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Brand Differentiation Down The Funnel

November 13, 2012

It’s common to hear marketing consultants complain that there’s a lack of brand differentiation in higher education marketing. “Viewbooks all look and sound alike!” is usually the complaint. Well, in a sense, that’s just way too easy. It seems obvious upon examination. However, the criticism is both right and wrong. Viewbooks do look and sound alike, but that doesn’t necessarily mean universities aren’t positioning themselves uniquely. It’s just happening further down the admissions funnel.

Courtesy of Noel Levitz

In marketing higher education, similarities between institutions are categorical and are obvious at the top of the funnel, whereas the differences are nuances that should become more obvious–by design–as prospects proceed down the funnel.

Thus it’s our job as marketing and admissions leaders to paint a picture of our institution at the top of the funnel that distinguishes us from institutions outside our category, while at the same time communicating our distinctive brand culture–a culture that should be emphasized in multiple ways further down the funnel.

This all sounds rather theoretical, but it’s based on consumer behavior and the college search process. Most applicants proceeding down an admissions funnel have already figured out the general category of institution that will be best for them. Their application for admission is a signal to us that they are ready to further taste the flavor of our institution.

Strategies change as prospective students proceed down the admissions funnel. The battle inside the funnel is brand differentiation within category. As these prospects get further down the funnel, admissions is really all about fit–can they see themselves fitting in on our campus?

This is where admissions counseling, social media, phone calls from faculty, and blog posts by current students come into more significant play. It’s when our communication plan needs to be about helping students figure out if they fit at our university, and understand just how we’re different from the other institutions to which they’ve applied.

Of course, the campus visit is hugely important. It’s when prospective students should experience our campus culture. Perhaps the most prominent voice today on the vital role the campus visit plays in communicating brand culture is Jeff Kallay. Jeff and his work with colleges and universities has been profiled by many publications. His ideas on ways in which an institution can tell its story through the campus visit demonstrate how creative we can become with other tactics. Jeff has made a difference with our campus visit program at Concordia University Irvine.

Of course, campus visits happen at all stages of the funnel because the college search process is not as linear as a funnel implies. Now more than ever, students at all phases of the funnel are looking to get a taste of your institution. So, at the top of the funnel and through every stage of it, you need to be finding ways to communicate your unique student experience. And maybe, just maybe, that will make your viewbook look and sound a little different from your competition.

We’ve done that with our viewbook at Concordia University Irvine, and I’ll be sharing that soon.

See also:

Higher Education Brand Differentiation: The Top of the Funnel

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