Owning the Brand Promise: Higher Education, Mega Corporations, and Mom & Pops

What do small fine arts colleges in the outer ring of the London suburbs have in common with global brands like Marriott and Toyota? Just like the big players, schools like Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance have to define and communicate their brand promise in a crowded marketplace.

Just like large and small businesses competing against each other with the latest and greatest products, higher education institutions in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) world are trying to find their niche and voice in online learning. I recently attended the eLearning 2.0 conference in London, and this was a major theme. The attendees from schools both large and small were wrestling with the issue of how to differentiate themselves both in their local markets and globally. The keynote speaker, Steven Warburton from the University of Surrey, talked about the need for institutions to begin to look outward from their core, and start to explore market realities and strategic partnerships if they are going to survive.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Look beyond your core products and offerings and explore what your customer base (or students) are really asking for. Or, how can you move beyond your comfort zone to solve the problems that potential customers have that they may not even know about?

So what would that mean for a school like Rose Bruford? Do a Google search on “online opera degree.” A number one Google ranking is something marketers work day after day to achieve, tweaking one strategy after the other. And Rose Bruford has that enviable position without even trying! It would not take much for Bruford to refine their marketing message to talk about being the “only” or “oldest” or “most experienced” or “innovative” online opera degree program in the world. A thoughtful buy of Google keywords would help put their ad in front of opera buffs and students worldwide. The possibilities are endless!

Or look at Edge Hill University in northwest England. While their main landing page focuses on the student experience at the physical campus, the school has an online learning star hiding in the English department. There are two huge value propositions here for Edge Hill: they know what they are doing when it comes to online education, and they teach Vampire Fictions (!). Both of these are great lead-ins to positioning themselves in the online education marketplace as both experts and content providers, something any business would love to claim.

The challenge, then, for small businesses, major corporations, and higher education institutions alike, is to find their Vampire Fiction experts and make sure that when fans Google their specialty topic, they achieve Bruford-level results success. Every penny you spend on SEO and SEM marketing should work toward building that brand identity. And supporting it with quality landing page content.

Content Marketing Specialist at eCornell
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