Catholic School Matters

January 16, 2017

What's Your Purple Goldfish?

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to marketing guru Stan Phelps twice and read his seminal work What’s Your Purple Goldfish: 12 Ways to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth (2012). Phelps main assertion that businesses benefit by marketing to its own customers (as opposed to trying to attract new customers) has tremendous value to schools. In fact, I would argue that all schools (Catholic, private, and public) would benefit from adopting Phelps’ “lagniappe” strategy—defined as giving something a little extra to its own customers in order to build brand loyalty.

In fact, as we approach Catholic Schools Week, schools begin to ramp up their efforts to attract new families. Phelps would argue that those efforts might be better spent cultivating and deepening our relationships with our current customers.

Phelps recommends applying the Pareto principle to marketing—devoting 80% of your marketing efforts on your current customers which promotes satisfaction, further purchases, and referrals. In Catholic schools, our customers are re-committing every year for 12+ years. Retaining those customers (as well as driving personal referrals to their friends and neighbors) is crucial to quality enrollment management.

For example, when I served as an elementary principal I made a habit of meeting with every family to sign tuition contracts. When a family signed, I made a habit of giving them a branded school gift. The first year, I gave them a school pen. When I realized that the little gift meant something (a 2 dollar pen as a reward for signing a $4 thousand dollar contract?!?) we went with refrigerator magnets the next year, school calendars the next, and car decals the following year. Parents were eager to make those appointments in the following years because they wanted those trinkets!

I’ve heard of a high school which gives their teachers a 1% salary bonus if the school meets its retention goals. Now teachers are incentivized to work with students to keep them enrolled, to respond to parent requests, and to share in the collective work to recruit and retain families. This is lagniappe!

Phelps details 12 different types of lagniappe:

1. Throw-ins: Giving extras to customers. Think of the warm chocolate cookies that hotels offer at check-in. Do we give unexpected rewards to students or parents?

2. In the Bag-Out of the Box: The Baker’s Dozen or the extra curly fries in your take-out bag. Do we ever give something more?

3. Sampling: an extra taste of something else. Do we let parents see other parts of our programs?

4. First & Last Impressions: Focusing on responding to customers when they call or when they walk in. Have you ever called your child’s school and found it hard to reach someone? Do you have visitor parking in order to make it easy to come in?

5. Guarantees: pledging to stand by your product. Do we guarantee a certain level of service? Do we say all calls will be returned in 24 hours, for example?

6. Pay it Forward: giving back to the community. Do we have service projects for the community?

7. Follow-up call: Do we return calls and emails? Do we check on sick students? I’ve heard of pastors and principals who will call home when a student misses more than a day to check on the student (and his/her parent).

8. Added Service: extra, unexpected service. Do we go above and beyond with students?

9. Convenience: Do we try to make our processes such as application, financial aid, etc. easy for parents? Have you ever tried to navigate your own website to see how easy it is to get answers?

10. Waiting: Do we try to minimize waiting? Is coffee or water available when parents are waiting for parent-teacher conferences? Or at the front office?

11. Special needs: Are we able to respond to special needs? If a parent doesn’t have email access, can we still meet their communication needs?

12. Handling mistakes: Do we admit when we’re wrong and try to make things right?

Phelps’ book is full of examples and is an easy, accessible book. It’s a good reminder to focus on our best practices such as accessibility, customizing learning, and building community in order to market to our own customers.

Dr. Tim Uhl, Superintendent

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"Catholic School Matters" Podcast

Tomorrow, Episode #19 will drop and includes an interview with the dynamic leader of the Catholic schools of the Diocese of San Diego, John Galvan. John talks about new intitatives in his Diocese and his philosophy of leadership. Last week, Episode #18 included an interview with Dr. Tara Rolle, the Assistant Superintendent of the Diocese of San Jose and the Director of the Drexel Schools, an innovative partnership model of inner-city schools in San Jose.

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes. Please subscribe to the podcast so new episodes will automatically download. The show is also available on Stitcher and Google Play. If you don't have accounts with any of those content providers, here is the link to my basic page with the podcasts.

Last week, Dr. Uhl blogged about:

  • TUESDAY: Reflections on Dr. Rolle's podcast entitled "(Re)Designing Our Schools"
  • WEDNESDAY: The Wednesday Book Blog was about marketing. Stan Phelps' book entitled Purple Goldfish should provide food for thought on how we market to our current customers.
  • FRIDAY: "Learning to Ski"

This week, Dr. Uhl will blog about:

  • TUESDAY: Reflections on John Galvan's podcast.
  • WEDNESDAY: The Wednesday Book Blog will be about Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. The father of cognitive psychology and the concept of learned helplessness, his ideas formed the basis for Growth Mindset and Grit.
  • FRIDAY: "Fake News"

You can find and subscribe to the blog at

The Week Ahead

Monday: virtual office (Phoenix)

Tuesday: virtual office (Phoenix)

Wed: Superintendent meetings (Phoenix)

Thurs: Superintendent meeting (cont)

Fri: return to Helena

Next week: 1,346 miles

Last week: 1,965 miles

2016-17: 20,319 driving miles; 14,376 air miles

What I'm Reading 2016-17

  1. Redeeming Administration by Ann Garrido.
  2. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (finished)
  3. Stall Points by Matthew S. Olson & Derek van Bever (finished)
  4. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (finished)
  5. Why Don't Kids Like School? by Daniel Willingham (finished)
  6. Tom Clancy: Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney (finished)
  7. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam (finished)
  8. The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (finished)
  9. Reading with the daughter: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (7 books, finished).
  10. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (finished)
  11. The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey (finished)
  12. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (finished)
  13. The Purple Goldfish by Stan Phelps (finished)
  14. The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (finished)
  15. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. (finished)
  16. Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption Cragun & Sweetman (finished)
  17. Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Fullan and DuFour (finished)
  18. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (finished)
  19. Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time by Margaret J. Wheatley (finished)
  20. The Orange Frog by Shawn Achor (finished)

For Principals & Teachers

  1. National School Choice Week is Jan 22-28. Click here to receive your free materials. There is a School Choice rally in Helena on January 25th. Catholic Schools Week is the next week (Jan 29-Feb 4).
  2. Montana Catholic Schools now has a new Facebook page. and Pinterest board. Please like them so I can share marketing material there.
  3. On the Horizon:
  • Virtual Leadership Meetings Jan 24th 9 am or 1 pm. Here are the login details.
  • 7th/8th grade days at the legislature Feb 24th

American Catholic School News

Catholic Schools Opening, Closing, Consolidating

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Would you sacrifice one person to save five? - Eleanor Nelsen