touch is to have coffee and a center scrapbook available to occupy waiting parents and make them feel comfortable.

Beyond the image of the reception area, the atmosphere of the halls and classrooms will impress your prospects. Are bulletin boards current and accurate?  Are there neat, thorough parent communications posted, such as activity calendars and menus?  Are safe, sanitary conditions obviously maintained?  Does it smell good? Is each classroom a child oriented, happy   place? Are equipment and materials visible and organized?  Are learning centers identified?  What is the level of sound from the children’s activities?

Remember, if your prospects are subconsciously reacting to an image of your center’s appearance they perceive as negative, it will be difficult for them to really listen or be positive about what you are telling them as you conduct their tours.

  • Center director

 You, as the center director, are the hub of the wheel that keeps the center rolling.  You and the staff you hire have a direct influence on the personality of your center.  Parents know that and will be affected by your appearance and demeanor.  Before you ever have a chance to smile and say hello, your prospects will notice your appearance.  Do you look professional and well groomed?  Do you greet each prospect and child by name?  A firm handshake with the parent and gentle touch and greeting at eye level with the child will give you instant good rapport.  As you lead your prospects through their center tours, practice good enrollment building sales techniques, particularly communication the benefits of your child care service that meet their needs and asking for the enrollment.

  • Staff

 Prospects view teachers as the people with whom their children will actually spend each day.

Therefore, staff acknowledgement of visiting prospects is crucial.  Train your staff to smile, offer a welcoming comment, involve the child, or briefly visit with the prospect as the situation allows.  Some center directors temporarily sit in for the teacher so visiting parents can have a few minutes to become personally acquainted with their child’s prospective caregiver.  Discussions of staff appearance guidelines are also important.  If your staff members treat the children in a warm, sensitive manner that maintains control and enthusiasm, your parents will be more likely to feel good about enrolling their children in your center.

  • Program

 Signs of a good, high quality program are obvious to you, but are they to your prospects?  They will be impressed with an up-to=date information board in each room, including lesson plans.  A display of recent art projects is always a good sign, as are clearly defined learning centers.  Notice of daily activities and photos of children involved in past programs help project the image you desire and enhance your market position in your prospects’ mind.  An abundance of clean, well organized equipment also sends a good message about your program delivery.

  • Children

Your enrollees are your customers’ customers.  Seeing a center filled with happy, involved children immediately helps appease a prospect’s sense of guilt or anxiety.  Are the children in your center kept clean and active?  Do tears and disruptions receive appropriate attention?  Is discipline handled in a manner that is fair, controlled, and individual?  Is there obvious, caring response to the children’s needs and feelings?  Many times I am told that prospect reaction to the children is a decisive factor in choosing a center.

As you strive to provide, deliver, and maintain n high quality child care services in your market place, ask yourself the questions above.  In the minds of your prospects, what is the position of your center compared to others they might be investigating?  Remember that your prospects’ perception is their reality until you change it.  If that perception is truly the image you desire, you are well positioned to secure and maintain a high level of enrollment in your center.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Utilizing Email Signatures Properly

Have you ever thought of the messages you send by email as a marketing opportunity? I do not mean advertising your center or a specific program or center event in the content of an email message. I mean somewhere easy, cost-free, and available for consistent continual delivery of your center’s marketing message.

“Where is that?” you ask.

It is in your email signature. Below your name at the end of your email message, be sure to put the name of your center, contact information and a brief line that communicates a marketing message. It might be your tagline, it might be a short phrase promoting a new curriculum or school vacation program. It might be an open invitation to an upcoming center or company event. You can change it at will.

Your email signature, as this is called, is an often forgotten opportunity to send a marketing message that will be received not only by prospects, but by other target audiences, such as customers, friends and other opinion influencers. It’s the perfect way to make everyone to whom you send an email aware of what you do, and recognize you for that uniqueness or special message. And, after they have received several emails from you with the same signature, that message will be remembered, and they will identify you with it.

Using your email signature to deliver your marketing message will then become one of the ways you layer your marketing communications efforts. If you do it all well, when the time comes for those prospects and referral sources to inquire or refer to an early care and education center with your uniqueness, you will be at the top of their minds.

Take a good look at your email signature and revise it today to make it work for you with every email message you send.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Utilizing Email Signatures Properly

Have you ever thought of the messages you send by email as a marketing opportunity? I do not mean advertising your center or a specific program or center event in the content of an email message. I mean somewhere easy, cost-free, and available for consistent continual delivery of your center’s marketing message.

“Where is that?” you ask.

It is in your email signature. Below your name at the end of your email message, be sure to put the name of your center, contact information and a brief line that communicates a marketing message. It might be your tagline, it might be a short phrase promoting a new curriculum or school vacation program. It might be an open invitation to an upcoming center or company event. You can change it at will.

Your email signature, as this is called, is an often forgotten opportunity to send a marketing message that will be received not only by prospects, but by other target audiences, such as customers, friends and other opinion influencers. It’s the perfect way to make everyone to whom you send an email aware of what you do, and recognize you for that uniqueness or special message. And, after they have received several emails from you with the same signature, that message will be remembered, and they will identify you with it.

Using your email signature to deliver your marketing message will then become one of the ways you layer your marketing communications efforts. If you do it all well, when the time comes for those prospects and referral sources to inquire or refer to an early care and education center with your uniqueness, you will be at the top of their minds.

Take a good look at your email signature and revise it today to make it work for you with every email message you send.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Ten Reasons to Smile

10. It provides the opportunity for referral marketing for your dentist.

9. Smiling puts you in a good mood.

8. It makes you sound more pleasant to the caller.

7. It costs nothing.

6. It positions you as a helpful, friendly professional.

5. In person, it tells your clients you’re happy to see them.

4. You look like you love the children and your job as the center director.

3. It helps your prospect relax and concentrate on what you’re saying.

2. Your prospect can hear a smile on the telephone.

1. It gives you face value.

Put a small mirror on the desk by your telephone. The next time you take an inquiry call, look into that mirror and smile. When a client arrives, take a quick glance in it to make sure you head out to greet them with a smile on your face. It will say all sorts of good things about you to your prospective enrollees.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Using Your Basic Competitive Advantages to Increase Enrollment | Part 3

If you missed the first part of this blog, you can find it here. And the second part here.

Step Three: Articulate Your BCAs in Benefit Statements

Mastering the enrollment conversion technique of stating benefits, versus features, is what I call “the difference between telling and selling”. Features tell, benefits sell. So Step Three in using your Basic Competitive Advantages to increase enrollment is to learn to articulate your BCAs in good benefit statements.

Remember, these statements must tell your prospects what they get, or what your BCA means to them; not just what you have to offer or what the teachers and children do at your school. You want to communicate in such a way that you create a word picture in your prospect’s mind of their child in your school, causing them to feel a sense of peace of mind in the knowledge that they can get what they seek from your center.

For example, if you say, “The lead teacher is this preschool room has been here for seven years,” you have only stated a feature, or fact, about your classroom. Even if this feature is a BCA, you have not yet communicated it to your prospect as a meaningful benefit to them. Your statement is all about you and does not include them. Nothing in this statement creates a word picture in the prospect’s mind of their child being in this classroom.

If instead, you say, “The lead teacher in this preschool room has been here for seven years, so Aiden will have a great deal of stability and will get learning opportunities based on all her experience as a teacher of quality early care and education programs,” you have made a good benefit statement. Why? Because you not only presented your BCA (long-term teacher), you expressed what that means to Aiden (the benefits of this BCA). The last phrase is the part that makes this a good benefit statement and will help this parent visualize Aiden enrolled in your school.

You may argue that your enrollment prospects are smart people and will know what your center’s BCAs mean to them without your articulating what they get. Chances are, they will not. Even if they do, confirming that assumption in their minds by making good benefit statements will help them feel more confident that your center is the right place for their child.

Try these three techniques for articulating good benefit statements:

State the feature and add a phrase beginning with the word, “so…,” to answer, “So what does that mean to the prospect or child?” The example above illustrates this technique.
Start with the word, “Because,” then add the feature and finish your statement with the benefit phrase. “Because we open at 6:30 in the morning, it will be convenient for you to drop off Matteo on your way to work.”Which part of this sentence put the prospect in the word picture and tells them what they get? You’re right! The final part.
Start your statement with the benefit phrase, “From us, you (or child’s name) will get…” Then state the feature. “From us, Emma will get a wide variety of learning experiences and fun activities in her after school program.” There is a huge difference in prospect perception between this good benefit statement and stating this BCA as a feature only, such as, “We offer a wide variety of learning experiences and fun activities in our after school program.” The benefit statement describes what Emma gets from you. The feature statement tells only what you offer.

Articulating your BCAs in good benefit statements is all in how you say it. Go back to the benefits you developed in Step Two. Then practice using use one or more of the techniques above to state the benefits when you describe each BCA, making sure your statement answers, “So what…does this mean to the prospect?”

When you have determined your Basic Competitive Advantages, defined the benefits of each BCA, and mastered articulating them in good benefit statements, you are well on your way to converting more prospect calls and visits into enrollments. Your potential customers will more easily see what separates you from your competition. They will clearly understand how your BCAs can address their needs and concerns. And they will appreciate your knowledgeable approach to helping them make the best choice for their child and their family. And you will never again think about “So what…?” in the same way.

# # #
Julie Wassom is a trainer and consultant who has helped thousands of directors and managers build significant enrollment in their early care and education programs. An internationally recognized authority on marketing child care services, Julie is president of The Julian Group, Inc., an experienced marketing firm specializing in the early care and education industry. She is the author of The Enrollment Building Success Library of training resources, and the free online newsletter, Wassom’s Child Care Marketing Wisdom.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Watch What You Say – Terms That Make Parents Wince and Wonder

Did you know that some of the terms you use regularly on the job can make your parents and prospects cringe? For example, you understand perfectly well that when you refer to the term, “day care”, you are talking about your program filled with the most current and professional approaches to early childhood education and development. However, when you take off your director’s hat and think in the parent’s perspective, that term, “day care”, has a custodial connotation. Even though many parents use this term themselves, if we in the early care and education industry want to professionalize the impression we give our prospects, customers, and referral sources, you need to be very aware of exactly what you say and it will be perceived by each one of those target audiences.
Here are some terms to take out of your vocabulary when talking with parents and referral sources, and the replacement terms that will make them feel good about you, rather than wince and wonder.

Term to nix: day care. I love what a professor in the ECE Department of Pacific Oaks College once said, “The day will take care of itself. We take care of children.”

Replacements: child care, early childhood development, early care and education

What are you looking for in the early care and education experience you want for Ethan?

Term to nix: tour. We generally tour places that are much more institutional and less personal, such as museums. Child care centers are warm, welcoming places parents and their children visit to consider enrolling for daily attendance.

Replacement: visit

Could you and Hanna come in for a center visit on Tuesday or is Wednesday better?

Term to nix: slot. A parent sees their child crammed into a slot – not a good image.

Replacements: space, place, position

We have only two spaces left in this toddler room.

Terms to nix: fee, cost, price

Replacements: investment, tuition

The tuition for our full time preschool program is $….

Term to nix: discount

Replacement: savings

For your second child, you will receive a 10% savings on tuition.

Term to nix: but. This term can make you appear defensive, especially when you use it in a response to an
objection or complaint.

Replacement: however

I know it can sound expensive. However, here you’ll find the kind of program that will insure that Alisha is better prepared for kindergarten….

Term to nix: caregiver

Replacements: teacher, educator, faculty

Our teachers take pride in making sure your child develops a love for learning.

Terms to nix: special needs child, at risk child. These are children first, who are differently abled or have unique needs. You would not say, Alex is an allergy child; rather, Alex is a child with allergies.

Replacements: a child with special needs, unique challenges, special abilities

Little Kevin is a child with some unique challenges and special abilities.

Practice using these replacement terms when you talk to parents and other referral sources in your community, and watch their impression of your professionalism rise right before your eyes!

Send me one term you have replaced to promote more professionalism.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Using Your Basic Competitive Advantages to Increase Enrollment | Part 2

If you missed the first part of this blog, you can find it here.

Step Two: Define the Benefits of Your BCAs

Even though you now know what your key features, or BCA’s are, you must convert them into benefits. Why? Because prospects do not purchase merely what you have to offer. They buy what those features will DO for their child and their family. So for each feature you now have on your BCAs list, you want to define what that feature MEANS to the prospective parent and child. What do they get from your features? This is the actual benefit. When you communicate your BCAs in benefit statements, it motivates your prospects to see what the true value of your services means to them compared to other choices. Sales professionals have long said, “People buy benefits, not features.”

So how do you define the benefits of your BCAs? First, use the list of BCA’s you have developed. For each BCA, determine what that feature means to the prospect. What will they get from you by having the feature you offer. For example, if one of your BCAs is long-tenured teachers, three benefits the child gets from that are stability, the teacher’s knowledge of child development, and the higher level of early education a teacher with experience can deliver. List two or three benefits for each of your BCAs.

If this is hard to master, or you find you are still listing features (What you offer versus what they get), a tip I give managers when working directly with them on this topic is to ask yourself, “So what?”

For example, let’s say one of your unique features is the use of the Reggio Emilia approach, which you describe as an educational system commonly recognized as one of the best programs for young children worldwide. Since you are the only one in your area using this philosophy, you have identified it as one of your BCAs.  To define the benefits of this BCA, you might ask yourself, “So what does our using this approach MEAN to the child?”

The answer to that question will give you the benefits. For instance, your answer might be that the child centered philosophy within the Reggio approach means the children use exploration and research to learn how to be creative and good problem solvers, which are skills you know your prospects want them to learn. That is what the child and family will GET, therefore, this is one benefit of your having the Reggio approach as a BCA.

So once you know the benefits for each of your Basic Competitive Advantages, how do you communicate them in statements that will present meaningful benefits to your prospects? This brings us to Step Three.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

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Using Your Basic Competitive Advantages to Increase Enrollment | Part 1

In our industry filled with acronyms like DAP and FTE, I created one called BCA. “What do you mean by BCA?” you say. Your BCAs are your Basic Competitive Advantages – those unique features of your early care and education program and services that make you stand apart from your competitors. In general sales terms, these are called USPs, or unique selling propositions. Your BCAs should distinguish you from the other choices your enrollment prospects have available to them.

When I ask directors , “What are your Basic Competitive Advantages?”, many respond with features such as a quality program, a state-of-the-art facility, caring staff, brain-researched curriculum, good parent communication, long-tenured teachers, etc. Yet when I ask, “How do these compare to your competitors?” many cannot tell me other than to smile and say, “We hope they are better.” Hope is not a marketing strategy.

Many child care choices can seem similar when parents see ads, receive mailings, and investigate companies online. Learning what truly differentiates you from those other competitive options – and then how to communicate your BCAs in a manner that is meaningful to your prospects – can mean more enrollment conversions and higher capacity utilization in your center.

There are three steps that will help you use your Basic Competitive Advantages to increase enrollment.

Step One:   Determine your specific BCAs
Step Two:   Define the benefits of your BCAs
Step Three: Articulate your BCAs in benefit statements

Step One:  Determine Your Basic Competitive Advantages

It’s important to get a realistic view of what differentiates you from other child care options your enrollment prospects might investigate and select to visit. There are three ways you can do this. I recommend doing all three.

Make a list of your key features. With your management team and select staff,  first list all the features of your center, curriculum, staff,  philosophy, and service delivery that you feel helps you deliver the kind of quality you profess. Expect their responses to give you the more general assumptions, such as quality program, long hours of operation, convenience, caring staff, etc.

Then take this another step by going through each feature listed and really dig for what makes each of these features truly special or unique to you. For example, if your team tells you one key feature is your quality program, ask, “What about our program makes it high quality?” or “What does our program give children that they may not get elsewhere?” This will help your team focus on what really differentiates you. Perhaps they will say you are the only accredited center within your draw radius, or your lead teachers all have a high level of professional development, or you believe in children learning through play, or your curriculum is nature-based. Note these responses by each originally-stated feature, because you are now getting to the heart of what your actual BCAs are.

Do competitive shops. How can you know what your enrollment prospects are seeing, hearing, and experiencing at other centers if you have not done so yourself? Shop three aspects of each competitor – website, telephone inquiry, and center visit. Website and telephone inquiry can be anonymous. However, I recommend you schedule competitive center visits as a professional colleague versus visiting as a mystery shopper. To do this, you either schedule the visit or just drop in, introducing yourself as the director of your center and location, requesting a brief tour of their center, and inviting them to schedule a time to visit yours.

Shop no fewer than three and no more than five competitive programs in your area. Your goal for these shops is to determine your center’s BCAs. Here is a great technique for doing that, but it requires that you take off your center director hat and approach these shops from the parent’s perspective. Remember, a key strategy for successful enrollment building is to think in the prospect’s perspective. Their perceptions, not yours, influence their buying decisions.  So, are you ready for the technique? For each shop – website, telephone, or center visit – look for three features that center appears to provide as well as you do, from the parent’s perspective. Then note three things each one does not do as well as you do. And last, look for three things each competitive center does better than you currently do, at least from the parent’s perspective.

Be brutally honest. Here’s an example in each category for competitive shops. Same as you… A competitive center may have a website with many of the same features as yours. Not done as well as you… When you call them in the role of a prospective enrollee, you are not asked to schedule a specific time to come in for a center visit, nor are you asked for permission to follow up with you. (You consistently do both on each qualified inquiry call.) Could be perceived as better than you… When you stop by to visit the competitive center, you notice the entry is very clean, welcoming, and has a table with coffee and neatly-arranged materials about the center or of interest to parents. (Your entry could use some sprucing up.) When your shops are complete, review your lists of competitive features and use them to analyze what will be perceived as your BCAs by the enrollment prospects investigating all of you.

Conduct a post-visit survey.  By emailing a carefully crafted, three-to-five question survey to those prospects who have visited your center, you can learn what they noticed to be the primary differences between you and other centers they visited. Which specific centers they visited in addition to yours is not as important as what they perceived about yours. Make sure your survey reaches these enrollment prospects within the first few days after their center visit. Also make it easy to complete and submit. Constant Contact and Survey Monkey offer easy-to-use surveys. Even though it is unlikely all of the surveys will be returned, if you structure the survey questions and attached message well, you will get enough responses to see patterns of what your prospects view as your BCAs.

Take the information you gathered from each of these efforts and compile it. What will emerge are the key features of your center’s program and services that prospects perceive to be your Basic Competitive Advantages.

Merely knowing your BCAs is an important first step. However, it is not enough to assure they will positively impact your conversions and retention.  Taking your knowledge of features two more steps can make a world of difference in the influence these BCAs have on maximizing your enrollment. Here’s where we move to Step Two… Be sure to subscribe to the blog, my Facebook or Twitter to be informed about when Part 2 is released!

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com

Image Post

The Exceptional Customer Service Difference

Jessica gets it. The value of customer service, that is. This young coffee shop barista made my day recently when I rushed into a local bookstore to pick up a copy of a trade journal. When I could not find it on the rack, I saw her in an aisle and asked her to help me. She immediately put down what she was doing and came to my aid. When she could not find the magazine in the usual spot, she asked if I’d like for her to check on it for me. As we walked toward the computer which was behind the counter of the in-store coffee shop adjacent to the magazine racks, she asked if I would like to get one of their blackberry cream lattes. I told her “No, thank you,” but as she looked up the magazine, I noticed she had placed a table tent on the counter showing an irresistible photo of this special coffee drink of the week. Though she found there were no more issues of the magazine in the store, she sold me the latte. While she made it, she asked if I would like a snack with it, perhaps one of their fresh blueberry scones. I told her, “No, thank you, but you will sell lots more scones if you ask everyone that.” Every time Jennifer asked me anything, she looked right at me and smiled. She asked for my store perks card, and when I gave it to her, she began to use my name, as printed on the card. She returned the card to me wrapped in a small folder that offered me my eighth cup of joe free. When my coffee drink was ready, she announced my name and the coffee drink as if I were royalty for whom she had a special gift. She thanked me for taking the time to come in that day. I took a sip with foam on my upper lip and thought, “Got Customer Service”!

So what customer service did Jessica provide that was so out of the ordinary? Lots! Here are three of the things she did that set her apart:

  • She went out of her way to help the customer. She could have just glanced at the periodicals rack and said, “Sorry, we don’t seem to have that magazine.” But she offered to look it up even though I doubt that is on the job description of coffee shop service rep.
  • She asked and asked again. In five short minutes, she asked me all kinds of questions. Because of it, she sold me on her product, her service, and her store.
  • She personalized our interaction with friendly professionalism. Once she learned my name, she used it in a friendly, courteous manner. With a genuine smile, she thanked me for taking my time to be there, as if I were doing her a favor.

Your customers are your strongest source of referrals and repeat business. What are you doing to go the extra mile for them? Are you initiating periodic contact, inviting them to special events, providing a stream of information that communicates not only valuable resources to them, but supports your positioning as the helpful, knowledgeable resource they can trust? Are you asking what your customers need, and – perhaps more important – what they expect that they are not yet receiving? How – and how often – are you asking for referrals? What programs do you have in place to reward your customers for referrals, recognize them for their loyalty, and reassure them that they are getting the maximum value possible? Are you treating your customers like you really appreciate them and what they mean to your business? Once a week, ask yourself, “What have I done lately to show my customers how much I value them?”

I walked out of the bookstore without the magazine, but smiling and glad Jessica had passed through my day. Will I return? Absolutely, and especially when Jessica is there. Will I tell all sorts of others about this exceptional customer service experience? I just did.

Julie Wassom
“The Speaker Whose Message Means Business”
Marketing and Sales Speaker/Consultant/Author
Call me: 303-693-2306
Fax me: 303-617-6422
E-me: julie@juliewassom.com
See me: www.juliewassom.com