What an Independent Tutor Can Learn from Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals

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I've deliberately chosen to keep this post shorter than most. It's a busy time of year for all of us, but I wanted to convey a few quick observations about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the effectiveness of the marketing you've no doubt been seeing on TV, online, and in your inbox. It all comes down to scarcity.  

Department stores leverage Black Friday's promise of scarce quantities of severely discounted products to lure crowds away from their families and into a chilly parking lot. That's a powerful draw.

Most of these advertisements use language that cautions you against "missing out" on deals. These retailers emphasize the regret you'll feel. And they're selling you a way to avoid that regret. You may think that the 85" 4K smart television is the star of the advertisement, but it's not. Your regret is the star. You're being asked to imagine how you'll feel if you "miss out." 

This is what advertisers mean when they say, "Don't sell vitamins. Sell pain pills." And you know what? It works. People don't leave the house on Thanksgiving for vitamins. But for pain pills, they'll put on a scarf and earmuffs. 

It's also worth noticing that the language also emphasizes the scarcity of time. It's the same reason that car dealers are always running limited time promotions. They've got to establish a reason why you should come down to the dealership TODAY. The whole idea is to create URGENCY on the part of the consumer.

Understanding this is especially useful for independent tutors who sometimes have difficulty explaining why parents should enroll their student in test prep tutoring TODAY, as opposed to say... next March. And that's the other secret that's buried in the messaging about Black Friday and Cyber Monday: "It marks the start of the holiday shopping season." How many times have you heard that sentence uttered on a local news broadcast? 

The holiday shopping season is clearly defined as Black Friday through December 24th at 11:59PM. For the record, I'm not emphasizing Christmas over any other holiday or religious tradition. I'm just pointing out that the marketing  in the United States during that time of year tends to key in on Christmas. More to the point, consumers know exactly what the timeline is for their purchases. There's a deadline. Your kid has to have something to open up (and immediately break) on Christmas morning. 

The consumers are educated in that respect. They understand the parameters for their assignment: buy and wrap presents before dawn on Christmas Day. And for the most part, consumers feel confident that they can choose presents that will satisfy the criteria.

Test prep is different.

Your customers, parents of high school students, generally do not feel confident in their ability to choose the best test prep option for their children. And what's more, they don't know when test prep season starts or ends! And since nobody wants to ask a stupid question or look like a dummy, many parents procrastinate as long as possible.  

This creates an opportunity for you to reach out to the parents in your market. Educate them. Help them to understand the assignment and the due dates.  Once they understand the nature of assignment, you can help them to decide when it's best for their child to begin studying for the SAT or ACT. As you help them to understand test prep in context, you can emphasize the benefits of getting started sooner as opposed to later. The beautiful thing about this is that it's always true.

And in the same way that you probably woke up this morning (the Tuesday after Cyber Monday) with an inbox full of "Cyber Monday Week" advertisements, your messaging should change to reflect the time of year. Last week, the advertisements in your inbox weren't emphasizing that the sales would go on through New Year's Eve. Of course, they will. There will always be a good reason why you should go to Target or Mercedes-Benz TODAY. But last week, all the emails were about the scarcity of deals and the scarcity of time. It created urgency. 

This week, the sales have been extended. The deals are still available, but even more scarce!  You should feel... even more urgency!!

I don't mention this because I want to encourage you to become a sleazy TV pitchman.  Far from it. I point it out because I want you to understand the need to educate your consumers, define the timeline for taking action, and demonstrate the features and benefits of your test prep tutoring. And you can't do that if parents don't understand that NOW is the time to talk to you. 

As a side benefit, getting students enrolled a few weeks earlier can mean the difference between a successful test prep course and an unsuccessful crash course. Make it easier on yourself and communicate some urgency to customers in your market. 

There's one more thing I want to touch on before I end this post. You may have heard about REI's #OptOutside movement. The general idea is that REI, Recreational Equipment Inc., wanted to give its employees time off instead of having them work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. So it started the #OptOutside movement by closing on Thanksgiving and Black Friday and encouraging people to do something outside instead of circling endlessly looking for parking at the local outlet center. 

More than 6,000,000 signed up to #OptOutside. That's amazing. And it's a great example of what can happen when you treat your customers as people rather than consumers. Which brings us to the point of this whole post...

You have to walk a line between educating your market and "selling pain pills."

Ultimately, you'll have more success in sales and business in general if you stop selling and start educating your potential customers about the problems they face and the solutions you provide. Sometimes, you'll need to help them see the urgency of their situation. Other times, it will make sense for a student to wait until next March to begin test prep tutoring.

However, if you do your job well, you will be the first person that the parent calls when it's time to get started with test prep tutoring. 

I hope you had a great holiday weekend. If you'd like more information on the free tools we've developed to help independent tutors promote test prep services, then contact us, or click the link to set up a free software demo. We'd love to hear from you!

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P.S. Thanks again for all the warm wishes from the partners who responded to my Thanksgiving email. That was unexpected. And it meant a lot to me. We've come a long way as a company. And we've worked very hard to achieve the success we've had, but we owe every bit of that success to you, our tutoring partners. You're the best.