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McCauley on Building Enrollment: WOW!

The WOW factor.  Have it?   Need it!  But, getting it requires careful planning, homework, and preparation.  Wow is a whole lot more than simply being a good entertainer.

As business and marketing teachers we know competition is healthy.  We know competition brings out the best in business, creates better products, and is beneficial to the consumer.  Why don’t we feel that way when it’s time for students to select their courses? 

Depending on your particular school and any focus or emphasis it may have, your students will have a great deal of choice when it comes time to select their courses for the upcoming semester or school year. First, they will have to make sure they select the core required classes such as English, math, and science etc. In addition, they will likely have a wide variety of elective courses to choose from.  Unless your school has some type of pathways or small learning communities there is a good chance students will treat electives like a buffet and try a little bit of everything.

Your challenge is to develop a course – a program, really -- that stands apart from all those other options.  Clearly, it needs to be distinct; it must have a point of differentiation; it has to bring to the table your WOW factor. 

So what’s that mean?  What is your wow factor? What differentiates your program from the others? The difference is certainly found in the content and curriculum.  It’s pretty tough to teach theory and philosophy of business to a teenager.  Teens want to do.   And the smart ones see through the busy work.   They recognize real, substantive content when you put it on the table.  They also recognize dated, stale content and pedagogy.  So, as a prerequisite to WOW, we need to be certain the content is relevant, up-to-date, and challenging.  (See National Business Administration Curriculum Standards)

Getting the content right is the right start, but WOW must go beyond that.  What’s your wow factor when you try to differentiate between your program and other electives in the school?

  • Do you offer great internships that give your students a head start in the business world?  Are your internships truly better opportunities than a typical part-time teen job than anyone can pick up?
  • Is it your CTSO that provides opportunities to develop leadership and to compete against students from around the country?  Are you picking and choosing CTSO activities that are truly related to learning?  Will the activities you select impress your would-be students’ parents?  Counselors?  Or are you focusing solely on the fun stuff?
  • Is your wow factor based on your use of project-based learning and real-world activities?  Are your students doing real-world stuff or just reading the chapter, answering the questions, and taking a quiz?
  • Maybe your wow factor is the use of technology in your program.  Perhaps everyone uses an iPad or a handheld device.  Or maybe you have frequent Google+ Hangouts in the classroom to bring in real-world experts to share their thoughts with your students and bring reality to the curriculum. 

Bottom line:  Your wow factor is not something I can define in a short article.  Yours will be different from mine.  But the bottom line is that it will include both content and pedagogy and it will differentiate the experiences you offer from those of the other classes.

Get a copy of Differentiate or Die, a great book by Jack Trout.  It is a fantastic reminder of why and how we differentiate in business.  And, it will be useful both as you develop this marketing plan for your program and, if you teach a marketing class, for helping your students understand the concept. Trout covers countless traits which can be used as a point of differentiation including such things as the breadth of a product line (or program offerings), leadership, history, specialty courses, the newness of the course (or even the fact that it’s been around for significant time and has an established history), the growth of your program, and the list goes on.

The truth is, most of us have one or more of these wow factors in our program. The problem is, we have never taken the time to think them through and integrate them into a substantive promotion and marketing plan. It’s almost as though we keep our wow factor a secret. If that’s the case, it’s time that we move it to the forefront of our promotional efforts.

Your efforts to differentiate and build a wow factor should lead to a unique selling proposition (USP). Identify those key selling points through the eyes of your students. 

In fact, use an open and friendly conversation with your current students as your starting point.  Talk with those who you believe are the right students in your class for the right reasons.  They’ll have insight you may not have.  You might be surprised at how quickly they can identify what it is they like about your class, your approach to teaching, and most importantly, the contribution you are making to their futures.

Then, use what you learn.  Leverage it into your marketing and communications plans.

Mark Perna (Tools for Schools) speaks of getting the right student into the right program for the right reasons. Next time:  Identifying the “perfect student” for your program.