Your ability to differentiate your private school can make or break your enrollment goals. The schools that know how to share their story, what makes them stand out, and how to communicate in the way their audience will best receive it have a greater chance at catching a prospective family’s attention- and keeping it.
While every school’s value proposition should be differentiated, the way you go about creating and refining it are universal.
We sat down with Emily Cretella, owner of Cursive Content, to ask her a few questions about how to craft a value proposition that sticks. Here’s what she shared with us.
Get to Know Emily Cretella
Emily Cretella is the owner of Cursive Content, the content marketing agency she founded in 2012. Her mission is to help independent schools, and colleges and universities, create and share stories that their audiences will love. She focuses on helping schools figure out their story and then telling it to the world.
Why Schools Need Value Propositions
Q: Why is having a value proposition so important?
Emily: Now with everything going on there are fewer ways to demonstrate your differentiators to your dream families. Before, you could have one-on-one conversations on campus and wow them with your space. Now they might just be looking at your school on one tab of their computer and have three or four other different schools and tabs open in the same window.
You want to make sure that the message your school first puts out there really connects to that dream family that you’re looking for. As soon as they see your website, or whatever piece of material they come across first, you want them to think “yes, that’s exactly what I was looking for. That is meant for me, that is exactly what my child needs.”
Q: How do you explain to schools that are new to this what a value proposition is?
Emily: When I talk to new clients about what a value proposition is, or a positioning statement, as I often call it, I like to think of it as a bridge between your mission statement and your audience. You have this mission statement that talks about your school’s vision and values and goals, but it’s often internally focused on things like “this is what we do, and this is why we do it.”
But your value proposition, or your positioning statement, really needs to focus on the “so what.” You want to write in a more personal tone directly addressing your dream family’s cares and concerns, their needs and challenges, and the outcomes that you’re promising them. You want to communicate what they can expect for their child if they join your community.
Tips to Create a Striking Value Proposition
Q: How do you help schools get started with creating a value proposition?
Emily: I always start the same way. Audience first, always. That’s my biggest piece of advice because you can’t make that bridge happen without knowing what your dream families are looking for. That’s a part that a lot of schools skip because they think they already know what their families want.
It’s really important to listen to your dream families, to dive deep into the data that you have, to talk to them, and to use the language that they use when they’re describing what they’re looking for in a school when creating your value proposition.
When you’re crafting your positioning statement, it’s more about what they want to hear then about what you want to say. Of course it still has to be authentic. You’re not going to make something up just to please your families, but you have to focus your story in a way that is most attractive to your dream family.
Q: What area of creating a value proposition can help schools set themselves apart?
Emily: Your school can set themselves apart by figuring out what your true differentiators are and where you can really put a stake in the ground and say something different, have some kind of different philosophy, have a unique approach, and connect those to real outcomes that students get from that approach.
It’s often easier to focus on some of the offerings that you provide rather than what your unique perspective is and what those measurable outcomes are. If you put your own stake in the ground and get your own philosophy out there, then you’ll really stand out in this crowded online space.
Q: How do you know your value proposition is truly differentiated? Do you recommend looking at the competitive landscape?
Emily: Definitely. I actually always recommended that you do a little browser test. You don’t want to sway the process of developing your value proposition at the beginning. So you might want to start the process by figuring out what your audience is, looking for, and finding your differentiators.
Then test it against what’s out there so that your competitor’s value propositions don’t sway the direction that you go in. But you can make sure that they sound different enough, and you can do that right now. Pull up your website, pull up five competitors, pretend that you’ve never seen them before, and see what that first takeaway is and see if yours is as strong as theirs, or if yours makes as big of a statement as theirs does.
When to Revisit Your Value Proposition + Who to Get Involved
Q: Is a value proposition a static thing or is it something that you should revisit? And if so, how often?
Emily: It’s definitely variable. You want to make sure that you don’t set it and forget it indefinitely. You should look at it whenever your audiences evolve or when your school starts to evolve. Especially when climates like this start to evolve, these are times where you want to make sure that you’re telling an authentic story that still represents who you are, because if you wait a year, a lot can change.
Your school slowly starts changing and evolving and creeping forward and, and taking a different direction. I would say you should revisit your value proposition at least every year, but you don’t have to try to write a new value proposition every month. It should be something that connects enough to who you are as a school that it can stand for a while.
Q: How do you make sure that your value proposition is broadly understood and not just understood by the team that creates it?
Emily: A value proposition is not something that you work on as an internal exercise. You don’t want to create your value proposition and then just put it on the mission page of your website. A value proposition is really supposed to lead the rest of your content. It’s supposed to lead your entire school story. It’s the tip of the iceberg. And the whole rest of your school story and materials should be supporting it. The messaging in your value proposition should really be infused into everything that you do.
Q: How do you make sure everyone at your school views your value proposition as essential and not just a marketing message?
Emily: One way to make sure that it’s not just seen as a marketing piece and gets hidden in marketing is to have all of your school’s teams have some kind of involvement in at least the discovery process for the development of the value proposition statement. When you’re trying to figure out your differentiators, your unique perspective, bring everybody in, let everyone have a voice in the process and then they’ll feel more connected to it.
Q: If people reading this want to find out more about you, where do they go to do that?
Emily: You can find me at cursivecontent.com, and @cursive content. Follow me, say hi, say you heard me. I’d love to talk to you. I’ll talk about this stuff all day.
Special thanks to Emily for taking the time to chat with us about the importance of value propositions for private and independent schools. Read more about branding and value propositions in our admissions refresh ebook.
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