features to benefits

Let’s continue our analysis of the ABHE-Barna Group’s What’s Next for Bible Colleges? research report. We began a few weeks ago by considering the reality and implications of our Bible colleges’

Definitional Dilemma



Subsequently, we took up the second of five major themes I have distilled from the research—the matter of




“Just as good as” will never do

A major key to your enrollment success will be the extent to which you understand and embrace your institution’s uniqueness and the extent to which you leverage and communicate that uniqueness to prospective students. You cannot and should not seek to become just as good as other colleges, no matter how admirable they may be. Instead, your focus should be upon the aspects of your institution that most excite your stakeholders and excel your competitors.

Another critical differentiation habit you need to cultivate is shifting your descriptor language from features to benefits.

 The “big 5” management questions

This principle evokes memory of the third of Peter Drucker’s five classic management questions:

  • What is our mission?
  • Who is the customer?
  • What does the customer value?
  • What is our plan?
  • What are our results?

I freely admit my natural, habituated bent to think and communicate in terms of features rather than benefits. Consider for a moment the conceptual framework I have employed for the past several years to describe the distinctive brand of higher education we call biblical higher education:





Many of you have affirmed to me the resonance of this conceptual framework with your institution’s mission and identity. Good, perhaps, but regrettably not great. Because that fourfold description of what we do comes from our vantage point, not that of our target audience. These words mostly describe the content and central activities of our educational programs. We are accurately capturing and describing important—yes, even compelling—aspects of our “brand.” But we are doing so by describing our member institutions’ features, not by describing the ways in which what we do brings benefit to those we seek to serve, benefit in terms of what we can reasonably substantiate that they value.

A better way

In contrast, consider how my friend Steve Moore communicates about his nexleader/IPSAT (Identity Profile Self-Awareness Test) program to his target audience:

  • Discover your identity
  • Develop your giftedness
  • Live Bible-centered
  • Give yourself away

See how he describes the nexleader experience in terms of benefits from the customer’s perspective rather than in terms of program/process features? Take a spin around the IPSAT website and you’ll see how pervasively Steve communicates to his audiences in terms of benefits, not features.

Start with why

Simon Senek is making a similar point in his book and viral TED Talk, Start With Why. Most organizations—even very good and successful ones—communicate to their audiences according to the following pattern:

  1. What
  2. How

On the other hand, truly distinctive and inspiring organizations habitually think and communicate according to this pattern:

  1. Why
  2. How
  3. What

I invite you to reflect on how you would you describe your own default communication patterns and that of your leadership and enrollment management teams. I repeat my confession that I default to features language. I constantly need to cultivate in myself and my team the habit of communicating in terms of benefits. In the face of the immense cultural, economic, and demographic headwinds our movement faces, we are going to need a serious reorientation of our methods and messaging—a Copernican shift from features to benefits. Are you ready for the challenge?

Next time, I’ll offer one additional consideration relative to Differentiation: how we must strive to develop a greater capacity to communicate from a target audience perspective while avoiding the trap of capitulating to misplaced prevailing values.

Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …


  Shame on us, there’s nothing else to say about US refugee ceiling 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced the US would limit 2019 refugee resettlement to 30,000–a 33% drop from the previous year’s ceiling. Before 2018, the ceiling had never been set below 79,000. Every believer should be scandalized by this betrayal of core biblical values. Shame on us.