What Do Your Parents Truly Want?

Morning Baby Toothpaste

Back when my now-almost-8-year-old was a toddler with new teeth, we were purchasing a whole lot of “training toothpaste.” (Lorelei was fond of cracking it open and sucking it down like a sports gel when we weren’t looking – fortunately, part of the “training” aspect of this product is fluoride-free and safe if swallowed, though I don’t know if her toothpaste shooters were quite what the manufacturers envisioned.)

One time, the store didn’t have the brand we normally bought, so I picked up a tube of Orajel, Berry Blast flavor. It wasn’t until I got home that I really looked at it.

It was a little strange. The tube featured a cartoon of a bear sitting next to a tray of cupcakes on a picnic blanket. He was wielding a paste-laden toothbrush in front of a small black-and-white cat. It was unclear whether the bear was about to brush his own teeth, or the cat’s, or if he was just extolling the virtues of Orajel Berry Blast generally. It was also unclear why the brush and paste were broken out before the cupcakes were consumed rather than after.

I was willing to overlook all that; cartoons are weird. What really got me was the small notation on the front of the tube: Training Toothpaste PLUS Breath Freshener.

Are there really a lot of parents out there lamenting their toddler’s morning mouth? Do these kids subsist on a diet of onion rings and Lucky Strikes? One of the best things about little kids is that, dirty diapers aside, they generally smell pretty good. They’re still so brand-new to the world; most of us have stuff that’s been kicking around the back of the fridge for longer.

My guess is that the good people at Orajel were trying to find some way to set themselves apart in the (hyper-competitive?) world of kids’ oral hygiene products. But, alas, a breath freshener was not really what I – the intended consumer – was looking for in a toddler training toothpaste.

What was I looking for? Well, in addition to the above-mentioned non-toxicity, a flip-top cap would have been great. The Orajel had a screw top that was both difficult to use when wrangling a squirmy toddler and prone to rolling under the sink.

Also, clear gel would have been preferable to green, as anything meant to be used on, by, or near a child of that age tends to get on everything in that child’s immediate vicinity – their clothes, your clothes, the family cat, you name it.

I never bought that particular toothpaste again. Instead, I took the time to hunt down the brand I originally bought – the clear gel that came in the tube with the flip-top cap.

While it’s important to set your child care center apart from the pack, you can never forget about the things that parents universally want in their child care: Reliability and trustworthiness. A positive, friendly, caring environment. Staff who genuinely enjoy working with young children and are skilled at it. Good communication at all levels. A center that’s clean and in good repair.

Without these fundamentals, regardless of what else you’re trying to convey about your center, you’re offering bear cupcakes and breath freshener to a crowd that just doesn’t care about those things.

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The Tale of the Overzealous Carpenter

My Little Handy Manny

A little while back, we needed a built-in bookshelf constructed in our living room. Our usual fix-it/build-it guy was tied up, and we had people scheduled to come over soon; our plans for the evening didn’t include all of us gazing at the big hole in our wall.

So I posted an ad on Craigslist for a carpenter. One guy stood out in his response – answered all the questions I asked, gave me a firm estimate, and even included some photos of his work (which was very nice). Hired.

He and his brother came over as scheduled, built the bookshelf in short order for the originally quoted price, and that was that. We were pretty happy with the work. We live in an old house with a nearly infinite number of carpentry projects on our lengthy “to-do” list, and I figured we’d hire him again at some point.

But then the emails started. And the texts.

“Ms. Carsen, is there anything else you need me to do? I can come over whenever.”

“Just wanted to see if I could start in on that other project you mentioned sometime this weekend.”

“Give me a call and we can talk about that new project.”

I started to feel assaulted, particularly when one email took a somewhat sinister tone:

“I hope you haven’t forgotten about that new project you said I could do…” 

It started to feel like the carpentry version of Fatal Attraction. I began to get worried that I’d come home someday and find a big pot of hammers boiling over on the stove.

Eventually, the texts and emails slowed down – they haven’t stopped completely; I still get one every now and again – but we’re back to our usual fix-it/build-it guy.

It’s interesting to view the situation from a marketing perspective: This guy effectively won my business, performed the job well, and would have gotten probably more repeat business than he could handle had he simply not started to badger me in an annoying, desperate-seeming way.

In the context of your center, it’s hard to stay in touch too much, especially since your work directly affects the most important thing in most parents’ lives: their kids. But it is possible – especially if you only communicate with your families when there’s something you need, like donations of volunteer time or money or used toys.

There’s nothing wrong with occasional requests like these, but make sure they’re greatly outweighed by communications that provide your parents with something of value:

  • Fun photos of their kids at play (with permission, of course, if the photos are on your website or otherwise distributed)
  • Interesting news about the center, including upcoming events like family picnics and pajama days
  • Practical information on current issues of concern, such as how to help protect kids from flu, and the efforts your center is taking
  • Spotlights on a “family of the month” or the winner of your latest testimonial contest

You get the idea. It’s almost impossible to overcommunicate when you’re providing interesting, valuable info. But it’s pretty easy to wear out your welcome with repeated requests – for carpentry work or anything else.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.

Are You Scolding Your Parents?

Is your child care center scolding instead of communicating?

We have a “kisses” and “disses” section in our local paper. Here’s a letter that ran recently, from an animal shelter a few towns over:

DISSES to visitors that do not check business hours…I have seen this time and time again. The N.H. SPCA in Stratham is closed on Wednesdays, but people will stop by with a carload of kids and stand in the window and knock and get angry when they are not let in when they see office people inside. Or, they drop off supplies and get angry that no one comes out to acknowledge them. Check hours before you visit any place. Being closed on Wednesday is not new to this business, it has been that way for a long time.

Geez. I don’t think I’ll be dropping off my extra Meow Mix at the Stratham SPCA anytime soon. There are a few important lessons here that you can apply to both your center’s marketing efforts and parent communications:

1. Communicate clearly – especially in unusual circumstances. If your center does something out of the norm, whether it’s perceived as a positive or a negative, its up to you to get the message out loud and clear. It’s unusual for a business to be closed on Wednesdays, so it’s not all that surprising that people continue to expect the Stratham SPCA to be open then. Maybe they need a clearer (and/or larger) sign on their front door.

Similarly, if your center is going to be closed on a certain day for meetings or maintenance or other reasons, you need to make sure that parents are informed early and often – but in a nice way. Which brings us to…

2. Don’t lecture. The writer of this letter is clearly annoyed at the Wednesday drop-ins, but is the sweeping reminder to “check hours before you visit any place” really necessary (or constructive)? What’s next – a scolding for not finishing all of my broccoli?

3. It’s all in your tone. How much more effective would this letter have been if it had been written this way? Same message, different feel:

KISSES to all of our visitors at the N.H. SPCA in Stratham! We really appreciate your interest and generous donations of pet food and warm blankets. Just a reminder that we’re officially closed on Wednesdays (even though you might see us doing some work in the office then). Please leave all donations in the dropbox next to the front door when we’re not open – our dogs and cats thank you!

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.

It’s Time To Get Specific

Ken and Barbie marry.JPGWhen you were a little girl (guys, bear with me for a moment), did you ever play the game with your girlfriends where you envisioned your ideal grown-up life?

…and I would marry a tall man named Bradley with light brown hair and dark blue eyes, and we’d have three kids – twin boys, Max and Michael, and a girl named Emma – and we’d all live in a big white house on the ocean and go play outside on the beach every day with our golden retriever, Sandy.

I certainly remember playing it from time to time, though I confess my dreamy fantasies (both past and current) tend to run more along the lines of discovering the perfect fudgy-yet-cakey brownie and eating happily ever after.

Life has a way of turning out differently than we expect, to say the least – did anyone out there actually marry Bradley and move to the big white house on the beach? If so, do tell! – but you should never underestimate the importance of getting specific when there’s something you want.

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

Example A: Enrollments

  • Okay: I’d like some more nice families in my program…
  • Better: I’d like to enroll three new families by the end of the year – each of which has an annual household income of over $80,000, is pleasant to deal with, stays very involved with our program, pays on time, and is well-connected in our community to help bring in even more similar families.

Example B: Hiring

  • Okay: We need a new teacher in the preschool room…
  • Better: I’m looking to hire a preschool teacher who has a real passion for working with 4- and 5-year-olds, has at least three years of classroom experience, and is looking for a long-term professional home.

Example C: Staff Performance Issues

  • Okay: I wish Donna were more on top of things… 
  • Better: Donna, I need you to get here at least 15 minutes before you’re expected to be in the classroom, have your room and materials all set up when the first kids arrive, and give every family a cheerful, personal greeting when they enter.

Do you see the difference? In all three examples, the first statement is nothing more than a vague wish, while the second is a crystal-clear vision of your ideal outcome.

You may not always get your ideal outcome – but you’re much, much likelier to get it if you know exactly what you want.

When you do this exercise, don’t get all hung up on all the reasons it simply couldn’t work (“But a teacher like that would never want to work here!” “But all of the really good families in our area have been snapped up by the center across town!”). Just get clear on your own ideal scenario – what you’d truly want, in your perfect world – and go from there.

You will be shocked at how much this helps you both clarify, and achieve, your biggest goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, whether that target is a spouse who’s perfect for you or your dream of a fully enrolled, wildly successful program.

(Case in point: In addition to a great husband, I’m happy to report that I did find what I think is the nearly perfect brownie recipe – just add half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Brilliant.)

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Think You Don’t Have a Brand? Think Again.

Child Care BrandingYou may not have given much thought to the “branding” of your child care center. We’re a child care center, you’re probably thinking.

But make no mistake: You do indeed have a brand, whether or not you’ve taken any active role in shaping it. Your brand is simply how you – and your child care center – are perceived in the minds of your customers and potential customers.

Think about the “brands” of the people you deal with in your daily life:

– Mildred at the bank: Friendly, methodical, unwilling to be rushed for any reason. Inordinately fond of pennies.

– Olivia, your dry cleaner: Brusque bordering on rude, yet relentless on grease stains.

– Frank, your mechanic: Kind of flaky and slow to return calls, but knows his way around a transmission like nobody else.

What’s your brand? It’s shaped both by what you officially “do” – and how well you do it – as well as the countless interactions you have with your families and prospective families, including things like:

  • How promptly – and enthusiastically – you answer the phone
  • The look and feel of your website
  • How the teachers and administrators interact with the children in your program
  • The way your center looks (and even smells)
  • Whether your teachers are a cohesive, effective team or a fractured, gossiping, unhappy mess

Maintaining a formal marketing program is an excellent way to be proactive in shaping your brand, but never forget that you’re already imprinting it on everyone around you, every single day, with everything you do (or don’t do).

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.