Higher education is an industry where differentiation is paramount because the end result for students is typically the same: to receive accredited recognition for their academic fulfillment. So, how does a university demonstrate to prospective students that their institution is unique from the rest and ensure the university brand isn’t lost in the sea of options?
One of the biggest mistakes universities make is promoting distinctives rather than differentiators. So what's the difference? A distinctive is simply something different about a school—something that other schools don't offer or do as well. A distinctive can become a differentiator if the offering is measurably or observably better than that of other schools. In short, a differentiator is something that is unique about your university.
Broadcasting or promoting the same distinctives as cross-app schools works against a university's efforts to differentiate the school-brand. Why be a lemon in a bin full of lemons? To appeal to students in a competitive market, stand out from the crowd.
Many universities promote their acclaimed programs, small class sizes, and beautiful campuses but successful enrollment teams know and can confidently share what makes their university truly different. This doesn’t mean that these aren't valuable or that a university shouldn’t pride itself on these qualities. However, to stand out in a market full of similar noise, say less but mean more. Find a way to focus on what is truly unique and unparalleled then dive into the why and how of the differentiator as it will help counselors communicate the value(s) of the university's brand as well as present authentic, relatable examples.
Which brings us to the next point: back up those differentiators with authentic, relatable examples. Consider George Fox University: they found distinct and unparalleled value in their “Be Known” promise that students are known academically, spiritually, and personally at their small Christian university. They then took this and backed it up with their heightened dedication to campus visits because the “Be Known” promise can then be felt and seen by a prospective student and their constituents. (For the full story, click here.)
To help discover and articulate disctinctives, start with these questions: What are we doing right? What do students say? We've developed an eBook to help colleges and universities work through these and other helpful questions in this process:
Lastly, don't forget to research cross-app schools. What are they saying? What's their brand promise? Once the differentiators are isolated, then weave them into the institution's value proposition and associated messaging (more on this, click here).
To build this into the cross-university culture, leaders should continually reward and reinforce (with living examples) any and all behaviors that deliver on the university's brand promise. For more information on how to build a successful enrollment team that delivers confidently, read Vance Pascua's blog on the topic, here.
The Team at Value Based