Price, Product, Process: Competing Within Your Market Platform


ISM has written a number of times about its tripartite classification system for examining a private-independent school’s marketing platform. In simplest terms, the classification and its descriptors read as follows.

  • Price/value: We offer a transformational (nearly always religious) experience for your child at a cost you can afford.
  • Product: We offer the best academic “product” (graduate) in our market area.
  • Process: We offer “more” for your child (more electives; more levels of electives; more teams; more levels of teams; more individual attention, and/or a unique pedagogy) than others in our market.

This typology becomes especially important in two areas of school operations: first, in developing your school’s marketing strategies, and second, in going through the process of strategic planning. You, as School Head, are likely to build a more effective platform for attracting and retaining a mission-appropriate student body if you choose to feature, in your marketing efforts, your school’s true competitive strengths—based on a best price/value argument, a best product argument, or a best process argument. And you, as Board President, are likely to invest your school’s hard and soft income to your greatest competitive advantage if you have decided in advance of strategic planning the “correct” arena—price/value, product, or process—within which you should be competing.

Earlier I&P articles have dealt with the concept of marketing and planning to compete successfully “on your turf” rather than “on others’ turf.” ISM has not until now written about marketing and planning within your own category.

Where should your school place its marketing and strategic planning emphases vis-à-vis others that market and plan on the same basis as you?

Marketing and Planning: Your Price/Value School vis-à-vis Other Price/Value Schools

A price/value school considering its marketing approach and its strategic planning strategies within its own price/value category might consider this overview paragraph as a guide:

Our school provides a transformative religious (Christian/ Jewish/Muslim/etc.) experience for your child at a moderate cost. Compare our school’s quality-of-graduate, breadth of post-graduate college (and other) choices, and variety and richness of curricular and cocurricular offerings against those of other schools in this area with similar missions and similarly socio-economically diverse student bodies.

Your version of this meta-message, ISM suggests, might comprise your essential competitive claim versus other price/value schools within your demographic, while at the same time serving to distinguish your price/value market platform from both best product and best process platforms. Whether this example fits your school closely or not, consider writing your own meta-message, and then undertake three follow-up actions.

First, compose a set of Purpose and Outcome Statements consistent with your marketing platform, statements that separate your school from others, both within category and beyond category.5 Second, generate and/or compile data regarding the mission-specific excellence of your “product” and your “process” (i.e., document every legitimate product/ process claim you can make). Third, in strategic planning, invest only in your personnel (e.g., in the enhancement of a professional-growth-focused faculty culture), and in those programs and facilities that provide advantages both within your market platform and beyond your market platform.

Marketing and Planning: Your Best Product School vis-à-vis Other Best Product Schools

A best product school considering its marketing approach and its strategic planning strategies within its own bestproduct category might consider the following overview paragraph as a guide:

Our school provides the best academic “product” (graduate) in our market area, regularly placing our graduates in the finest next-level institutions in [the world, the nation, the region, the metropolitan area, etc.]. Beyond this fact, compare our school’s focus on, and approaches to, the critical areas of character development, leadership, athletics, and the performing arts against those of other schools with similar missions and goals.

Your version of this meta-message, ISM suggests, might comprise your essential competitive claim versus other best product schools within your demographic, while at the same time serving to distinguish your best product market platform from both price/value and best process platforms. Whether this example fits your school closely or not, consider writing your own meta-message, and then undertake the same three follow-up actions described at the end of the previous section. Note that in the second of these steps, you will want to delineate with some precision what you mean by “character development” and “leadership.” As with any claims you make, you will need to provide documentation in support: examples, anecdotes, snapshots of pertinent curricular and/or cocurricular elements of your student programs.

Marketing and Planning: Your Best Process School vis-à-vis Other Best Process Schools

A best process school considering its marketing approach and its strategic planning strategies within its own best process category might consider this overview paragraph as a guide.

Our school provides the best “process”—that is, the most thoroughly individualized, most comprehensive, most developmentally specific, and most pedagogically creative array of student-focused experiences—in our market area. Character-development themes are layered systematically into our curriculum and cocurriculum from the earliest years to the highest levels. And beyond this richness of experience, compare our school’s track record for next-level placement and performance with that of other schools with similar missions and goals.

As with the other two categories, your version of this meta-message, ISM suggests, might comprise your essential competitive claim versus other best process schools within your demographic, while at the same time serving to distinguish your best process market platform from both price/value and best product platforms. Whether this example fits your school closely or not, consider writing your own meta-message, and then undertake the same three follow-up actions as were described at the end of the first section of this article.

Conclusion

Your power to attract and retain a mission-appropriate student body—and your capacity to draft a strategic plan that truly fits your “purposes and outcomes”—will be a function, in great part, of your willingness to adhere to the general principles articulated in this and related articles. As School Head or Board President, bear in mind that trying to present your school as being the “best” in more than one of these categories represents a risky approach to both marketing and planning.

True, all private-independent schools contain traces of all three categories within their programmatic make-up. But those that try to straddle these categories run the risks both of blurring the central marketing message and of infusing strategic-planning-directed money—hard and soft income—into areas that are off-center. Insist that your school tighten its message and target its money. Having done so, you will be able to compete both within-category and beyond-category.

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