Studio Marketing: Creating Value, Meeting Needs
By Karen Thickstun, NCTM
American Music Teacher, December/January 2016/2017
"There are three ways to respond to every situation… with resignation, with anger, or with possibility."
Meeting a customer's need or solving a problem means we are responding to the situation with possibility. Marketing is about communicating the value of what we do and how that value can meet a need or solve a problem. Marketing is not about listing our credentials and studio features and then hoping parents will notice.
When we look outward at what others need, instead of inward at what we want, then we are engaged in the possibilities of how to meet customer needs. We create value by meeting those needs.
Creating value can be as simple as sharing helpful information on the studio webpage, providing more flexibility in scheduling, offering a convenient studio location, developing a unique curriculum or engaging the studio in community events.
Consumer Buying Decision Process
A generally accepted model for defining how customers make a purchase decision was developed in 1968 by James F. Engel, David T. Kollat and Rodger D. Blackwell.1 Using consumer behavior research, they identified five stages consumers follow in their decision making.
The decision process begins with the recognition of a need or a problem to be solved. I need a piano teacher for my child.
Once the need or problem is recognized, the consumer seeks information about possible solutions, utilizing internal information (previous experiences, opinions, personal beliefs) and external information (friends, colleagues, Internet). Typical consumers rely most heavily on internal information and information obtained from friends and known sources; they consider these types of information to be more objective than brochures or print ads. (In the previous column, August/September 2016, it was noted that this dynamic varies by generation. For example, 84 percent of millennials report that user-generated content on a company's website has at least some influence on what they buy, compared to 34 percent of boomers.2) I remember how much my friend's child enjoyed lessons at Studio X. I'll google "piano lessons in my city" and see who is teaching and read the online reviews.
Once information is collected, the consumer evaluates the alternatives based on what is most suitable for his/her needs. The evaluation may include objective and subjective analysis. Objective characteristics are the features, functions and qualities of the product or service. Subjective characteristics are the perceptions of the product or service, the perceived value of the brand or its reputation. Because subjective reasoning can be highly influential, many businesses offer ways for the consumer to "try out" the product or service before purchasing. I like Studio X because of the flexible scheduling options. I've heard that Studio Y's teacher is a task master/too easy-going.
Once different solutions have been evaluated, the consumer will make a purchase (or decline to purchase). The choice will be the product or service that seems most appropriate for his/ her needs. The choice might be based on perceived value and/or the product features that are most important to the consumer's needs. However, purchasing decisions are also affected by the quality of the shopping experience, the availability of a promotion or the ease of purchase. I'll select Studio X because the teacher is more experienced with advanced students. Studio Y has not returned my call yet, so I'll look elsewhere.
Once the purchase is made and the product or service is used, the consumer will evaluate if the choice met his/her needs. If satisfied, the consumer will become a loyal customer and share positive feedback. If disappointed, the customer will repeat the five-stage process (or give up) and share negative feedback. (Also noted in the previous column—70 percent of millennials feel a responsibility to share feedback with companies after a good or bad experience.3) My child is not practicing; let's quit (and try band). My child is loving her lessons—I'll share her latest performance on Facebook!
In light of this five-stage process, take a quick inventory of your studio business.
Awareness: Is my community aware of the value of music study?
Interest: What types of external information am I providing for prospective students?
Evaluation/Trial: Are the unique benefits (value) of my studio easily discernible? How do consumers perceive my service and quality? Is there a way to "try out" my studio?
Adoption: Am I responsive to inquiries? Is it easy for a consumer to engage with my studio?
Loyalty: Do I offer a means for satisfied consumers to share positive feedback?
Most of these inventory questions can be addressed through a relevant, impactful online presence, whether a studio webpage, Facebook page or blog. It is essential that online marketing strategies appeal to prospective parents in addition to current parents.
Does your online presence (or other marketing strategy) provide value to prospective parents? Are you meeting their needs during all stages of the decision process? Take another quick inventory:
Is essential information easy to find?
Is it clear what you do and where you do it?
Does the site add value? This could be a resource (an article on why music study is important or a community calendar of upcoming concerts) or a free item or coupon.
Is the site dynamic, welcoming and up-to-date?
Do you create a brand and tell a story? Do you establish a
dynamic beyond your credentials?
- Is it easy for others to tell your story (through testimonials)?
One simple paragraph (from rexburgmusic.com) illustrates many of these points:
We are excited to have you join our studio! If you live in or around Rexburg and are thinking about taking piano lessons, contact us for a free orientation meeting. We'd love to meet you! Orientation meetings include a tour of the studio, some time to sit down and answer any questions you have, an improvisation session if a piano is available, and help with registration. Read testimonials from other parents and students here.
Creating value is meeting the needs of others. Imagine the possibilities…
1. Engel, James F., Kollat, David T. and Blackwell, Rodger D. (1968) Consumer Behavior, 1st ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1968.
2. "Re-Defining Word of Mouth," American Music Teacher, August/ September 2016, 42.
Karen Thickstun, NCTM, teaches piano pedagogy at Butler University and directs the Butler Community Arts School. She holds degrees in music, economics and business. Thickstun is MTNA president-elect.