Recently, IHE’s Mitch Smith introduced us to academia’s “A-word” - assessment. How about the “M-word?” Marketing. Building on a recent StratEDgy post, “Marketing as Strategy,” strategic marketing is about defining and sustaining a competitive advantage through targeted offerings and messaging. To be effective, marketing must build on what an institution or organization has to offer -- not make false claims the market may want to hear. Once an organization’s real differentiators are established, the objective is to consistently communicate with the intended audience in a meaningful way.
Here are 5 ways to attack the "M-word."
1. Be different.
This idea gets to the heart of it. Strive for clarity about how your offerings are unique. Why should anyone choose your institution or organization? If you are a program director, why should someone apply to your program? How do your competitors describe themselves? When you think of the top institution in engineering, which institution comes to mind? How about biotechnology? Economics? Business?
2. Be specific.
Define your target market. Successful organizations do not try to be all things to all people. Ideally, which students are you trying to attract? What other institutions do those students apply to? What are the reasons other students don’t choose your institution? Armed with your true competitive set, communication can be better tailored to the people you want to attract.
3. Be heard.
If you’re not telling the market about your organization, others might – and you may not like what they have to say. Or, you’ll leave it up to the market to decipher who you are. Their perception is their reality, and it might not match yours. Broadcast your message in a way that makes sense for your audience. You may have said it before, but in the crowded higher education market, messages need to be consistently communicated.
4. Be holistic.
When it comes to integrated marketing, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Understanding how your institution looks to a prospective student throughout their decision process (i.e., web search through campus visit) can improve their experience and help with resource allocation. With the long time horizon for education decisions, are you reaching prospective students in a consistent way at each stage of their decision-making process? What are all the ways your institution communicates with its target market? How does each contribute to the story you want to tell? Looking at the whole picture, can resources be reallocated to cut costs or strengthen an important area?
5. Be targeted.
Your message and your presence should be focused. Time and again, the more tailored the message and its placement, the better the results. You want to be where your target audience is, with a message that will resonate with them. Trying to appeal to aspiring marine biologists? Find out where they are, what they read and what websites they frequent - and have a presence there just for them. Broad marketing campaigns can be helpful for creating general awareness, and positive results can be achieved when coupled with targeted messages that reach smaller, more specific groups.
In what ways have you tackled the “M-word?”