Price, Product, Process: Choosing Your Competitive Marketplace Position

Vol. 16 No. 3

PSN eletter vol16 no2 PPP

When it comes to your school’s mission and the value you offer to families, you can’t be all things to all people. Many schools fall into the trap of trying to offer the best programs, the smallest class sizes, and the most accomplished graduates—all for a lower price than the competition.

In our experience, this simply cannot be done. We instead encourage schools to choose their competitive marketplace position and keep every strategic decision in line with this stance.

So, what sets a school apart from the rest? We have outlined three marketplace differentiators.

  • Product: Your primary (but not only) case for enrollment is the academic superiority of your school’s graduates.
  • Process: Your primary (but not only) case for enrollment is that you offer more programs at more levels (a more individualized approach with the greatest array of learning tools).
  • Price: Your primary (but not only) case for enrollment is your school’s affordability.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing your school’s marketplace differentiator—no one focus is “better” than the others. Choose the marketplace stance that makes sense for your school and keep it in mind for every strategic decision.

For example, if your school’s marketplace stance is that you generate the best product, or the most academically superior graduates, you must accept that your school’s tuition will be expensive—and it should be. To fulfill that value, you must invest in services and tools that ensure quality of student performance.

Schools competing as process will typically be even more expensive than product schools. Their differentiator is individualization, with the lowest possible student-faculty ratio and the widest array of curricular and cocurricular offerings. This can include numerous sports teams, foreign language offerings, state-of-the-art technology, and more.

Schools that choose to compete on the price differentiator must be especially aware of this value in their strategic planning. You might be tempted to offer an additional sports team or build a new technology center because a competitor has it. But that goes against your chosen value.

Schools can choose to focus on multiple elements in certain instances—for example, competing on both product and process. A higher tuition will reflect this stance because the school must offer resources for both an individualized experience and academically superior students. However, schools cannot compete on both price and product, or price and process. They are diametrically opposed.

Once you’ve selected your marketplace stance, emphasize it whenever possible—internal marketing, external marketing, parent education, hiring, faculty evaluations, and more. Use it to highlight your most advantageous competitive focus and strengthen your position in the marketplace.

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 31 No. 4 Price, Product, or Process: How Do You Define Your School?
I&P Vol. 40 No. 10 Price, Product, Process: A Conceptual Update

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