Over the past month, 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 being 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.

This is the second Wednesday Book Blog.  If you’re interested in joining the Book Club, we’re planning to read a book in February.  Send me an email at uhltimothy@gmail.com if you’d like more information.