University Business - September 2008 - (Page 47)

MARKETING Strategic Differentiation Part one of a two-part column on institutional competition By Robert A. Sevier DEFINITION OF STRATEGY that centers around the idea of “more”—we will serve more students, offer more programs, and be in more places—is highly likely to fail. Dollars are finite, so doing more will actually decrease quality because tight resources are spread even more thinly. Rather than “more,” consider an understanding of strategy that focuses on the idea of “different.” In this view, the purpose of strategy is to differentiate yourself from your competitors in ways that target audiences will value. Differentiation means that when your competitors zig, you must, as Marty Neumeier suggests in the title of his 2006 best-seller, zag. Instead of offering the same programs as your competitors, you offer either different programs, or the same programs in different ways. “Onliness,” being the only one in your competitor set doing something, is the key to differentiation. The goal of this strategy is to help you differentiate your institution from your true competitors, not from all 3,600 colleges and universities in the United States. The next component of this strategy involves the notion of value. This is pivotal. If you differentiate your institution in ways that audiences don’t care about, you will be overlooked. If you differentiate your institution in ways that audiences do care about, you will be compelling. One of the best strategic moves you can make is to develop a clear sense of who your competitors are. The focus here is on competing for students, but the same tools can be used to define competitors in other area, such as for donors. A If you differentiate your institution in ways that audiences don’t care about, you will be overlooked. In what follows, several experts answer some key questions about how to define a competitor set: • Jeff Bialik, vice president for finance and enrollment management, Dominican University of California • Kenton Pauls, director of enrollment services, North Dakota State University • Greg Carroll, vice president for marketing and public relations, Furman University (S.C.) • Tina Pugel, director of communication, Asbury Theological Seminary (Ky., Fla.) • Jay Blanton, executive director for public relations/marketing, University of Kentucky Why is it important to have a clear sense of who your competitors are? Blanton notes, “The recruitment of undergraduate students is an increasingly competitive process. Young men and women, particularly those with high test scores and GPAs, have a lot of choices. They are sophisticated consumers in the commercial marketplace, and they are increasingly sophisticated consumers in the educational marketplace as well. “Therefore, it’s important for us—as an institution with some high aspirations for improving both the perception and the reality of our quality—to compete more effectively for the best students. You can’t do this without an in-depth understanding of who your competition is,” he adds. Carroll says that knowing your true competition is the first step in differentiation. “Although it doesn’t sound collegial, you need to ‘know your enemy.’ If you don’t understand who you are competing with and what their strengths and weaknesses are, then you can’t begin to differentiate yourself from them.” Pugel says, “Twenty years ago our competition was strictly other seminaries. Today there is a multitude of faithbased universities offering master’s degree programs similar to what Asbury offers. As a result, our list of potential competitors has expanded. It is very important for ATS to focus on differentiating itself from the true competitors—the schools with which we compete most often and to a larger degree.” Pauls says the gathering of competitive intelligence allows North Dakota State to better communicate with its audience by letting the university increase and Robert A. Sevier is a senior vice president at Stamats Communications ( He can be reached at September 2008 | 47

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - September 2008

University Business - September 2008
College Index
Company Index
Advisory Board
Editor's Note
Behind the News
Sense of Place
Human Resources
A Virtual Visit Welcome
Development Directors Speak Out
NACUBO in the Windy City
Facilities Focus
Money Matters
Financial Aid
Endowment Management
What's New
End Note

University Business - September 2008