Visiting college campuses throughout the country, taking tour after tour and meeting countless coaching staffs that are all promising you the world, this is the junior year of a high school division I athletics prospect.
About 5 minutes into the first time I took one of these athletes and their family on a tour of our university campus, I realized I had become a full-fledged marketer pure and simple. I wasn’t designing logos or writing slogans, just doing the best I could to make sure that this athlete would be able to distinguish our campus, our coaching staff and our program values from the other 15-20 schools they had visited.
It was no secret, I knew this player was the real deal and had been on countless other “official visits” both before and after he came to visit us. I also knew that the other schools he had visited were at least a step above ours in most aspects and we had absolutely no right in getting a player with his talent level to commit to coming to our university. That competition, coupled with me just taking the job, knowing very little about our school and this being my first tour, I knew that if I tried to fake it, I would have no chance. I simply decided to just be myself and give it all I had.
At some point during the initial small talk that always occurs when a player and their family arrives on campus, I had my marketing epiphany. As the tour continued I was well aware that I was giving absolutely zero details about our school’s history or what majors we offered or what campus life was like, I knew I was establishing a connection with the player. That is the easy part. If a recent college baseball player can’t get a 17 year old high school player excited about going to college and playing baseball, they’re in the wrong business. The most difficult part of recruiting, of marketing and of selling, is winning over the purchaser. In this case it was the parents but it’s an “industry secret” that making sure the player’s mom is comfortable with where her little boy who’s all grown up is going to live for the next four years. Winning over the mom in college recruiting is the key.
So, I turned my focus to the parents who would be footing the bill and made sure I talked about every single thing that I knew my own mother would have brought up. (and she absolutely did when I was the player). I talked about faculty to student ratio, the availability of tutors, how available professors are given our travel schedule and of course campus safety. Having dealt with all of these issues myself not long before then, I knew I could address them with at least some degree of validity. But, I also knew that every single other coach had talked to them and gave them the same spiel so I turned to the one thing that I knew would establish the best connection with the customer: our program values.
Luckily for me, I like to think my folks raised me the right way, and therefore I have what most would probably consider as an “old fashioned” sense of the important things in life. I talked about work ethic, dedication, family, and last but not least, development not only as a player but also as a young man. After this part of the conversation, I knew we had a chance at getting him. The tour ended, we said our goodbyes and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Long story short, that same player, the best player in the state, committed to us 3 hours later, about halfway through his 4 hour drive home.
As much as I wish this type of result was the standard, I would absolutely be lying. Taking this approach to marketing and in this case promoting our program, without directly saying how good we are or giving any specific details, is what I believe marketing is all about. I like to think being myself and winning this family over with real information about who we are, is the most honest form of marketing there is. Some people would call that approach using figurative “smoke”, while others may call it flat out bs’ing the customer. Either way, it worked. I knew I had separated us from the rest of the pack because I didn’t tell them a bunch of things I knew they would want to hear. Sure, I’ll be the first one to admit that I wasn’t employing some crazy market research driven strategy, but that is almost the best part about marketing. If you can establish that link between you, your product or your brand and the customer, you’re going to sell an absolute ton of “smoky bs.”