During the winter break, I found more time to read lots of books and magazines. Let me share one headline that stuck with me. "Average is Over." It's the title of economist Tyler Cowen's book about the future of our economy. But beyond the title of this book, this theme was prevalent in many of the books and articles I read. Competition is intensifying across all product and service categories, and product cycles are decreasing. Higher education is no exception to that increased competitive environment. And you, the admissions and marketing departments, stand at the forefront of that competition for qualified and motivated students.
You know from your own experience about the increased competition among the U.S. colleges and universities domestically, but global competition for international students has increased among the English speaking academic markets and increased competition from non-English speaking markets. The chart from the agent barometer shows that U.S. schools still have a competitive edge and are desirable but international students and their parents have many choices.
(Source: ICEF-iGraduate Agent Barometer 2013)
He emphasized five areas for brands:
- Differentiation - What makes your brand unique?
- Relevance - How meaningful is this difference is to the people who matter?
- Esteem - How well regarded is your brand in the market place?
- Knowledge - How well do consumers know and understand your brand?
- Energy - How dynamic is your brand in its ability to adapt and evolve?
I love that he added the element of energy to the list. I think that all these areas matter for university brands but the dynamic aspect of a university brand is rarely considered from my perspective. I admit that I am not a huge fan of our focus on sports in U.S. academia ---maybe it's my European upbringing and education -- but there is no doubt that athletics add energy to an academic brand like little else.
Yet, internationally that athletics do little for you unless you are trying to recruit specific athletes. Academics, rankings, student and career services and strong word of mouth networks are the drivers.
By the way, we know that your brand does not (just) depend on your admissions department; quite the opposite, in fact. Every touch point, academics, housing, food, fellow students, alumni relations are part of your continuous branding and evolution of your brand. That's why campus internationalization or international student recruitment requires the whole campus and not just a department commitment.