Wired for engagement – the Schoolwires blog

Congratulations, You've got competition. Five ways to win in the new competitive K-12 environment.

Posted by Marc Rubner on 10/3/14 2:06 PM


One million students are on a waiting list to attend a charter school. (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

The number of full time students registered in online education is four times what it was a decade ago. (National Education Policy Center)

Ten percent of U.S. students attend a private school. Congratulations, you’ve got competition. (Council for American Private Education)

How do public K-12 district leaders compete in the new environment of choice? By thinking and acting like competitors.

… and competitors compete.

In order to compete successfully, K-12 school districts need to focus their efforts the way product companies focus theirs. Here are five steps to effectively compete for student enrollment in your district:

  1. Positioning
  2. Segmentation and Targeting
  3. Messaging
  4. Engaging
  5. Improving

Over the next few weeks, we’ll review each of these steps in detail and provide examples of how they can be used to improve the competitiveness of your district’s branding and communication efforts.

Today’s topic is Positioning.

Effective positioning is a product of formal and informal research initiatives, market listening, and expert guidance that serves to solidify your differentiation. It answers the question: Why should I choose you over all these other options?

There are 3 elements to effective positioning:

a) Start with Why

Simon Sinek, in his best-selling book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (The Penguin Group, 2009), suggests that in order to properly position yourself against competitors, tell your audience WHY you exist. For example, at Schoolwires we strive to help every K-12 community reach its optimal level of engagement. We don’t just sell websites or mobile applications. We exist for a higher purpose; which begins with technology solutions, services, and training.   Why does your district exist?

b) Create a positioning statement

A positioning statement is a critical tool for all competitive organizations. A well-constructed positioning statement defines the market in which your district competes, your district’s unique value proposition, and your competitive advantage. The structure for developing an effective value proposition comes from Geoffrey A. Moore’s classic book Crossing the Chasm (Harper Collins Publishing, 1991). Although developed for technology companies, the positioning statement structure holds up for competitors in any industry. I’ve adapted the structure for K-12 districts:

  • For (target student). Who is your real target? What type of student are you hoping to attract?
  • Who must (solve a specific problem). What concern do they have Do the research. Talk to your community. If you are not addressing a top of mind concern of your target student, you will not attract them to your district.
  • Our district is a new or different (describe your unique or new approach).
  • That provides (key breakthrough benefit vs. current way of doing things – which solves dilemma). What is the remedy you are offering to your target students above?
  • Unlike (competitor in your district). Who is your real competition?
  • We have (whole offering most relevant for you). What differentiates you from your competition? Think about the whole offering. Go beyond clichés and vague statements about “helping every student achieve his/her full potential.” What is different about your district that is sustainable and relevant?

Here’s an example:

For high school students and their parents Who are searching for the right high school to meet their unique academic and extracurricular needs The West Point School District offers a broad choice of seven academically and socially diverse high schools That offer a unique combination of Advanced Placement courses, athletic teams, arts programs, and community activities. Unlike local charter and private high schools, The West Point School District’s high schools have all achieved Blue Ribbon status ranking each of them within the top 25 in the state. Our graduation rates and college attendance rates are also highest in the state, while five are among the top 100 in the country.

The positioning statement is NOT advertising copy. This is not a statement you would necessarily print on a post card. The positioning statement is a foundational description that helps leaders maintain a consistent focus on your unique value proposition, your competitive advantage, and the specific market you’re looking to target and attract.

c) Create an elevator pitch message (see Carmine Gallo)

An elevator pitch is a very short message everyone associated with your district should be able to recite when asked, “Tell me about your school district.” Again, it’s not a tagline or a full positioning statement. It’s a brief statement that makes the person asking the question say, “Really? Tell me more…”

A terrific primer for developing effective pitch messaging comes from communications coach, Carmine Gallo. Gallo’s Message Mapping exercise (Watch youtube video) details the method by which any communications leader can develop effective pitch messages.

Message mapping begins with developing a 140 character statement describing what your district is all about. The 140 character limit forces the writer to be extremely concise, eliminating hyperbole and wasteful language. Then, the map branches out to three supporting facts that further clarify the main statement. Check out Gallo’s video to review the example and develop a message map for your district.

Come back next week when we’ll focus on Segmentation and Targeting to ensure your communications are saying the right things to the right community members at the right time.

Topics: Student Enrollment, K-12 Competition, Positioning

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