Exploring the Brandscape, Part 4: Discoveries from the competitive audit – Standing out in a sea of sameness

Posted on Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 by Debbie Schallock under Competition, Conclusions, Integrated Marketing, Research. Tags: , , ,

When a subcommittee of the IMSC examined 10 schools who are either peers or competitors as part of our audit efforts, we didn’t look at their student recruiting messages with only marketing in mind. We actually posed as parents of potential students to view all of these messages through prospects’ eyes. And we discovered a number of surprising things that have affected what UNCG should do going forward.

Universities do a great job of educating people on a variety of subjects, from history to literature. However, while educating prospective students about how a university is different or unique, we didn’t think a passing grade was in order. Among our top conclusions:

Universities do a poor job of consistently communicating their story to prospective students. Many competitors’ websites don’t resemble their admissions brochures or other messages delivered to the marketplace. The decentralized way the material is created on campus and a lack of governance are among the causes. This inefficiency and fragmentation diminishes effectiveness.

These competitors’ messages, language and even photos closely resemble each other, which inhibits differentiation. Words like “leadership” and “creativity” and “global” are used so often that they lose meaning.

Schools tend to highlight either a “where” strength or a “what” strength. “Where” is when a school highlights their location as their strategic advantage: the beach, the mountains or an urban setting, for example. “What” schools emphasize an area of study: engineering, environmental sciences, international politics; etc.

In the end, universities do a good job of making prospective students’ choices seem more the same than different, which is not an effective message strategy. We concluded that UNCG must find a message that is bigger than “what” or “where.” And the message must be told consistently across all audiences, using language that is distinctive. And that if we do these things, our uniqueness will be a life boat for those trying to navigate this sea of sameness.

By Steve Roberson, Ph.D.

Steve Roberson, Ph.D., is dean of Undergraduate Studies