It’s Time to Look Outside – Lessons from Brands Outside Higher Education
In this article, we share some high-level insight into what brands are doing to differentiate themselves on an ever-overlapping landscape, and how higher ed brands can learn from them.
Successful brands are adapting to three important trends that influence the way they communicate:
- Authenticity is the new gold standard.
Younger audiences want to know more about your brand, in a real-world context. Your communications compete with the communications of all other brands, regardless of medium. You’ve got to be authentic, while also standing out.
- Multichannel brands are winning.
Brands are rethinking how to tell their story across a diverse channel mix. Winning brands set a strategy, created for their audience, and deliver on that audience’s channels.
- Interests are the new demographics.
Culture is being redefined in many more personal ways that it has before. We have more in common when we compare our interests than when we compare our age. “It’s less about an age group or ‘millennials’ and more about a mindset and lifestyle.” – CultureTrack.com
Three ideas for higher education to respond to the trends above:
Be the experts.
Major brands have used experts to build awareness and enthusiasm for their brand promises. Universities are the original sources of expertise and can use partnerships to extend their expertise for public influence and appeal.
There are a few key steps to being the expert:
- Become an expert on your brand promise.
- Cultivate a diverse team of advisors.
- Seek channels and partners.
Data won’t save you.
This doesn’t mean data isn’t important. It is. It just means it is not going to be your silver bullet.
Most universities use familiar and undifferentiating data points to promote their institutions. The key is to find new ways of using this data, to support a story rather than be the story. External research should be used to inform decisions, but not drive them.
In order to use data wisely, and not over-rely on it, consider these three steps:
- Tell stories, not facts.
- Promote your vision of the future.
- Identify unique metrics that matter.
Expand the experience.
Researchers have reaffirmed the campus visit as the most important decision factor for prospective students, because it helps them see themselves on campus. Universities have many experiential opportunities: from athletics to alumni events, to on-campus celebrations, and community engagement and services.
As you consider how to better expose audiences to your brand experience, consider the following steps:
- Develop a dimensional brand.
- Create umbrella experiences.
- Don’t be afraid to be important.
If Universities allow themselves to be the experts, take care not to over-rely on traditional data, and think about coordinated experiences rather than individual channels, they will benefit from the same successes that the world’s great brands have had. Commitment to these ideas will help Universities break from traditional and undifferentiated approaches, to establish their own valued space in the world.