Harvard University was founded in 1636 and is the oldest institution of higher learning in America. In the 382 years since, education has been practiced and perceived, more or less, in the same traditional ways…until now. Those in the business of higher education must seriously contemplate how to respond to the disruptive forces at work today. Powered by a number of internal and external factors and accelerated by technology, we are witnessing transformation at key points from how higher educational institutions are populated, considered, positioned, marketed, and offered. Through this disruption, our notions of higher education as educators, consumers and marketers will change radically and will make our own college experiences seem quaintly simple and nostalgic by comparison. The question facing the 6,900 or so accredited institutions in America is simply this: Are you ready? Laying The Groundwork For Disruption Every president, provost, dean, marketing director, admissions director, and alumni director must deal with a growing list of economic, technological and demographic challenges in today’s hyper-competitive higher education landscape. At no other time in history have the challenges facing educators been greater or more complex: Escalating costs and growing concern (and negative publicity) over epidemic student loan debt A new cost-versus-value debate regarding a typical college education Declining graduation rates Declining enrollments for six years running Increased “non-traditional” student enrollments (working, part-time, supporting a family) State universities losing funding Competing on a virtual global scale with the advent of online learning Elevated consumer expectations in service Declines in administrative staff productivity Free speech issues, controversies and politics Scandals involving high profile administrators or coaches Adapting to a rapidly changing demographic student makeup Adapting to a ‘phygital’ world that blends the physical and digital for enhanced engagement Disruptive Responses Are Required Institutions of higher education are discovering that new challenges require radically new solutions, such as new business models, new applications of technology and new marketing strategies that don’t just communicate but connect. Where To Start? Evaluate the leadership. Are they part of the old or part of the new? The brand stewards needed today don’t maintain ideas that no longer contribute to performance and no longer produce results. They know if their institution is committed to maintaining yesterday, no one will be available to create tomorrow. They don’t see disruption as something that is happening to their brand but rather for their brand. They understand that disruption is a place where the new value that is needed for their competitive future is discovered. Learning At A Distance One approach that has grown rapidly over the last 10 years is to take education out of the classroom and onto the Internet. This increases accessibility and enrollments in the face of rising costs. Many colleges and universities have adopted this distance-learning model, commonly known as MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Introduced in 2006, MOOC has proven to be an ideal learning solution for a generation raised on the internet and for those already in the workforce who need the flexibility of time and online collaboration outside the classroom. Early adopters such as Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Tech and Arizona State have not only been successful, but have grown their brand awareness and reputation through its implementation. Another early adopter of online learning, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, boasts a staggering online enrollment of 100,000. Western Governors University has comparable numbers without the support of a physical campus or a sports program. Purdue University is presently launching its “Purdue Global” via a smartly produced national cable TV campaign. These and other institutions are finding that the growth of their brand is not limited by the size of their campus, the number of satellite campuses or the availability of qualified applicants in their market. Their marketplace is now the entire world. Given this new digital world of higher education, brick and mortar schools must consider how best to bring their brands to life online, how to leverage their brand reputation, maintain continuity and compete in a world filling up with rivals. Where To Start? Identify all the ways in which your institution has made compromises with the consumer (for example; the absence of distance-learning) and then break them all so that that consumer gets exactly what he needs and wants. Learning How To Brand Higher education is no longer the sole domain of older teenaged and young 20-year old students. Half the enrollments are over 25 years old. The majority is female. Many work part-time. With demographic disruption come branding implications. For example, many institutions are re-evaluating the perception of their brands and how they are effectively marketing them to remain relevant and desirable to changing demographic and economic needs. Such attention to serious marketing efforts by academic institutions would have been unthinkable and unnecessary just 20 years ago. For example, there is often a lack of brand differentiation, which has become something of an expectation in the category. Higher education’s approach to brand marketing has been rightfully criticized for being slow to adjust to new demands and expectations. Often, there is sameness in the portrayal of individual school brands all vying for the same students. Campus life is often portrayed as a sunny, carefree and Frisbee tossing experience. The problem with this and other formula-driven images and ideas is that they fail to communicate creatively and compellingly what is unique and special about the brand they are attempting to sell. This stems from not defining what makes them unique and compelling in the first place. Given the changing demographics and needs of today’s higher education students, the school brand may appear to be woefully out of touch. Where To Start? Ask, ‘what would the world miss if this institution ceased to exist?’ Build on the value revealed by that answer. If no differentiating value is revealed, it needs to be created. Learning How To Compete By outward appearances, the level of marketing sophistication has increased over the last decade. Non-marketers handling branding and marketing duties have slowly given way to professional talent either in-house or to contracted design studios and agencies. The shift has been noticeable. Ask anyone who follows their favorite college football team televised on fall Saturdays and they will agree that the painfully awkward and poorly produced spots for even the largest universities have given way to slick, creative and production-rich commercials. School sports mascots and uniforms, from very small colleges to major athletic conferences, have gotten professional makeovers worthy of any ESPN coverage. Although expensive, the reliance on sports to compete for awareness and prestige will likely continue even in this age of disruption. College athletics and lucrative TV contracts, along with the Big 3 apparel and equipment brands (Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor) have kept and grown college and university brands into legendary, mythic status among their ardent supporters. According to Statista, college sports sponsorships topped $1.24 billion in the past 12 months, climbing steadily for the last 12 years. Sports programs and television coverage aside, competing in an age of disruption requires a shift for many in how to think about marketing their higher education brand. First, know your marketing partners and their strengths. Before any external communication plan is even considered, think through the brand strategy. It’s work that will require participation and commitment from key stakeholders and a highly facilitated brand positioning process. This initial work is largely in the domain of brand consultancies. Understand that advertising agencies traditionally focus on the execution of creative strategies. That is, they will determine the best marketing vehicle to reach your target audience and will use compelling creative to make a connection and entice a reaction. The best ones are strategic in nature and see tactics as a second step. A brand consultancy traditionally lives by this philosophy: Instead of trying to communicate a brands’ features and benefits, they recommend studying the minds of the target audience first and then try to “position” the brand in the mind, taking advantage of the strengths of the brand and weaknesses of competing brands. Further, they align your institutions unique value with those most important to its future. This process ensures that your brand has selected the most powerful benefits to own and that it has developed the proof points and reasons to believe for those benefits. Where To Start? Evaluate your marketing partners, they are more important now than ever before. Know who you are working with and expect to be involved in defining the strategic direction of your brand. Building A Strong Brand In An Age Of Disruption With times of rapid change come opportunity and advantage for first movers. Schools of higher education, large or small, can have a strong brand in this age of disruption, if they have the strategic intent and infrastructure in place to advance at the pace of change.
Around two years back, the rollout of the new KPN retail mark encounter started. KPN is the biggest telecom and IT administrations supplier in the Netherlands, utilizing around eighteen thousand representatives and working in excess of one hundred stores. The reason that we need to feature this specific new retail mark experience is that it is progressive in the two its client encounter (UX) and client encounter (CX) and in its utilization of innovation. This new idea is as of now satisfying in profits through higher income and enhanced availability between the on the web and disconnected involvement. The least demanding approach to depict why this is the new typical is as per the following: rather than one end to the other racks, cupboards, and POS (purpose of-offer) materials, this store doesn’t have any cupboards or retires on the dividers by any means. The minute you stroll in you start asking yourself, “Well, what’s so extraordinary here?” This is the point at which you see that the majority of the dividers, except for the glass section, comprise of floor-to-roof advanced screens. The usefulness of the screens fluctuates. On a few, you can contact the screens keeping in mind the end goal to design a telephone or contract, and others show marked recordings and important substance. You may think, so what? We quickly begin pondering how this has met up from an authoritative point of view. There are extraordinary possibilities to consider here. Right off the bat, by putting a retail situation with screens (savvy dividers), you nearly dispose of the requirement for conventional shop-fitting. An alternate arrangement of merchants are required so as to make an ordeal like this, which is terrible news for the customary shop-fitting industry. Furthermore, there’s the requirement for nonstop accessibility of applicable substance. Because of the development of new advancements, for example, infrared, Kinect, contact, RFID, and the sky is the limit from there, the prerequisites for content are totally unique in relation to what they used to be in the old retail marking world. Thirdly, envision the effect on sellers, as well as on the organization’s inner set-up. In the same way as other retailers, KPN used to be sorted out to oblige provider and merchant items and administrations. As this world is currently evolving profoundly, it implies that there’s a requirement for retailers to drastically revamp inside with a specific end goal to keep up. A few capacities are disappearing, and different capacities with new prerequisites for various ranges of abilities are being made in their place. In conclusion, the requirement for IT network is not quite the same as what it used to be. It is not any more a matter of IT being utilized just for value-based capacities and security. Presently IT needs to guarantee a consistent trade of information and intelligence on the screens and the numerous functionalities that accompany it. Keeping in mind the end goal to guarantee that the right data is shown in the ideal place at the ideal time, great inner coordination among advertising and IT is significant, where already they had never been this firmly associated.
I as of late went to an extraordinary morning session on methodology at the You Can Now (YCN) here in London. It incorporated some phenomenal understanding from strategists who sit at various phases of their expert lives – James Lees (Sword and Stone) and Jim Carroll (ex-UK Chairman of BBH). Both made some awesome focuses, however the enormous takeaway from the discussion for me was from Jim with respect to ‘influence’, and that a piece of our part as strategists stays to convince. Influence isn’t the most in vogue of brand P-words right now – that respect goes to Purpose. Reason has turned into the expression on each brand strategists lips, yet lamentably this is an expression which I feel has progressed toward becoming commandeered. Having a reason for your image is obviously vital, yet how this is characterized has turned out to be somewhat befuddled. For me, each brand ought to have a reason or desire which they share with their gathering of people. Regardless of whether this is a social reason, for example, limiting plastic waste, or essentially a mutual goal, for example, enhancing your wellness, this can urge individuals to wind up intrigued and included with a brand. (On the off chance that you need to really read some keen written work around mark reason at that point attempt Citizen Brands by Michael Willmott, Beyond Branding by Nicholas Ind and Cannibals with Forks by John Elkington) However, is characterizing a reason for your image basically another approach to induce individuals that they ought to be keen on your image, or need to join your image ‘clan’? I accept there is a peril that we feel that influence is the thing that those Mad Men publicizing executives of the 60s/70s/80s/90s did, and now we need to have ‘discussions’ with our intended interest group on what the brand intends to them. Indeed a brand must be molded around an importance which is imparted to individuals, and brand correspondences should now be two route discussions in some shape (in that we should effectively tune in to what individuals are stating). In any case, as strategists, and critically the general population driving a brand, it is our part to dependably try to move the discussion on and continually look to shape the discussion that is being had. So is a piece of our part still as persuaders? I might not be right here, yet I feel that a considerable lot of the present advertisers view influence as underneath them. Discussing things like brand reason enable us to make our part stable more beneficial, and improve us feel about ourselves, yet is there anything amiss with trying to convince? I shared the subject of influence on LinkedIn as of late and was tested by Merlin Duff (technique expert at Venturethree) regardless of whether we look to induce or impact? Merlin’s outline between the two was that ‘all that we do is about impact yet not really about influence (if by influence we mean inducing individuals to do/think/feel something).’ Although we concurred that there are semantics having an effect on everything here, we discussed the intriguing contrast between the two terms of influence and impact. By and by, I question whether a few strategists, advertisers, and so forth may feel somewhat startled by the prospect that they are urging individuals to do/think/feel something. On the off chance that we are being entrusted by a brand proprietor (regardless of whether as an outer or interior master) to assist them with a particular test for their image, doubtlessly we need to acknowledge that to look to impact isn’t sufficient. We should build mindfulness and connection, yet with a definitive point of empowering wanted activities – which in a general sense is inducing would it say it isn’t? For those Mad Men promotion executives specified already, their devices of influence were the ‘bull horn’ media of publicizing, in its different structures. I trust that the part of influence remains, however the instruments may now be extraordinary. In our arranged world, influence doesn’t need to come specifically from the ‘mouth’ of the association. Harvard Business Review as of late included an article on the part of online associate audits in inducing individuals, finding that it is quite positive surveys that are the most influential. We’ve likewise specified impact, thus can’t discard the ‘influential forces’ of those web based life influencers who appear to be so well known with a few advertisers nowadays. The morals of some internet based life influencers might be faulty, with the ongoing cases of some excellence influencers offering to give negative audits of contender brands for $75k, however the way that they are basically another route by which to induce ought to be certain. In rather adept planning, Tom Roach (Managing Partner BBH London) shared a tweet as of late helping me to remember the, as a matter of fact extremely snappy, thought that it is currently about ‘Influencing things to individuals need’ as opposed to ‘Influencing individuals to need things’. His point was that, in spite of the fact that ‘Influencing things to individuals need’ is vital, we are in threat of overlooking how to ‘Influence individuals to need things’. I concur, in spite of the fact that I don’t trust we can ‘make’ individuals need things, yet without a doubt it is officeholder on us to acknowledge our part as persuaders. We clearly might want our customers or supervisors to surmise that our work is empowering wanted activities, as though they didn’t then our employments would most likely be being referred to. Obviously, on the off chance that we are influencing individuals to draw in with or be occupied with particular brands then I feel that we should trust that there really is some esteem and advantage in the brand to individuals. As the astounding strategist Faris asked in a tweet while talking about this subject, is there ‘a moral limit to influence’?. I say that yes there is, however what is moral to one individual varies to what is moral to another. What we are ready and arranged to try to induce individuals to do, or purchase, or join, or accept, or share in, is an individual choice and ought to be guided by our very own morals.