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Three Rules for Creating Value Propositions

Figuring out your school’s value proposition is not easy. It raises all kinds of questions. Which features or characteristics will be of interest to prospective parents? And, even if they resonate with parents, do they represent value? What will convince parents that the experience your school offers is worth the tuition you want them to pay?

To help with that painstaking process, here are three rules for creating school value propositions.


The value proposition must be delivered, not just described

Parents, not schools, decide what is of value

The value proposition must be embedded in the student and parent experience at your school


Those rules mean that value proposition is not just a marketing or enrollment issue. People in those offices can describe it, but they can’t deliver it. A value proposition that only exists as copy on a website, isn’t really a value proposition. Ultimately, a value proposition must be evident in every facet of the school experience. That can only happen with the dedicated involvement of the Head of School.

This perspective is inspired by a publication that is over thirty years old. Believe it or not, the term, “value proposition” was coined in the 1988 McKinsey staff paper, “A Business is a Value Delivery System.” They suggest that the entire raison d’être of a business is to provide value. In their words:

“… a business is a system for superior value delivery: choosing a superior value proposition and echoing it through the business system by providing and communicating it. And managing this delivery is top management’s primary job.”

If we break that down, there are two imperatives. One is choosing the right value proposition and the other is ensuring that it is continuously delivered.

Defining the value

Let’s look at the two components from a school’s point of view. First, choosing a value proposition is linked to what parents feel is valuable. The McKinsey authors present this formula for value:

Value = Benefits – Price

They go on to explain, “The benefits that matter are those the customer thinks are important. Similarly, price means whatever the customer sees as being paid for the product or service.”

Interestingly, that view of value is almost identical to a formula presented, by Patrick Basset, president of NAIS until 2013. This is his version:

Value proposition = Perception of Value ÷ Perception of Price

Whether you use McKinsey or Basset, the conclusion is the same. Parents, not schools, determine what’s of value.

You may think your emphasis on character development is the essence of your value proposition but if parents don’t see its benefits, there is no value. For character education to be part of the value proposition, it’s critical that you effectively communicate how the related initiatives positively impact children.

That formula also means that perception is reality when it comes to tuition. Clearly, what is affordable to one parent can be prohibitive to the next. Beyond that, the price parents pay to send their kids to your school can be more than just tuition. It can include the opportunity costs of tuition: limited personal budgets, fewer vacations, or less expensive cars. It can be the time it takes to drive to and from school or even employment options.

The entire value proposition formula must be seen through the eyes of parents.


Delivering the value

Defining your value proposition isn’t enough. It must be delivered.  This is what the McKinsey paper had to say about that:

“The other half of value delivery is taking the chosen value and echoing it throughout the business system, using every resource of the business to reinforce the delivery of the superior value.”

If we go back to our previous example of character education, it has to be evident in every aspect of the school experience – in the classroom, in labs, the auditorium, the gym, the lunchroom and outdoor spaces. It also needs to be a key part of the parent experience. The emphasis on character should find its way into all interactions parents have with the school, whether those are meetings with administrators, parent-teacher conferences, or contact with the business office. And it doesn’t stop there. Character development as a value must be woven into recruitment events, athletics, all gatherings of current parents and even fundraising initiatives.

In turn, that means that everyone who works for or on behalf of a school must view, as part of their responsibilities, the importance of integrating the character development value into all of their efforts, discussions and activities. That would extend from administrators to teachers, those in the business office, enrollment and fundraising. It should even be incumbent on trustees to be able to convey how the value of character development pervades the school.

In order for all of that to happen, we can see why the McKinsey paper says, “managing this delivery is top management’s primary job.” In a school, it is only the Head who has the authority and credibility to ensure that the value is “echoed throughout the … system.”

So, what’s the practical implication of looking at value propositions this way? You can only base your marketing or enrollment initiatives on a value proposition if you are certain that it is 100% authentic. If, for example, you want to use inquiry-based learning as your value proposition, you need to be sure that it will be evident on every parent tour.

Remember that value proposition affects retention as well as recruitment. That would mean that current parents are aware of inquiry-based learning and the positive impact it is having on their children’s education. Using the formula above, parents must also feel that inquiry-based learning is a benefit that adds perceived value to the tuition they are paying. Finally, before deciding on a value proposition, you need to involve your Head of School to ensure that the chosen characteristic or feature is truly embedded in your school’s experience.

The next time you’re working on your school’s value proposition, these three rules just might make it a little easier.

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