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What Admissions Offices Can Learn from the Tiger Bread Story

She had a point.

Three-year-old Lilly Robinson was confused. Sainsbury’s, the British supermarket, had a product called tiger bread. But Lily didn’t think the bread resembled a tiger at all. In fact, she thought looked very much like a giraffe.

So Lily wrote a letter to the customer service department at Sainsbury’s.

And she received a reply.

Of course, the customer manager didn’t have to reply.

After all, Lily was just 3 ½ years old and not exactly the direct customer who paid for the groceries at checkout.

But Chris replied and it became a celebrated customer service story.

“I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it? It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a loooong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.”

It was indeed brilliant idea and, I would add, a brilliant response.

Chris acknowledged Lily’s feelings, explained the reasons behind the decision, and expressed his appreciation for her feedback.

And that would have been the end of the story, but Lily’s mom posted the letters on her blog and it went viral. (It turns out that Sainbury’s renamed the breadafter it became a trending topic on social media.)

A nice story you may be thinking, but what exactly is the connection to higher education?

Well, I’m not necessarily advocating that admissions offices purchase a bunch of gift cards to respond to prospective student inquiries and suggestions, although that could be interesting. However, there are some helpful lessons here.

It would have been easy for customer service manager to dismiss a child’s letter. But Sainsbury’s took it seriously. Moreover, Chris looked beyond the obvious “customer” to recognize and respond to “influencers.”

In the admissions world, we devote significant energy and resources to recruit the student.

The marketing strategy looks like this:

However, the influencer network really looks more like this:

And that’s just for starters. There could be any number of influencers.

In fact, at a business school focus group, a current student told me that her tennis coach influenced her decision to select that particular part-time MBA program. Seriously.

Business schools are increasingly reaching out to influencers through marketing communications such as blog posts featuring partner perspectives.

Here is one example from HBS:

How Being an HBS Partner Changed My Life

Yet, it’s important to recognize that influencers change throughout the buying process.

Some influencers play a more important role at the inquiry stage. Others during the application process. And then there are significant influencers at the time of acceptance.

The key is to find out which influencers are the most important and when.

The tiger bread story also reminds us that a less obvious constituency is still extremely valuable to cultivate.

Lily isn’t able to buy that tiger bread, or indeed those sweeties, on her own. Still, I would venture to guess that she is a powerful influencer for what goes into that shopping cart, as any parent will testify.

At the time of acceptance, universities typically shift into high gear to court admitted students. There are celebratory images on social media, gifts in the mailbox, and a red-carpet-worthy welcome.

Here’s a nice example on Instagram:

At the same time, I have to wonder how does this make waitlisted, deferred, and denied students feel? What outreach is in place to foster continued relationships with them?

Let’s go back to the influencer network:

Those connections are still there. While this population of application pool might not be part of a school’s community at this time, it is still a valuable segment, with an extensive network, that could lead to a phenomenal candidate in the future. Moreover, they can serve as ongoing brand ambassadors.

In fact, today’s digital age means that the calculation of “lifetime customer value” is < “lifetime network value.”

As you plan the next recruitment cycle, think of all the ways your admissions office can leverage the influencer network and, like the tiger/giraffe cake, rise to the occasion.

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2 Comments
  1. Thanks, Earl! I wonder how she would do on the GMAT? Maybe a couple more years? 🙂

    April 13, 2016
  2. Great post Barbara, If you have contact with Lilly, would love to talk to her about an MBA, I see lots of potential.

    April 13, 2016

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