Differentiation. You can be different.


29 Oct 2018

Penna Education, Higher Education

Differentiation. You can be different.

We can’t claim this as an original thought. Michael Porter’s generic strategy framework tells us that to achieve competitive advantage, we must choose between cost leadership, focus, or differentiation.  Given that most of the 140+ universities offer similar courses and charge the same fees, then the third choice – differentiation – is the obvious way to go.

But then there’s a problem.  Most of those universities also have similar strategies, purposes and target audiences.  As a result, it’s difficult to find something unique on which to build your marketing campaigns. A quick look at the current crop of university adverts shows lots of generic or bland messages which are rarely original.

However, have faith.  Your university is different.  Our experience has shown that there are always differences, and each institution has something unique to offer.  I remember a conversation over five years ago with the AMBA team who tour business schools to carry out reaccreditation visits.  When I asked about the challenges of marketing an MBA when there were lots of other business schools doing the same thing, they were adamant that all the schools they visited were so different.  By visiting schools, meeting the staff and students, assessing their content, teaching and support, meant they could make objective comparisons between them.  As a result, they had a clear sense of the schools’ different identities and market positioning.

The same is true of your applicants when they visit university open days.  Open days are an effective marketing tool. An applicant who has visited an open day is more likely to enrol than someone who didn’t.  This is because they leave your open day with a much clearer sense of who you are, what you do and how you do it.  They have a clearer picture of your university.  That’s why open days are so helpful in an applicant’s decision making process.

Given this, we’d argue that there are differences and that you do have something unique.  It’s just sometimes hard to identify what it is, especially when you work for an institution and that’s the only one you know.  However, if you are struggling to identify your difference, then rest assured that there are people out there who have already done it for you; not least of which are your students and applicants. So sometimes all you need to do is ask them.

Once you’ve got your positioning clear, then the final challenge awaits; developing a plan that allows you to share this difference across all of your marketing activity, including your advertising.  


If you’d like to know more, then please contact rachel.killian@penna.com