Being Good Is Not Enough
Of course you are good at what you do.
You and your staff are trained. You're good. You wouldn't be allowed to operate if you weren't. And you know more about childcare than most, if not all your parents and caregivers. There's no question - you are good.
But being good is the price of entry for your business. It's the norm. Your parents assume you are good at what you do. They would never consider your centre as an option otherwise. IT'S THEIR CHILDREN! Being good is the default setting.
If you focus your marketing efforts (anything you do to foster enrolments is marketing) on trumpeting to prospective parents how GOOD you are, then you are wasting your money and your effort. You are promoting virtues that all centres are assumed to have. Your advertising dollars might be helping to build the whole childcare industry, but they are not focusing on building your own enrolments.
So the trick is not to be good! 🙂
If all childcare centres are 'good', and you want full enrolments, you need to think about being unique; to ask yourself 'how are we different?'. To wonder why families should send their children to your centre and not one across town, or closer to them, or one that costs less. To ask yourself why your families need you.
These are the questions your parents will be asking themselves. Answering them in your marketing is the key to growing your enrolments.
Look around. You'll see most early care and education centres don't have this figured out. They don't have what marketing texts call a 'Unique Selling Proposition' (USP). We'll define it slightly differently. We'll call it our Unique Service Proposition, but it amounts to the same thing. Most centre managers do not focus enough on what makes their centre different.
By figuring out a USP, you'll have a reason for families to enrol at your centre (and not at another one).
Will your USP alienate some of your potential families? Possibly. But it might also appeal to families outside your neighbourhood - to parents who are willing to drive across town to capture your USP for their child.
Note that you can change your USP as your business or your market changes, and you can have more than one USP. You can have different USPs for different types of customers, too (eg. parents of under-2s, over-2s, etc.).
Be Hard To Copy
The rewards for being unique are obviously lost if other centres can copy you easily. Once they do that, you're no longer unique! So in thinking about your USP, keep an eye on making it hard work for other centres to copy you. Make it REALLY hard!
And even more obvious, you can't be different for the sake of being different. Your USP has to be something your target parents value. Something they will drive across town for. Something they'll come from another town for! For that you'll need to...
Seth Godin (an American author, entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker) explains this brilliantly in his book Purple Cow.
When my family and I were driving through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing in picturesque pastures right next to the highway. For dozens of kilometres, we all gazed out the window, marvelling about how beautiful everything was.
Then within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what was once amazing was now common. Worse than common. It was boring.
Cows, after you've seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they're still boring.
A purple cow, though. Now that would be interesting. (For a while.)
Your ultimate goal is to have a USP that is not just different, but really different. One that makes your centre a purple cow, in a meadow of (good) brown cows!
Sounds Good, But…
Don't be quick to dismiss USPs as just 'marketing hype' or 'only for business'. It's not a gimmick. It helps your staff focus on what's important - and it helps your future clients focus too.
- Your prospective families have difficulty deciding which childcare option deserves their time, money and trust.
- Choosing can be a daunting process. Families usually don’t have the experience to know what separates one centre from another.
- Your job is to assist them by having a USP, and making it obvious.
- Your job is to help families see exactly what your centre has to offer that the other guys do not.
- Your job is to help your centre stand out from the crowd.
Your centre needs a trait that’s different and worth remembering - and remarkable. It's worth you putting the time in.
Show Me How!
Because a USP goes to the heart of your organisation, an outsider can't come in and tell you what it is. They might be able to help you look for it, but you're in the best position to find it. Figure out what features or services (relevant to your parents) you can focus on or add to your service to differentiate it (and make it remarkable!!).
You'll know you have your USP when you can complete the sentence "Families will enrol at our centre because it is the only..."
Here are some ideas to help start your thinking:
- Start with WHY. Why do you do what you do? What are your values? What are your centre values? What made you enter the childcare industry? What inspired you? What do you believe in? The closer your USP is to your fundamental values and beliefs, the more powerful (and resilient) it will be.
- Check out the competition. It's a great starting point (albeit reactive). Ask yourself: What aspects of my programme are different from theirs. What do they do/say? Where are they? What are their prices? What are their policies? How can I be different (and still keep to my values)?
- Think benefits (not features). Don't think of your USP as something you do (a feature); think of what it does for your clients (a benefit). Don't see 'extended hours' - see 'support for parents with busy schedules'. Don't think 'better teacher ratios', think 'more attention for each child'. This way you are more likely to come up with a USP that actually means something to your clients, not just something you do well.
- Think about your ideal client. You can't be everything to everyone. Perhaps unabashedly appeal to your 'Ideal Customer'. (Here's a somewhat repugnant example of this.)
- Ask parents. Ask staff.
But think of something! Maybe it's your:
- staff ratios (or staff qualifications);
- services (hot lunch, early start, late close); or
If nothing stands out, get busy and create it! As a priority!
Craft a unique, compelling and interesting story about your centre and the services you provide.
Remember: "Our programme is the only one in town with…"
Build It In
Once you identify and agree on your USP, build it in to your centre before you build it into your marketing. It doesn't work to say or promise it and not deliver.
Again, Seth Godin says:
Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. ...understanding that if your offering itself isn't remarkable, it's invisible.
Now Put It To Work!
So you have shaped your USP, and built it in to your service - now use it. Make sure all your communications make your unique proposition consistent and clear. Tell families why they should come to your centre. Tell them what their specific benefit is.
Use your USP, inside and outside your centre. Put it on your website, enlist the support of your staff, put it in your logo or tagline, and put it in your newsletter and on your Facebook page. If you have a consistent message and use it consistently, you won't confuse your parents or your staff (or yourself!).
You'll be distinct.
And you'll be watching those enrolments roll in!
Food For Thought...
- To promote your service effectively, you must have a Unique Service Proposition.
- Your USP must be one other centres cannot or do not offer. It must be unique.
- Your USP must be strong enough to move people and attract new clients.
- Your USP must be consistent, and used consistently.
- Live and breathe your USP.
- Above all, be REMARKABLE!!