The process of applying to colleges is a lesson in effective marketing. Any parent who has applied to schools can marvel at the lengths that college admissions officers will go through to attract new students. Small businesses can learn a lot from how they market to their future consumers:
- Start early. Colleges start to tell students about their schools over a year before they need to apply and two years before they are ready to attend. They want to get on the student’s short list in their junior year in high school. Small business lesson: Attracting customers is all about creating relationships and being there when they are ready to buy. Every customer needs to know about how a business can help them long before they actually need them.
- Tell stories. Every school paints a wonderful picture for parents and students of what it will be like to attend their school. Small business lesson: Every business needs to tell prospects how good it will be once they solve their pain. Consumers still love to buy dreams.
- Sample the product. Colleges want students to sample their product. They do this is many ways. They set up special days to visit the schools or send representatives to the student’s high school. Most schools show models of dorm rooms because they can’t actually risk showing a real one. Small business lesson: Do not give spontaneous live product demos that don’t have predictable results.
- Give references. The colleges talk about their famous alumni and the successful people that have graduated from their school. They take full credit for their success. Small business lesson: All businesses need to attach themselves to well-known brands. If you have notable client references, use them prominently.
- Stay in touch. Students receive email, direct mail and phone calls almost every week from colleges. They even wish the prospective students “Happy Birthday”. Small business lesson: Don’t worry about reaching out too often to prospective customers as long as the company is helping, not selling.
- Know where the profit is: The urban schools push living on campus and using their meal plan. This is because these two areas (housing and food) are their most profitable for any college. Small business lesson: Know where the company’s profit is and sell those to prospective customers.
- Address the elephant in the room: For colleges, it's the outrageous cost. The biggest objection for attending college is the money, so school address that head on. Small business lessons: Address the objection to buying a product up front and do not wait for the prospect to bring it up.
- Everyone and everything reflects the brand. Every interaction a prospect has at the school shapes their total experience. Small bushiness lesson: Understand that each time a customer or prospect comes in contact with a person, email, or website from a company, it adds or subtracts from that brand.