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Kid tested, mother approved

How much does what other institutions do influence the decision making process where you work? I mean, we know how much it can affect other industries like retail or other marketing intensive businesses like athletic shoes or cars.

But what about higher ed? I know we’re plugged in — or at least, try to be — to our target audiences, but what about to the competitors and reacting to what they’re doing. It’s one thing to put your name on a college’s mailing list to see their marketing materials, but is simply picking the “best” ideas off of other places. After all, why work harder when you can work smarter or implement an idea better than another place does.

What happens though, when an entire institutional strategy is based off of doing nothing but following the competition?

  1. “Admissions espionage” is something that takes place at every conference and trade show, to some degree. As places of higher education, colleges are all about creating innovation and sharing the results. So, you should expect others to be looking at what you are doing, and vise versa.

    However, as Flip points out, that can’t be the only path. Again, as hotbeds of thought and innovation, schools should certainly be well aware of their value proposition and excel at promoting it to their target audiences.

    Perhaps the difference is that understanding how the message is delivered is something to learn from other schools but the creation of your own message has to come from within. A ‘forged’ identity and message is not likely to serve your institution well.

    ..my 2 cents..

  2. “What happens though, when an entire institutional strategy is based off of doing nothing but following the competition?”

    My first response was, “Well, your institution ends up looking just like all the others — so why would anybody choose you?”

    But that’s a facile answer and not very helpful. I actually think there are nuances behind the question that need exploring.

    Every institution has its own style, character, values, campus atmosphere, strengths in particular academic disciplines… These are the (some of) the factors that distinguish us and attract students and staff to apply here instead of there.

    Awareness of those distinguishing features is very strong at my university. Nevertheless, when developing an institutional strategy earlier this year, my colleagues and I were often asked, “What are other universities doing in Area X?”

    After hearing this question several times, I finally realised that it’s (at least partly) about understanding the expectations of our students, staff, alumni and other stakeholders. If they see the same thing happening at three other universities, they will quite naturally expect that thing to happen at our university too.

    If that expectation is about a basic level of service or quality, then it’s reasonable for us to try and meet it. If that expectation doesn’t match what we see as our distinguishing features, then we might instead try to manage that expectation — that is, communicate with our target audiences about why we don’t do what everyone else does.

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