Differentiation in Higher Ed Marketing

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Branding, Concepts, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Strategy, Thoughts | Posted on 12-16-2009


There are countless blog posts about differentiation and standing out from your competitors. Rather than try to brush broad strokes about what I think schools should do differently, I think I’ll paint a different picture on this one.

Over the past two days I’ve been updating BlueFuego’s Social Web Research, which has exposed me on over 3,000 URLS for admissions, alumni, and .edu homepages of 1,000 university and college sites (400 sites to go!). I continue to see the same boring story again and again. So I decided to set up some advanced searches on common quotes and sayings that continue to pop up.

A Google search for “professors who know you” on .edu domains returns 14,000 URLs.
A Google search for “you’re a name, not a number” on .edu domains returns 18,200 URLS.
And to complete the Trifecta, a Google search for “not just a number” +”professors” +”small class sizes” returns 5,120 URLS.

(And if you want prospective students to “Become a VIP“, there are 16,799 other URLs just like you.)

Are you really that different?  Have you taken the time to look at your 10 most frequent cross-app schools to see what students see there?  I’d venture to guess there are more than a few similarities. I think back to this blog post, Give Them More Than The Expected, and encourage you to look outside of the basic/expected product and give them the Wow Factor.

Good luck. :)

Comments posted (5)

This reminds me of an exercise our communications staff initiated last year — 13 months ago — in an attempt to convey our campus’s distinctiveness. (Distinctiveness, not “uniqueness.” No university is unique, in my opinion, but that’s another post altogether and one that would involve an extensive discussion on etymology and semantics.)

The exercise involves creating a two-by-two matrix.

The left and right columns should define elements of your marketing messages that are important to your audience (on the right) and not important (on the left). (It helps if you have data from your audiences that tell you what they think is important and not.)

The top and bottom should then be separated by what makes your university distinctive vs. non-distinctive.

This puts all the important and distinctive elements in the upper right-hand quadrant.

The other stuff (small class sizes, caring faculty) will fall below the X axis as “non-distinctive” because everybody claims to have that stuff.

Wish I could draw you a picture.

When I think about differentiation in higher ed I think there are 2 levels. For instance Gettysburg as a liberal arts institution is different from Penn State for the same reason some of our direct competitors are different. However there are different reasons why we are different from some of our direct competitors who are also liberal arts colleges.

Merry Christ- mas and Happy New Year” to everyone and see you next

[...] universities. Whether it be the lack of originality in the email sophomore search process, or how colleges and universities use the same words and phrases to describe who they are, or the need for colleges to have a brand strategy that differentiates them from the undergraduate [...]

However there are different reasons why we are different from some of our direct competitors who are also liberal arts colleges

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