Marketing... Marketing...What on earth is marketing? (part B)

(Reading time: 4 - 7 minutes)

In the previous article we discussed the issue of quality as a desired but often misused characteristic. Quality, when it is really there, shows that the services offered are worth the money paid for them and it also adds some extra value to the whole exchange. The reason behind the misuse of the term, I dare say, lies in the fact that marketing, this great player in our gigantic game of registration chess, has been abused and misused. All kinds of marketing? Which of the many kinds of marketing? Lately, there are so many terms around us that it has become confusing. This first article aims to analyse two definitions of marketing and relate one of them with the widely-spread practice of low prices.

 

Defining the stranger

 

The Charted Institute of Marketing gives the following definition regarding marketing: The management process of anticipating, identifying and satisfying customer requirements profitably. This definition on its own broaches a couple of issues that we need to pay attention to. Firstly, marketing entails management in it. Therefore, just applying practices without previous forethought, plan or measurement of success is not real marketing. Secondly, it is easy to notice the absence of the word advertising from the term. If we carried out a survey at any of our many conferences and asked school owners what marketing is, they would say ‘advertising’. This term reveals that in fact marketing is not just the flyers but a mechanism which is much more complicated, deeply rooted in the bone marrow of the business we run. Described in this way marketing seems inextricably connected with the Research and Development department of each company. I am fully aware that most FLS do not have a real R&D department, and if it does exist it is usually in the form of a notebook in the School owner’s drawer, but it is essential to have even that small, unofficial ‘department’. The reason is that the cheese will be moved at some point. Goalposts will be changed, perhaps in the last minute. Therefore, business people need to anticipate, identify and satisfy.

 

Are low-prices a good example?

 

One may argue that low prices in tuition fees did exactly that. Clever school owners saw the financial crisis approaching…people losing jobs…people not being able to pay taxes and loans and they identified the need for lower prices which they immediately satisfied and been satisfying for the past seven years with free classes, and tuition fees which seem to be dropping as I am typing these words. Unfortunately, they have not done what the definition says. On the contrary, they have done exactly the opposite because they have ignored the last word of the term: profitably. Profitably means a variety of things starting from a healthy cash flow and lack of delayed payments that drag for a period of two years. It also means rebooking; because a school actually makes money when its core clientele is so satisfied that they re-register their children because they trust the school. Low prices have brought exactly the opposite, but for a few shiny exceptions. As they were not planned beforehand with an actual calculator used when devising those prices but only with the competing school in mind whose tuition fees where the guide for our tuition fees, the costs of the school were not met. The bills were not paid and teachers had to be told that since tuition fees went down, hourly compensations had to be axed as well. Some of them went along not asking the crucial question. Did hourly teacher compensations go up every time tuition fees went up in the good old days? Some others, those with a strong portfolio and sense of professional identity, left and went to work freelance. Hence, the many private lessons which have started competing with schools to such an extent that even well known chains of FLS have brought out special flyers telling prospects why a FLS is better than a private lesson. But is it still my marketing I am paying for when the flyer I have produced debates against my competitors, may those be the school across the street or the faceless, nameless teacher on the streetlamp outside the school?

 

The outcome of our practice

 

Low prices were not our way of anticipating, identifying or satisfying customer requirements. They were the panic button and the greatest proof that we did not believe in the quality and the value of our work. It was also a manifestation that we also thought that the results of our work would justify us and our practices. This works in two ways. Firstly, if my school is full of students I must run a good school, an argument we discussed in the previous article. We also tend to consider that good students learn everywhere and their learning is proven by the outcome, therefore if our school has successful certificate holders to plaster on its front door, we are in the clear. Once again, these are not real indicators of success or quality. The truth of the matter is that low prices have created the need for low-priced certificates with low-priced books and uneducated teachers who would probably fail any C2 exam if they retook it. Low prices have created the necessity to equalize teachers and ban teacher education from the FLS, therefore they have driven motivated teachers away.

 

Low-prices have accomplished one thing: they have driven us to transactional marketing which zeroes in on the one sale. It does not matter if the service or the product is worth the money. The prospect will purchase once or possibly twice if we can talk the talk and then rebooking (or repeat sale) will be lost to us, but that’s fine because there is a sea of clients out there and kids are born every single year, so we can still hope that the proficiency class of 2027 will be a healthy one. Once again, this is based on entirely wrong premises. Schools are their reputation. Marketing is partly the process of building that reputation and placing our services and our brand in the market. That market remembers everything, which is why rebranding is costly and largely ineffective. If one messes up one’s good name, if one identifies one’s business with the words ‘cheap shop’, then one has little to hope for. What we are interested in is not transactional market but relationship marketing. Our aim is to build long-lasting relationships with those clients out of our niche that are like-minded and our looking for the kind of education we are offering. Therefore, the cornerstone of marketing is content. Content comes with a deeper realization of who we are, what we offer, a mission statement and clear view of what our school adds or changes. This is perhaps the reason why the American Marketing Association defines marketing as the activity, set of instructions and processes that aim to create, communicate, deliver and exchange offerings that have values for customer, clients, partners and the society in general.  I believe it is clear that this definition emphasizes more the process of creating value which then needs to be communicated, as it would remain unknown to the public if it were not.

 

Closing comment

 

I will close this article, the first of many on this topic, with a rather sad story. A few days ago I was walking in the centre of Kalamaria, where I live and work, and I happened to catch a snippet of a discussion between mothers. One was a bit older and advising the younger one, who apparently had qualms about registering her child in a certain FLS. The younger one said “Yes, of course it makes sense. The money is ok but are they any good?” The older mother replied with a certainty that defied any kind of doubt: “Of course they are! In those classes (apparently junior) they all sing and play. They are fun. What more do you need? When things get serious you can always start private lessons.”

 

No comments! •

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education

Latest Issue

November 2017

  In November's issue we look at Language Certification, the role of Language Tests as well as the whys and the why nots of sitting for an exam. In addition our...

Read more
© 2017 ELT NEWS. All Rights Reserved.