Avoid the Jargon Jungle

Posted on Jun 3, 2017 in Blog, Fundamentals

Are you thrashing through the marketing jargon jungle? Confused about what is Brand Essence, a Value Proposition, the difference between Vision and Position and how do you get it? What happens if you don’t? Well, you’re not alone!

There’s lots of competition for your business now that marketing has become an accepted management tool in independent schools; and inevitably insider industry lingo has evolved to convince only an expert can do what you’ve been doing all along.

Let’s unpack some of the most commonly used terms so you can get on with your work.

MISSION STATEMENT (also now called a vision statement)
A mission statement articulates a school’s core vision and beliefs, along with its hopes for the outcomes of the total educational experience offered to students. Viewed from a marketing perspective, the mission statement frames the school’s values and vision in the ideal to be strived for, but it does not necessarily differentiate a school from competitors in the minds of important audiences. Understandably the mission statement is somewhat generic and general when compared to the mission statements of many other independent schools and in the implied missions of some public schools. If yours is long and windy, fix it. You need one or you’re like a boat without a rudder.

POSITIONING STATEMENT (also now called a mission statement)
The positioning statement builds on the concept of mission in guiding the school to articulate how it wants to be viewed by the outside world. It focuses the messages that direct the marketing communications program. Remember that communicating image (identity) depends on detail and simple, clear substantiated claims, not platitudes, high and mighty language or unrealistic ambitions.

The positioning statement provides continuity and consistency in the way the school projects its essence to audiences with whom you want to build and maintain relationships over time. Its most salient benefit is to help the school achieve strategic goals through consistent, cohesive and differentiated communications. It is not intended as a public statement, but is used internally to inform strategy, planning, tactics, and creative approach.

These are the ingredients of a positioning statement dating back many years and growing out of the marketing industry. You can find this in Ford Kanzler’s “The Positioning Statement: Why to Have One Before You Start Communicating” online at marketingprofs.com

  • Who are you?
  • What business are you in?
  • What audience(s) do you serve?
  • What is needed by the market you serve?
  • Who is the competition?
  • What is different about your business?
  • What unique benefit is derived from your services?

In their excellent presentation A Model for Vision-based Strategic Planning at CASE/NAIS 2015, Donna Orem and Anne Seltzer posed seven vision questions a school needs to answer to build a vision statement that will be the core of an effective strategic plan:

  • What do we do best?
  • What is our core business?
  • What do we offer that other schools do not?
  • What do we want to be known for?
  • What do we want to be known for in 5 years?
  • What kind of image do we want?
  • What are our social and ethical responsibilities?

Looks a lot like Kanzler’s positioning list. Don’t get stuck in definitions. Just know you need both a statement that frames your values and vision AND a reality-based statement that describes what you do and how you’d like to be viewed.

The broader definition of brand is the school’s unique image in the minds of target audiences. Their ideas of who the school is and how they feel about you grow from what they have heard (word of mouth) added together with all of their personal experiences with your school (compared with others). Brand management aims to steer how people perceive the school and emphasizes the positive while correcting inaccurate or negative perceptions.

In order to manage perception through a strategic and integrated marketing communications program—to align how you want to be viewed with what people think of you—the actual position of the school, defined in the context of the competitive marketplace, must also be articulated and understood. Market research provides a reality check on what people know about you and how they perceive you. Position is reality- and business-based and focuses on schools’ primary and secondary differentiating attributes in relation to other educational options. Read Al Ries and Jack Trout’s classic book Positioning: How to be seen and heard in the overcrowded marketplace. Then YOU’LL be the expert.

A GREAT EXAMPLE of getting it right (www.eaglehillsouthport.org)

Vision and Mission

At Eagle Hill-Southport our vision is a world where people with language-based learning disabilities and ADHD are embraced for their strengths and potential and where all teachers have access to training in best educational practices and current research.  Our mission is to provide transformative educational experiences that will have a lifelong impact on our students, and innovative leadership within the learning disabilities community.

Approach and Values 

Eagle Hill-Southport is dedicated to creating an environment for LD and ADHD students that recognizes individual strengths, promotes independent thinking, develops self-esteem and self-advocacy, and supports a successful transition for future academic success.  In our co-educational elementary and middle school in Southport, CT students can safely take risks and be championed by an administration, faculty, and staff that are student-focused and use evidence and research-based approaches.  Through our teacher training, professional development, and community outreach programs, we educate families, educators, and other professionals on how to implement those practices in the lives of people with language-based learning disabilities and ADHD.

Expertise: Train educators to the highest levels in their fields using evidence and research-based approaches
Creativity: Exercise and incorporate the creative minds of our students, faculty and staff
Empowerment: Challenge all community members to develop their individual strengths, self-esteem, and self-advocacy skills
Engagement: Engage our students as learners, and the broader world as influencers and informers on learning disabilities and ADHD
Cerebrodiversity: Foster an understanding and appreciation of the value of different types of brains and learning differences


This is doing what you say you do and doing it well. Since many of the benefits of an independent education are intangible, you want to make the experience each teacher, child and parent—and everyone else you come in contact with—THE best. Period. Clean up your campus and don’t put people on hold. Teach children how to learn and have fun and make friends. Thank your parents and listen to your faculty.

The so-called marketing sweet spot is the magnetic connection with your audience that happens when your brand intersects with their wishes and expectations—über relevance is what you want to achieve. Netlingo.com describes pain points: “…consultants use the phrase ‘pain points’ to describe the places where a business feels the ‘pain’ due to poor operational structure, bad software or good, old-fashioned inefficiencies.” Much worse is when your prospective or current families feel a pain point—what they’re paying (financially, emotionally) is not worth what you’re giving them. Broken promise. Bad.

You’re on a train in New Zealand and the person sitting next to you asks what you do. You tell them in a few sentences about your school and why you love it. Don’t spend 50 hours working on this unless your school family is definitely not on the same page. Eagle Hill-Southport has pretty well captured it.

I can’t get too excited about this either. You can’t come up with one that hasn’t been used before. Don’t worry about it. Look at 25 school websites if you want a reality check on the value of describing your school in a word or phrase. If you want to learn even more, go to www.gettingattention.org. Nancy Schwartz is really into it.

Tell stories about your school through the experience of the people who make up your community. That’s what this is all about. Be authentic, be seriously engaged, be your unique institutional self.

..and a MUST-have for all you jargon haters is JARGON REHAB, a fantastic free workbook by Emily Cretella, principal of Cursive Content Marketing.