I have worn K-Swiss tennis shoes for thirty straight years.
I started wearing them as a high school Senior when I was playing tennis, and haven’t looked back. I usually buy one pair a year, and make the previous year’s pair my beat-up pair of yard work shoes. They’re comfortable, they’re durable, and I like the way they look.
In other words, the billions of dollars of advertising and branding that Nike, Adidas, and the rest have invested in hasn’t convinced me to switch allegiances. I have an emotional bias towards K-Swiss tennis shoes, and I don’t see it ending any time soon.
Why is that? Because despite my increasing risk of becoming a fashion outcast (a label which is applicable beyond just my choice of footwear, admittedly) no other shoe maker has made the emotional case for why I should switch. And since I already think I know everything there is to know about tennis shoes that are “right” for me, I tune out their advertising message. I know what I want, it’s a smart decision, and that’s that. And, whenever I see something that’s positive or favorable about K-Swiss, it further cements my belief that I made the right choice.
Which is where you come in, Coach:
The exact same reason I don’t seriously consider switching tennis shoe brands may be the reason many of your recruits don’t seriously consider you and your program. It’s a principle called confirmation bias, and it’s an increasing area of study for our group here at Tudor Collegiate Strategies as we map out strategies and communication plans for our clients.
Confirmation bias happens when we only pay attention to the data or information that affirms our decision or beliefs. We interpret all new data through the grid of what we’ve already decided. And, one of the most fascinating features of confirmation bias is that it causes us to press our beliefs beyond the level of credibility. Even though evidence may overwhelmingly contradict our position, we hold tenaciously to our preferred belief. In my case, it may be irrational love for K-Swiss tennis shoes. For you as a coach, it could be affecting your recruit’s ability to look logically at the opportunity you’re offering your recruits:
- They don’t want to consider you as a Division II program, because they’ve decided that schools in your category aren’t solid academically and would mean “settling” athletically. And every time their club coach tells them that “they can do better than a D2 offer”, it confirms that notion.
- Your prospect doesn’t want to visit campus because they aren’t used to snow and cold winters, so of course they’d be unhappy playing for you. And every time they see snow forecasted for your region of the country, it confirms that notion.
- The parents of your prospect are suspect of the fact that you’re so young, and automatically assume that you will have trouble leading a program in a serious way. And, when the more experienced coach in your conference makes reference to your age or coaching experience in a negative way, it confirms that notion.
Sound familiar? Right now, confirmation bias – and the negative effects it carries – is creating more hurdles for you in the recruiting process. It’s a powerful psychological aspect of our decision making, albeit illogical. As a recent New York Times article on the topic outlines, confirmation bias is a “tendency to look for information that supports the way we feel about something.”
So, what are you doing to combat that, Coach? And, what’s the best way to compete against this line of thinking on the part of your prospects and their increasingly influential parents?
First, understand that your prospect has probably already made up his or her mind. That might be a good thing for you, or it could be the negative that’s preventing them from replying to your initial emails. Once you agree that most of your recruits come into a conversation with preconceived biases and ideas, I believe it changes the way you construct a recruiting message.
They aren’t looking for logic right away. They’re looking for an emotional reason to have a conversation with you. Why doesn’t a recruit respond to you when you send out a logical, factual outline of what your school offers, the successful history of your program, and the outstanding networking opportunities that your graduates enjoy? Because they’ve already decided that their original choice is the smartest for them. Just like I’ve decided that K-Swiss is the perfect brand for me – based on nothing more than the fact that I’ve always worn them and I like the way they look and feel – your prospect is basing his or her initial decision on whether to communicate with you or not on simplistic, illogical reasons. So don’t try to sell them on the logic behind choosing you right away; instead, create an emotional connection with them.
Focus on what makes them happy. Why have they decided that another division level, another location, or another coach’s experience is right for them? What are they assuming that gives them as an end result? You need to make the emotional case that (using the previous examples for the sake of argument) having a younger coach is better, competing at the Division II level affords you more freedom and balance, and that experiencing a different climate is actually a great thing. Only after those basic ideas are accepted as possibilities can you then move on to the logical argument that you’re the best option for them.
Last, but not least, be consistent. This strategy doesn’t take place over one or two emails, or in one long phone conversation. It may take weeks to create that emotional connection. Consistent, long term communication with your prospect using the rule that we talk about in many of the On-Campus Workshops we’ve conducted is key. That research-based rule, which says that most recruits want a message that tells them “here’s why you should come play for me” sent every six to nine days. They need the consistency, and they need it talked about in a personalized way…that makes it easy to reply back to you and start a conversation.
Understanding this important psychological component of your prospect’s mental make-up is key in developing a comprehensive, effective recruiting message. Without it, they are probably going to come up with enough illogical reasons on their own to not talk to you, or seriously look at the alternatives available to them.
I’ve got thirty years worth of old K-Swiss tennis shoes that’ll back me up on that.
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