Monthly Archives: January 2010

Know Your Customer–Marketing 101

One of the principles of marketing is ‘know your customer.’  And if you watch television for about 15 minutes, you will clearly see that rule in operation.  Energy drink commercials are populated with cool young people doing things at a frenetic pace.  Incontinence pads are calmly discussed by white haired people sipping tea in the parlour.

It makes a lot of sense.  In fact, you have to ask yourself why this principle isn’t applied by more organisations. 

Government organizations in particular should take heed.  And in this case, I am thinking about the Ministry of Education.

The school year starts down here next week and a brand new primary school is opening up in response to the influx of people into a rather desirable part of the country.  There has been a lot of excitement about the new school.  First they had to build it from scratch. So, yes, it’s totally state of the art.  It will have 460 students when it’s fully operational and cost $17.3 million.  That’s $37,600 per kid.  I don’t know if that is high or low.

Then they had to hire teachers and support staff.  And through it all, you could track the progress on their web site which even included a web cam setup so you could watch construction in progress.  Plus on their web site they have a monthly newsletter that talks about all the fun things they are doing as they establish the school. 

And this is where I’m getting confused.

It might be a brand new school, but let’s face it, there doesn’t seem to be an urgent need to break new ground in terms of what will go on in this new building.  After all, the nice new building is going to be populated with kids who presumably have the same educational needs as their counterparts around the world.  But the people organising this school have decided to reinvent the whole concept of a primary school.

The school is in a part of the country that attracts a lot of tourists who do hiking and exploring and mountaineering and rugged sports.  And for some reason, the people organising the school think that the school should reflect that.

For example, this school will not have students.  It will have expeditioners.  Let me quote from one of their newsletters.  The pertinent section is titled “Join Our Learning Pathways to Reach the Summit:”

The students (expeditioners), with the help of their teachers (expedition leaders) and Board of Trustees (expedition planners) will select suitable and personally meaningful expedition goals.

I have to point out that the expeditioners in question are in the 5 to 7 year old age range.  So you have to wonder how much input they will have into the expedition goals.  But that’s what it says.  They  (the expeditioners) are going to do it “with the help of . . . “ 

I can hear little Dakota now, “But Simpson reruns are the only thing I find personally meaningful.  And you said I could have personally meaningful expedition goals!”

And are we really supposed to believe that the Board of Trustees, oh, excuse me, expedition planners, are going to get involved in the curriculum for each kid?

But that’s not all.

This school will not have classrooms.  It will have “learning pods” (although sometimes they are referred to as “teaching pods”).  And they don’t have numbers, they have names such as “Water,” “Sky,” and “Our Earth.” 

The article also said that areas of the campus such as meeting rooms would be called “caves,” “watering holes,” or “campfires.”

Although it looks as if the Principal will still be called the Principal, the school receptionist will have the title “Director of First Impressions.”

Usually when you hear about stuff like this (e.g., giving jobs fancy names, like garbage collectors being called “sanitation engineers) you don’t know if it’s really true or who the people who come up with these ideas are.

In this case we do. 

Do they mean well?  Absolutely.  They have noble goals.  It is very nice.  After all, reminding a receptionist that [he or she] is responsible for first impressions isn’t a bad idea.

But I think that they may have been carried away by their enthusiasm.  After all, at some point, no matter how different and unique this school may be, someone is going to have to tell little Tiffany that k-a-t does not spell “cat,” and little Dylan that 2 + 2 = 4.

And I’m not sure if it makes any difference if you do that in the Mother Earth Room or in room 102.  Which brings us back to my earlier observations about knowing your customer.

I decided to do a little market research of my own using the assumption that the students of a school are its customers.  I asked my nephews to stretch their imaginations to the breaking point and to pretend that they were going to design a brand new school.  No rules.  No limits.  Xtreme out of the box thinking.

At first I thought they had spent the summer at acting school and had perfected the “Blank Stare.”  They looked at me as if I were from outer space.

I cajoled them to put themselves in the shoes of the builders and teachers and administrators.  What would they want to see in a school.

I don’t know.  Maybe more computers.  A bigger gym.

Spongebob characters on the wall?

I could see we were getting nowhere, so I decided to, as the marketing people would say, drill down:  “Would you give the rooms names or numbers.”

Again, the Blank Stare.  I repeated the question.

Well, some rooms should have numbers and some should have names.

Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere, I thought.  Could you be more specific?

Well, the library should be called ‘the library,’ and the office should be called ‘the office.’  But classrooms should have numbers.

I was shocked.  Just numbers?  Not names?

No.  If they have names you can’t tell how to find them.  Numbers make it easy.  You know that the 100 rooms are on the first floor and the 200 rooms are on the second floor.  And that room 102 is next to room 103.  It makes sense.

Thus spake a nine year old.

And that’s the trouble, I realised:  “It makes sense.”  But I guess that when you are setting up a school and focused on how new and innovative and exciting and relevant you can make everything, you might forget that your raison d’être is not to climb mountains or retreat to the campfire, but rather to learn.

Call Me Irredeemably Uncool

This post is going to permanently earn me the title of ‘totally and irredeemably uncool old fart.’  But I am passionate about this.

I read an article recently about a big travel agency that has published a “bucket list” of travel experiences everyone “must have” by the time they reach the ripe old age of 30.

And they are offering deals to assist the more lemming-like among the under 30 crowd in achieving this noble goal.

They say:

Our Top 10 travel experiences are a must-do before you end up trying to relive your youth DJ-ing at your grandkids birthday parties, so get out there and tick off the Top 10 and make your grandkids proud!

Aside from the problems with grammar, I also have a few problems with their logic. 

Maybe it’s because I’m over 30, but I can’t for the life of me discern a causal link between the main points.  How does ticking off the Top 10 prevent one from trying to relive their youth by DJ-ing at the grandkids [sic] birthday parties?  How does DJ-ing at the grandkids [sic] birthday parties enable one to relive their youth? 

And how does ticking off the Top 10 ensure that the grandkids will in fact be proud?  Or will their reaction more likely be You pissed away my inheritance on a bucket list?  And speaking of my inheritance, when are you going to kick the bucket?

But that’s not even what’s most important.

It is the use of the terms “must-do” and “tick off.”

I’ve done a little travelling and I always thought that destinations should be chosen based in what I want to do.  “Must do” travel was when I had to get up at four in the morning on a winter’s day to fly to a meeting to scrape an angry client off the ceiling. 

What’s worse is that people, under 30 or otherwise, might actually believe that this really is a “must do” list.  That these are the things that define travel and life experiences.  That anything else you may do will pale in comparison and you will be unfriended right, left and center on Facebook and Twitter as a total loser unless you post pictures of yourself at those places.

So much for individuality.

So what are these Top Ten destinations, I hear you asking. 

According to the list, you are “supposed” to be “party[ing] (all night) in Vegas.”  They included the parenthetical “all night,” just in case anyone was unsure about whether they would be living a truly full life if they only partied for part of the night 

And how does one “party” all night in Vegas?

Once you’ve finished that, you are supposed to do the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party in Thailand.  Being a totally and irredeemably uncool old fart, I had to Google that one.  KP is an island where on each full moon night they have a huge beach party.  With 1,000 of your closest friends.  I get the impression that the rest of the time it is a nice island resort.  One web site makes the puzzling observation:  “Come and enjoy the party and nature together.  You’ll be surprised that they can come together as naturally as the body and soul.” 

I’m glad someone mentioned nature.   The objective of the party, as far as I can tell, is to “rock and drink.”  That’s fine, but why burn a lot of fossil fuel and generate a lot of carbon to fly to Thailand when you can rock and drink at home?

Then you have to “Party in Rio de Janeiro.”

Not to belabour a point, but let’s project this out a few years.  Let’s say you are a Gen Y who has dutifully ticked off all the items on the bucket list.  You are bouncing your grandchild on your knee.  He or she is proud of you for having done the bucket list.  At least that’s what you expect because that’s what you’ve been told.  I imagine the conversation going something like this:

Grandma and Grandpa, tell me about the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party you went to!

Mmm, that was a long time ago.  It’s a little hazy.  About all I remember is that’s where I got this tattoo on my shoulder.  When it was up here it looked like a dragon.  Grandma got her belly button pierced there, too.  No, you can’t see it.  Neither can she.

About the only things on the list that might make someone think about humanity and culture are “Visit the pyramids in Egypt,” and “Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.”  But just between you and me, the only thing you think about while hiking the Inca Trail is not falling to your death. 

And as far as I can tell, the only reason they have included the Pyramids is because you can get a cool picture of yourself taken on a camel and you can post it on Facebook and show your friends that you are living a full life.  Plus there’s a McDonalds and KFC right across the street so it’s not like you’ll be inconvenienced. 

My second objection is to the term “tick off.”

You don’t go to “experience,” “learn,” or “become immersed in.”  Your objective is to “tick off” the items on the list. 

That idea really ticks me off.

I’ve seen a lot of tick off tourists lately.  If you watch them in action you get the impression that their objective is not to be there and enjoy themselves.  The objective is to sail through everything as quickly as possible, take as many pictures as possible, find an internet café to post the pictures and, yes, tick the place off on their list.  Just three more countries and I’ll have the Western Hemisphere out of the way.

Now what do I do for the rest of my life?