How Many Messages Does It Take…

Remember that commercial – “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”  The owl counts to three, then bites his way to the center. Even though it’s meant to poke fun at the wise owl, it contains three powerful marketing messages: first, we may have seen it so many times that we remember it; second, we remember it because it’s memorable; and third, because that message is ingrained in our minds, we can transfer that knowledge to other matters.

Let’s take marketing your school to parents of prospective students. By the way, this is September, so you should be starting to market your school to next year’s kindergarten parents if you lead an elementary school, and to 5th through 8th graders in your feeder elementary schools if you’re part of a high school’s administration team.  For elementary schools, or K-12 schools, get those brochures to places where mothers of young children wait – doctor’s offices, supermarkets, gyms, and hair/nail salons. The narthex of the Church or Churches your school is associated with is a good place too, but I don’t know lots of mothers of young children that hang out there after Mass or Worship is done.  If you’re still printing brochures, they need to be where they “hang out,” and for most young parents today, they “hang out” online.  Even Google now has a function called “Hangouts.”

We’re also conditioned by some of the messages we hear in the Gospel. Recall that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was only asked one time to be the mother of our Savior – and she said “yes.” Similarly, Jesus told paralyzed man lowered through the roof only one time to get up and walk – and he did. And, Jesus told Lazarus to come out from his tomb how many times? That’s right, one time.

Unfortunately, we may transfer that knowledge, assuming that all we have to do 2 THOUSAND years later is tell parents of prospective students only once about our school, and then expect them to enroll their children!  Okay, maybe we tell them a couple of times.

Think about Palestine back then – no radio, no cable, no satellite, no computer, no Internet, no iPads, no cell phone. There weren’t a lot of conflicting messages or other points of view that were bombarding the population simultaneously. If there were, they were quashed. Today, our valued right to freedom of speech makes all these messages possible and plentiful.

So why do you think your message about your school will be absorbed by parents with only one or two exposures to it? Ten years ago, the research at that time said it took about NINE exposures to a message to simply begin to make the target audience aware of it, and then additional exposures reinforce the message to move the target audience to take action relative to it.  About five years ago, that number was about THIRTEEN.  Today, with it’s safe to say it takes even more to be recognized in a veritable sea of messages – so many, in fact, that people are starting to call it “noise.”

So let’s think about the classroom. Do you tell students about a new concept just once, and expect them to embrace it, know it, and demonstrate their learning flawlessly? Or is there a lesson plan developed with an introduction, the pedagogy involved with the presentation, the practice necessary to master the concept, then an assessment made to see if the knowledge has been satisfactorily grasped?

If you said the latter, and your school still gives parents of prospective students a brochure or information pack and then you wait for them to call you, I would bet your school’s enrollment isn’t growing.

Let’s say an approach like this might cost $25 to $50 per parent. You might think that’s a lot of money, but if your tuition is $4000 per student or more, it’s only losing proposition if you approach at least 80 parents of prospective students this way, and all of them say “no” to your school. Something tells me if you approach 80 potential students in this manner, you’re going to get more than one enrolled in your school. Something also tells me that if you approach 80 parents of prospective students, and none of them want to enroll their child in your school, something’s fundamentally wrong with the school.

The real objection is usually that marketing a school today requires a great Web site presence, daily updating of the site, social marketing via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, print publications, and personal meetings, phone calls and emails.  And that’s a lot of work, right?  That’s right – and anything worthwhile is.  What most schools leaders I speak with say is that they don’t have time for it all.  Today more than ever, if you don’t make time for it, you may eventually find you have a lot of time on your hands.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2018 (Original Publication Date: 20080908)