High Tech firms have learned that well-positioned brands—those with a powerful, emotional point of differentiation—generate more leads in a crowded, rapidly changing marketplace.
The High Tech field, like Higher Ed, is characterized by a plethora of competing products and services, all claiming to provide solutions to customers’ needs. In the case of High Tech, the claims are often about processing information—doing it faster, more efficiently, with greater precision. For Higher Ed, the claims aren’t much different—most schools claim to improve students’ ability to analyze information, think critically and find answers to key questions. What High Tech marketers have learned is that purchase decisions, even for seemingly left-brained products, are never made on purely rational grounds—there’s almost always a strong emotional need, and the best way to connect with prospects is to focus communications around emotional benefits.
Rapid changes in the High Tech world make this emotional positioning even more important—rational claims of “first”, “fastest” or “largest” are quickly overturned by the next wave of innovation. Because Higher Ed’s most important target—High School students—live lives immersed in digital change, they’re naturally skeptical of these superlative claims. Add growing concern for the cost of a college education to the fact that every school seems to do well on some ranking, and you can see why these claims don’t do much to differentiate one school from another, or generate good leads.
High School students live lives immersed in digital change, and are naturally skeptical of superlative claims.
If emotional branding works well for High Tech, it will only work better for Higher Ed, where students’ choice of school has impact not for a few years, but throughout life.
Think you’d like to put some of this High Tech learning into practice for your school? Here are five steps to follow that will help you find the right brand positioning and use it effectively in communications.
Focus your research on satisfied buyers—your most successful alumni.
High Tech firms have found the best brand insight comes from their most satisfied customers. Finding out what they like and how they compared brands before purchase can be much more useful than talking to a wide range of prospects. Same with Higher Ed—you’ll find recent grads who are doing well in their careers will be able to tell the benefit of their experience, and how it’s helping them in life.
To get at your brand essence, talk to the people who design your product—innovative teachers, coaches, staff.
In the world of High Tech—where products change rapidly—engineers are critical to identifying elements of product design that are central to brand positioning. In Higher Ed—where change can sometimes seem glacial—it’s easy to look at faculty and staff as impediments to marketing. But find the innovators—those who are pushing for change—and you’ll find people who’ve thought long and hard about your school’s DNA. They can help you identify core strengths as well as positive changes that project your brand into the future.
Keep it simple.
High Tech firms have learned that it’s easy for a company to rattle off a long list of attributes, but the longer the list, the harder it is for prospects to see what makes that company different from competitors. Successful High tech marketers pick one core attribute and focus the lion’s share of their messages around it. You should too. In a field with 4,000+ institutions of higher learning, a clear and simple positioning will help you stand out from the crowd.
Design your communications to work like a friendly sales call.
Personal connections in High Tech are key to nurturing and closing prospects. Successful firms have found that the best marketing communications are inviting and personal as well. The same personal dynamic is at play in Admissions. Want to connect with prospects? Drop the institution speak. Be casual, not formal. Replace “we” with “you.” Address your audiences as individuals.
Show don’t tell.
Go to any good High Tech website, and you’ll find three prominent features: a video showing you how their products work; testimonials from customers on what these products have done for them; and an offer of a demo or free short-term trial. Why these three? High Tech firms have found that prospects would rather learn for themselves than wade through detailed product spec sheets or read formal white papers. Higher Ed communications work the same way: save the lecture for the classroom—videos, photos, stories are much more effective ways of connecting your brand with prospects than long text descriptions.
If you’re new to Higher Ed and want help introducing your school to new approaches to branding and communications, or if you’ve been in the field for years and think it’s time for change, give us a call—with experience in both fields, we’ve been able to bring High Tech best practices to Higher Ed with great results.