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The New Business School Marketing Paradigm

Eduvantis often helps schools build high-performing marketing functions that explicitly serve well-defined institutional goals, particular product portfolios and the unique environment in which the institution competes. Intense competition requires this level of precision. After reviewing literally hundreds of institutional marketing functions, I am still surprised how so many operate with little correlation to how purposefully they serve the unique competitive needs of the institution.

The “Traditional”

This is the model we most see. What is called the “marketing department” is actually the “marketing communications and public relations” office. It is often driven by an “outbound communications” culture, rooted in a development mindset. The primary stated goal of this function is “gaining visibility for our brand” or “getting the word out about our quality,” or to create awareness of our “mission” or some other such ambiguously defined objective.

In these cases we find very little evidence of true marketing discipline, few metrics (or the wrong ones) or discernible, measurable results that align with business objectives generally. Other common features include high costs, either overstaffing or understaffing and operational (and often even philosophical) separation from the enrollment management, financial aid and admissions-based lead nurturing (selling) processes.

Common Features:

  • Output characterized by lofty proclamations about “our mission” and “our brand.”
  • Slogans or taglines as a proxy for actual competitive product positioning
  • Misalignment of staff skill sets
  • Little business orientation or discipline
  • Low levels of knowledge capital around technology-enabled marketing
  • Inadequate market research
  • Irrationally high or unrealistically low investments in marketing (or investments in the wrong things)
  • “We make it, you take it” mentality. (This is about us, not you)
  • Function “misunderstood” or under-appreciated by the institutional culture

The “Necessary Today”

In contrast, the high performance marketing function essential to competition today looks very different. It is characterized by a laser-focus on market-facing competition, differentiated program design, positioning and customer experience.

In this view of the world, marketing drives purposeful, analytically-driven, design and differentiation of the institutional offer – at both the more abstract “brand” level and also at the “program selling” level. It has an appropriately-calibrated “business” mentality – meaning a reliance on external marketing data, strict adherence to measurement and accountability, understood ROI models, and a predominant emphasis on driving enrollments and gaining competitive advantage against specifically-defined competitors.

The core emphasis is on producing “business results” that drive institutional financial and competitive success. Data-driven change and continuous improvement is a central attribute.

Common Features:

  • Use of high-quality data is central to decision-making. Necessary investments in its acquisition are made
  • Realism regarding the cost of gaining market share in a competitive environment
  • External orientation – emphasis on buyer mindsets and behaviors (it’s about them and their needs, not about us)
  • Financial accountability and measured ROI is central – more of a business mentality
  • No “sacred cows.” If the results of an activity can’t be measured – or the results don’t warrant the investment of financial and human capital – we don’t do it
  • High standards regarding internal staff performance and competencies, particularly in the digital marketing domain
  • Well-calibrated and managed strategic outsourcing
  • More explicit product positioning – less we’re “changing the world through excellence and transforming lives,” etc. as a proxy for a distinctive product positioning and market-based brand strategy.
  • Fewer “category attributes,” – i.e. a small liberal arts college touting “personal attention.”

Which of these models – or some mix of the two – describes your institution? The answer will play a major role in determining your institution’s long-term sustainability.

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