Is Your Test Prep a Commodity?

Is Your Test Prep a Comodity?

Commodities have long existed as the cornerstone of economies large and small throughout time and across the world. In simple terms, a commodity is a raw material or good with a high degree of fungibility, meaning its value exists irrespective of who or what produced it. My gold bar is worth the same as your stack of gold coins. Cotton, cocoa, and frozen orange juice are all examples of commodities. And unfortunately for a lot of tutors out there, test prep has increasingly become a commodity. And with the rollout of ACT Academy, the trend is set to continue. How will your business react?

Commodities vs. Products

Unlike a commodity, a product has added value beyond that of a simple commodity. Attributes such as branding, service, and quality improvements transform commodities into significantly more valuable products. Take coffee for example. Suppose Steve and Larry each own a sack of identical coffee beans.

Larry sells his beans in the same form as he bought them, unchanged, in bulk — as a commodity. 

fig 1. Coffee Beans

fig 1. Coffee Beans

Jeff, on the other hand, transforms his coffee into a product by shipping the beans to Redondo Beach, where they're carefully roasted, brewed, and served in a cozy and thoughtfully designed coffeehouse — with free wi-fi.

fig. 2 - Catalina Coffee Shop

fig. 2 - Catalina Coffee Shop

For a test prep business, being seen as a commodity means getting herded into the race to the bottom of the local market. You're already competing against college kids using the same books that anyone can get on Amazon. Now, with the unveiling of the free ACT Academy this spring, it's become critical that test prep tutors honestly evaluate their offerings to identify what — if anything — differentiates your product from a commodity that customers could get from any other tutor.

Objectively speaking, are you delivering an exceptional test prep experience? Or are you peddling test prep as a commodity? 

Assess your content

The study material you provide your students is, in many respects, a commodity. The ACT and SAT are standardized tests that deliver predictable content in predictable ways. All test prep, at a base level, provides this type of content to students so that they can prepare for test day.

That said, not all test prep content is created equal. If your curriculum relies upon readily available online materials or worse, materials published by your competition (like Princeton Review or Kaplan), you are (or are dangerously close to being) a commodity. Not only are you offering identical content to your competitors, but you are also promoting them in the process.

Investing in a comprehensive, custom-branded, content solution like the offerings from Clear Choice Prep is a surefire way to offer a truly differentiated product rather than the same rehashed and reproduced practice problems as your commodity-pushing competitors. Your curriculum sports your logos and is tailored to the needs of your clients and your staff.

Evaluate your value-added services

High-value test prep is more than just content. One of the key differentiators between a commodity and a product is the addition of quality service.

While free test prep options like the SAT’s Khan Academy partnership or the ACT Academy have the benefit of officially licensed content, they lack the guidance, expertise, and accountability checks that a more comprehensive test prep program can provide.

The answers to some simple questions can provide a clear indication of where your company lies on the commodity versus product spectrum:

If you can answer these questions with ease and articulate their importance to clients, you can make the case for being a product and not a simple commodity.

If any of these questions give you pause, then you're not maximizing your potential as a test prep provider. What’s worse, there are likely competitors in your local market who are (...and commanding a higher price for their service because of it).

Don’t be content to be a commodity. Schedule a free consultation to see how the addition of Clear Choice Prep's 100% custom-branded content and software can catapult your business from the bargain basement of your local market to the top.

Let's Talk Test Prep

In a world where both the ACT and SAT are offering free online study materials, Amazon will deliver test prep workbooks to your door, and local markets are flooded with bargain-basement competition, what are you doing to stand out as a product worth paying a premium for? 

Editor's Note: A special shout out to Catalina Coffee Shop, which closed its doors this January, making it 100% the wrong example to use in this post.  Regardless, we chose to use it — even at the risk of undermining the whole point of the post. Some things are more important.

We wanted to acknowledge what feels like the passing a dear friend. Much of the first edition of the Clear Choice SAT Prep workbooks were written in the back of that coffee shop. So please, dear readers, support local businesses!

fig. 3 - R.I.P. Catalina Coffee Shop

fig. 3 - R.I.P. Catalina Coffee Shop

Matt McCorkle