Catholic schools take marketing big-time

| January 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

Talking to ‘Tina’: ‘Aim Higher’ campaign uses modern methods to tell the story of a great product

Students from Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Richfield are pictured in a photo that is being used as part of the “Aim Higher” marketing campaign. Photo courtesy of Story Stick Marketing

When Tina considers where to send her child to school, at the top of her mind will be the very positive things she hears and sees and feels about Catholic schools.

That’s the aimed-for outcome of “Aim Higher,” a polished new marketing campaign the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is launch­ing right now.

The brand’s message urges Tina to aim higher and choose a Catholic school because Catholic schools aim higher and will deliver what she is looking for spiritually, academically and personally for her child. The message is delivered in a variety of ways, including a video that not only shows the positive face of Catholic schools but tugs at the heart as well.

Of course, there is no actual “Tina.”

Tina is the target audience, a composite of the person most likely to make the education decision in a family.

She’s 32, lives in a suburb like Crystal in a 1980s-era subdivision in a three-bedroom home with 1-1/2 baths. She works part time as a bookkeeper.

Tina embodies the person Aim Higher is targeting after research and focus groups and testing — all the modern-day work that goes on behind the scenes when big firms like Best Buy and Target do their branding initiatives.

The result is a professional marketing campaign unlike anything Catholic schools in this area have seen.

Graduation rate amazes

Gail Dorn didn’t believe the number.

Dorn is the vice president of marketing and communications for Target Corporation, and when she heard that last year Catholic high schools graduated 99.4 percent of their students, she didn’t think that could be true.

“It is just astounding,” Dorn said. “I was reluctant to use the number at first because I didn’t believe it.”

She believes now, and among the words of advice she delivered Jan. 14 was, “That’s one number to repeat to other people.”

That day, some 65 people from 21 schools — Catholic school administrators, faculty and parent volunteers — came to Hill-Murray School in Maplewood for a half-day “champions camp” — the first of six such workshops intended to energize people whom the campaign sees as brand ambassadors for Catholic schools.

The sessions are being repeated this week and next at other geographically-spaced sites to build and train an army of people who can tell the Catholic schools’ story well and consistently. One of the camps will be in Spanish.

“We have a really great product,” Dorn explained, “but we’re doing a lousy job talking about it. We’ve got to get better at it. We have to get better at communicating what our values are and the benefits of Catholic schools.”

Colleen O’Malley agreed. She’s a parent-volunteer from St. John the Baptist School in Savage who attended the Jan. 14 champions class.

“At the core, choosing a Catholic school is a buy-in,” O’Malley said. “Parents, volunteers and teachers don’t know how to sell, but they have passion about Catholic schools, and this is a way to harness that passion for the good of the schools.

“I really like that it takes that passion and is smart about using it.”

Aim Higher’s key messages

  • Catholic schools aim higher — spiritually, academically and personally.
  • Students receive personal attention in small classes.
  • People who share parents’ values and high aspirations constantly surround their child.
  • Catholic education should and will be available to anyone who wants to attend — financial aid is available.
  • 99.4 percent of local Catholic high school students graduate and 97.2 percent go on to continue their education or serve their country in the military.
  • On 2010-11 SAT-10 standardized test for eighth-graders:
    96 percent scored average or above in math problem solving;
    94 percent scored average or above in science;
    93 percent scored average or above in reading comprehension.

Solid research done

Dorn, a Catholic school product herself and now a Catholic school parent, turned to her own background and her professional contacts when, as a member of the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Commission, she was asked to spearhead an effort to boost enrollment at Catholic schools.

Her connections with StoryStick Marketing, a St. Paul firm, brought Michael and Martha Pettee to the project.

Months of research showed the negative factors behind falling enrollment and school closings, but the surveys, focus groups and interviews also brought out positive factors that StoryStick used to test and develop a clear strategy, some basic training in communicating well and an array of tools that impressed champions class attendees.

“Marketing is about identifying who the audience is and where they are getting their information,” Dorn told The Catholic Spirit. “We talked to parents who love Catholic schools and to parents who said they’d never send their child to a Catholic school, because we wanted to find out why.”

The champions class addressed the perceived negatives and showed how best to share the benefits a Catholic education offers.

Mark Bergren of StoryStick taught effective ways for conversing with “Tina” and other potential school parents, and did a role-play to demonstrate the wrong and the right way to go about having that conversation.

Three goals of conversations with prospective school parentsHow to tell others about Catholic schools:

  • Begin a relationship and establish trust and credibility.
    Say “yes and” in response to statements others make.
    Remember the basics: smile, eye-contact, open body language.
    Discover commonality — try to click with someone.
    Stay in the moment.
  • Listen to the prospective family’s need and aspirations.
    Be quiet and pay attention.
    Try to forget your own agenda and listen without judgment.
    Pay attention to gifts of information.
    Ask open-ended questions: Start with “how” and “what.”
  • Address those needs by sharing your knowledge and experience.
    Communicate clearly, with commitment.
    Do your homework: Know the answers to the questions.
    Tell your personal story.
    Follow up.

Marketing in a box

Each school was given a box about two-foot square and 10 inches deep that contained purse-size brochures, take-one style brochures, window clings, a table drape, and a USB flash drive that includes both a long and short version of a video plus a PowerPoint presentation to use with potential student families.

Each school also received two stand-up banners too big to fit in the box.

But wait: Like those cable-TV ads, that’s not all!

The Aim Higher campaign has an online component that shares the same key messages. On the site one can:

  • Download a brochure.
  • Watch a video that tells the Catholic schools story.

There’s also a new Facebook page to keep people connected to Catholic schools.

Principal and parent impressed

Jane Bona, principal of Immaculate Conception School in Columbia Heights, really likes the new campaign.

“I’ve been thinking about the theme Aim Higher, and it speaks to what we live out every day at our schools,” Bona said. “It speaks to us as professional educators: We are aiming higher, too, for these children.”

She’s on board with the modern marketing methodology.

“Our hearts are willing, and the openness to do this kind of marketing is there. It’s just finding the right tools. We will only benefit from this. What this campaign is is an investment — it shows how much the archdiocese is committed to Catholic education,” she said.

An Immaculate Conception parent, Paula Cordero, echoed Bona.

She said the Aim Higher campaign is “a very positive reflection of how the archdiocese is taking marketing Catholic schools seriously.”

It may be voices like Cordero’s that matter most.

A mom of three — two in grades six and seven and one starting pre-school — she said she used the Internet when searching for a school near her place of employment.

She wanted to set an example for her children and show her passion for keeping her children integrated in the faith.

“When I found Immaculate Conception,” Cordero said, “I found a diamond in the rough.”

After learning about Tina, the icon of the Aim Higher marketing initiative, The Catholic Spirit asked Cordero if, as a young mom, she identified with Tina.

A smile broke across her face.

“I did,” she said.

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