How the lobster increased its perceived value

What prospective and current parents truly value in a school can be confusing and difficult to pin down. To understand your school’s value proposition, you must learn how they perceive value … and the lobster has a lesson.

Your school’s value proposition is an articulation of the collection of reasons why people choose your school. It refers to the value your school promises to deliver to parents should they choose to enrol their child, and it makes up just one part of the articulation of your school’s overall marketing strategy. Confused yet?

A value proposition can be crafted as a statement used to summarise why a prospective parent should choose you ahead of your competition, but it is not usually written for your prospective parents to read. It’s written to be a consistent reference point for you, your school marketers and your staff about what parents really value — or the value you’d like them to see. It can take different forms, as long as it remains ‘on brand’ and specific to your school.

However, talking about value prompts a deeper question. When faced with a choice, how do prospective parents determine value? This is where we dive down the rabbit hole that is ‘perceived value theory’.

Imagine this:

You’re about to rescue a child stuck on the roof of a car in a flooded, fast-flowing river. There are two bags in front of you. Each bag contains a rescue kit with a label. One was made in Germany. The other in China. Which one would you pick?

The bag you choose shows that you attach more value to that country for lifesaving equipment.

This is perceived value. And it drives every decision we make.

Why should perceived value be important to you?

Short answer: it could make or break your school’s future success.

You will have heard the maxim that ‘perception is reality’. There are two elements to perceived value:

  • The prospective parent’s perception of your school and its offering (value force).
  • The price they are willing to pay for it (cost force).

It’s useful to think of this as a set of scales.

When your prospective parent feels that your offer has more value than the material and mental cost they will incur, the scale tips in your favour.

That’s fairly straightforward, but here’s where it gets difficult.

Perceived value is very personal, multi-faceted and highly subjective. That’s why at imageseven we talk about the value proposition being a collection of value points. It has little to do with numbers, logic or the cost of delivering the education service. It has everything to do with perception.

Before you get too disheartened, this is actually great news because perception is malleable. If you have a fantastic offering to start with, you are more than halfway there, as emotion is the ruler of perceived value. People buy with their emotions.[i] When a parent chooses your school, it may look and feel logic-driven, but the decision is driven by subconscious motivations.

So, if you want prospective parents (and current parents) to give you their attention and consider your school, you need to find a way to get inside the inner sanctum of their brains and do this one thing: make them feel good![ii] Your prospect may not articulate it or even know it, but when you position yourself as the answer to their primal needs, your perceived value goes up.

How to increase your school’s perceived value

Lobsters were once low-class food, eaten only by the poor and institutionalised. According to David Foster Wallace, “Even in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats.”[iii]

The lobster has come a long way from distasteful prison food to an expensive delicacy. That’s a total about face in perceived value. The lobster itself didn’t go through dramatic change. Instead, it was how the food was marketed. So, what can be learnt from the lobster story?

Increase your school’s perceived value and you will increase enrolment interest. Here’s how.

  1. Find your perfect market. For centuries, lobster was, at best, an undesirable protein. It took the railway industry to shift focus to the inland rich for the food to take off. Surround yourself with families who fall madly, deeply and passionately in love with your school and give them the tools to be vocal advocates.
  2. Create demand. In early colonial America, piles of lobsters would line the beaches after a storm. Their only use was to be crushed up and used as fertiliser. Inland, lobster was in high demand because it wasn’t accessible. ‘Enrol now’ banners say you have ample inventory. ‘Applications now open’ suggests your school has a higher threshold.
  3. Raise your fees. Okay, not suddenly, and perhaps not dramatically like the railway barons did. Your prospective parents use price as a proxy measure for value. Don’t apologise for the price of your tuition; celebrate the enormous value you provide for families. Show that your school is worth the investment because it will deliver returns that last a lifetime.
  4. Educate your customers. For centuries, lobster was cooked after it was dead. It didn’t taste great. When chefs found a new way to cook lobster, it created a global industry. Educate current families on how to get the most from your school. They will discover value that you thought was obvious and perceptions of your school will lift.
  5. Play into social influence. When the poor men saw the rich men eagerly consuming lobster, it changed their perception. Suddenly, lobster was a little more enticing. Social influence has a direct impact on how prospective parents view your school.

Perceived value belongs to your parents, but you are Chief Value Proposition Officer

Your parents and prospective parents own their perception of you. Your parents are the hero, the star and the heartbeat that drives perceived value — not you.

  • Don’t be arrogant and impose values you think will be good for them.
  • Look at it from their point of view — their exact words, motivations and inclinations.
  • Just because your school is good for them doesn’t mean they will care about it.

Think about it this way: if they don’t care about it, they will not value it. When they feel there’s no value in it for them, there is no value proposition.

Research by Dr Harry Bloom across hundreds of independent schools, of all sizes and types, in all kinds of market situations indicates that a school’s relative (to competition) perceived value determines its enrolment.[iv]

Dr Bloom makes the case that a school’s success or failure in meeting their enrolment goals is so dependent on getting net relative perceived value right, that Heads should seriously consider formalising the role of Chief Value Proposition Officer.

Whether that holds true at your school is for you to answer, but it’s a great starting point.

And don’t forget the lobster.


insight applied

  • Perceived value drives every decision prospective parents make.
  • Increase your school’s perceived value to increase enrolment interest.
  • You need to make prospective (and current) parents feel
  • Consider appointing a Chief Value Proposition Officer.


[i] Chierotti, L 2022, ‘Harvard Professor Says 95% of Purchasing Decisions Are Subconscious’. Inc., accessed 22 June 2022,

[ii] Mahoney, M 2022, ‘The Subconscious Mind of the Consumer (And How To Reach It)’. Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, accessed 22 June 2022,

[iii] Wallace, D 2004. ‘Consider The Lobster’. Gourmet, August 2004, pp 50, 55-56, 60, 62-64.

[iv] Bloom, H 2021, ‘The Admission Director as Chief Value Proposition Officer: An Idea Whose Time Has Come’. Measuring Success, accessed 22 June 2022,


Brad Entwistle is the Founding Partner of imageseven. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness.

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