by Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
If your campus tour doesn’t pass the bookstore, STOP what you’re doing! Call your staff together, pull out a campus map, and change the route.
Adapt your plan! In front of the bookstore’s colorful display window, tell a dramatic story that provides one clear reason WHY your recruits should want to be a part of your institution and your program. Make it memorable AND make sure your recruits know how to get back there after the tour ends.
I’m going to give you a big recruiting secret: Getting a prospect to choose your school and your program is hard, but there is an easier step that may be just as good.
What if your goal is not the overwhelming notion of getting a commitment, but a much simpler one? Instead of having them commit to a life-changing investment – in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars – what if you get them to commit to buying a sweatshirt?
Not just any sweatshirt, the expensive one. The one you’ve been eyeing in the bookstore, but would never buy for yourself. The one that says I love it here and I want everyone to know it.
FYI – This isn’t directed just to the partial and non-scholarship coaches. “Buying the Sweatshirt” might be even more important for recruits weighing multiple full scholarships offers because the emotion of the decision process, the need for validation, and psychological bond created by a small purchase controls all of them regardless of the family contribution.
What does a sweatshirt have to do with getting a commitment? First of all, it’s not about actually buying a sweatshirt. It’s the indicator that the family is ready to make a bigger commitment and KEEP it.
(Your best prospects running around advertising your program is a great side benefit.)
There’s real science behind this piece of the decision process. You’re actually activating a prospect’s commitment bias. The commitment to the sweatshirt greatly increases the attachment to your program and the effort to justify that decision.
The Association of Qualitative Research defines Commitment Bias as, “the tendency to be consistent with what we have already done or said we will do in the past, particularly if this is public. Inconsistency is not a desirable trait, thus people try hard to keep their promises and reflect consistency.”
It’s a reluctance to change once we’ve made a commitment – which speaks to the power of verbal commitments and how infrequently they are broken. When your prospect buys the sweatshirt, the branded and expensive one, they strengthen their commitment and are more inclined to keep it when the coach continues to provide a minimal level of connection.
The good news is that they want to buy the sweatshirt. As the customer in this recruiting relationship it’s the part of the process they control and fits the sales adage “people don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.”
Think about what already happens after recruits commit to your program. Families rush to the bookstore or website looking to get stocked up on apparel to publicly affirm their commitment to friends and extended family. For them it signals an end to the process. No more looking because they’ve found the one.
To them, the sweatshirt represents a feeling of accomplishment. It also signals a change in the recruiting relationship between coaches and prospects. Up to this point – despite coaches’ well-intentioned efforts to provide a logical argument for why their program is the best – recruits have been searching for the emotional connection. Only now – in the sweatshirt – are they willing to fully consider the logical reasons that serve as additional justification to defend their decision.
This happens with most big purchases people make. The more invested you are, the more you’re determined to prove you’ve made the right choice. You might have bought the 55” HDTV simply because you liked the picture seeing it on display at the store. But when your friends come over to watch the game, you’ll surely tell them about all the supplemental features you only discovered once you got it home and out of the box.
Ultimately, recruiting relies on two things – a great story and the ability to guide prospects through the process to a decision. When I talk to coaches and they’re working on finding the best way to tell their program story, I love to ask them to think about the recruiting process from a completely different perspective. I want them to work backwards from parents’ confirmation bias and their desire to say great things about this momentous decision. At high school football games, in the grocery store, at neighborhood parties – when someone asks them about their son or daughter’s college athletic program – “What are they going to brag to their friends about?” Frame your recruiting story around providing personal answers to that question.
If they’re wearing your sweatshirt, imagine how many people will ask them about it.
I share this idea in a challenging environment where visits and stumbling upon the bookstore at your institution might not happen for a while. But you’re still working hard to tell a compelling, comprehensive story about why recruits should be choosing your program and you’re still asking them to make a commitment to be a part of your future.
So here’s an idea to capture the same energy. When they do commit, send them an email with two things. First, attach a snazzy commitment graphic that reflects your program’s brand and captures its cool factor so they can make it social media “official.” Second, send them a link to the bookstore or a local apparel company so they don’t have to search to find their new favorite sweatshirt.
You’ve worked hard to get them to choose you, make it easy for them to share their excitement.
Be Distinct. Be Different.