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Monday, April 4, 2011

Hopeful Expectations

Nearly twenty years ago, Tom Peters, author of Thriving on Chaos, stated:

In an era when most institutions are hard put to define how they differ from their neighbors/competitors, no point of differentiation is likely to prove more powerful than quality.”

His words are even truer now than they were then. This claim should resonate with all public institutions, particularly in the field of education. In the years since Peters offered his assertion the alternatives to public school education have increased dramatically. Private schools, charter schools, and home-schooling have made a strong impact on the market that was once dominated by public schools. The resulting virtual monopoly on clientele may have contributed to a sense of complacency that has weakened the appeal of public schools by parents who perceived them as indifferent and unresponsive.  The public schools, perhaps through mandates that promote standardization and uniformity, have not appeared to differentiate themselves from other cookie-cutter style public schools enough to offer a choice for discerning consumers. Overall, this has not been an effective strategy for public schools.

Quality and value are not defined by the provider; they are determined by the customer.  National polls and a wide range of research on public perception of public schools reveals that parents are concerned with much more than simply achievement test scores. While the hard data on performance levels, graduation rates, and attendance can easily be measured and presented, parents emphasize the soft elements of schools in areas like respect, creativity, individuality, opportunities for parent participation, and curricular and extra-curricular experiences not easily reduced to percentiles and scaled scores.

Education provides an intangible product. It is not something that you can experience or test prior to purchasing the product. This is in contrast to a tangible product that you can test, touch, watch, or taste before buying.

Here are several observations on this issue made by Theodore Levitt, author of The Marketing Imagination.

What makes intangible products unique is that they are entirely nonexistent before being bought, entirely incapable of prior inspection or review. For that reason, the customer is forced to make judgments far more on the basis of what’s asserted or implied about the product than with tangible products.”

Intangible products are by nature highly people-intensive in their production and delivery. The more people-intensive a product, the more room there is for personal discretion, idiosyncrasy, error, and delay.”

Customers buy hopeful expectations, not actual things. "Feelings" are more important than "feeling." How we feel about a car is more important than how the car feels.”

People buy products in order to solve problems. A product is, to the potential buyer, a complex cluster of value satisfactions. The generic “thing” or “essence” is not itself the product. The “product” is what the product “does.”

“Customers attach value to products in proportion to the perceived ability of those products to help solve their problems. Hence, a product has meaning only from the viewpoint of the buyer or the ultimate user. All else is derivative. Only the buyer or user can assign value, because value can reside only in the benefits he wants or perceives.”

“Instead of trying to get the buyer to want what the seller has, the seller should try to have what the buyer will want.”

Here’s some advice for those involved in education from David Bangs and Andi Axman, authors of A Crash Course in Marketing:

“Recognize that people don’t buy products and services. They buy solutions to their problems, and satisfactions of their wants and needs”.

In differentiating your product/service from the competition – tout the benefits of your product/service – not its features.

You don’t buy coal/oil/natural gas – you buy heat;
You don’t buy circus tickets – you buy thrills;
You don’t buy paper – you buy the news;
You don’t buy glasses – you buy vision.

And finally, taking a cue from the paragraph above, here are some of my expectations as superintendent of the Green Island Union Free School District regarding the benefits of our school.

Green Island children do more than “attend” school – they get closer to their dreams day by day.
Green Island staff members do more than “teach” children – they sustain hope and grow learners.
Green Island parents do more than send their children to school - they share them with a caring staff.
Green Island taxpayers don’t buy an education – they invest in building the future.
The Heatly School of Green Island isn’t a big school with small ideas – it’s a small school with BIG ideas.

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