1. Differentiation – It is my experience that colleges (or rather the college administration) fails to understand that the basic product they offer is a commodity. Any curriculum for an English degree is going to be pretty similar from on college to the next. In addition most of the faculty are going to be roughly equally qualified to teach the courses. It is here that the universities fall into the trap I mentioned in my last post – Come to our college because we have great 1. Faculty 2. Students 3. Majors. It is easy to fall into the trap because most of the time it’s true. Just because something is good doesn’t make it rare. If an attribute is common it is of course by definition not a differentiators. Colleges need to find what makes them different from the schools that their target audience are looking at.
2. Positioning – Schools need to make a strategic choice where they are going to place themselves in the competitive landscape. It must me a concouious choice to decide what they are best at. What are they better at than anyone else. We have the best fine arts program in the state. We are the most affordable private school in the region. Our students have more internship opportunities than….. This is a particularly difficult choice for college because they are such political places.
3. Relevant – The brand position that the school chooses much also be relevant to their audience. It seems obvious, but many college are often “selling” services that nobody is “buying”. Management guru Peter Drucker once said of business schools, “Once a subject becomes entirely obsolete, we make it a required course.” Taking further does your target audience care about what you are telling them you can do for them. For example – a college with a primarily rural student body, most of whom plan on remaining within 100 mile of their birthplace, but touts it’s “international” focus.
4. Clarity – The school must show clarity in two ways. First, the college administration must show the rest of campus what the brand will be and why the brand is important. If, for example, the schools brand is based on it friendly, family atmosphere and a potential student comes on campus and a member of the faculty or cafeteria staff is rude to her the brand promise is broken. Second, and this seems to be very difficult for college presidents, is clarity about what your is and is not. Schools always want to move up the food chain, or for this industry the reputation chain. There is nothing wrong with improving your product and by byproduct your reputation, but many times colleges will focus on recruiting students that are outside of their core buyers. Instead of trying to get more of the kind of student that are the right fit the college president is trying the remake his college into a mini-Ivy. An analogy from the auto industry would be if Hyundai’s marketing emphasized a new sports car to compete with Porsche. Hyundai’s brand is based on economy price point and improving reliability, not high performance. If I want a high performance sports car I am not going to drive around a Hyundai. If they Hyundai fails to understand who it is they lose their realistic potential buyers (economy consumers) and will fail to win the new target audience (sports car buyers that don’t believe that Hyundai makes the kind of car they want).
Once again I feel it worth pointing out that I take the foundation of my ideas from David Aaker and Micheal Porter among others.