The following piece was inspired by a conversation I had with Doug Walker, Director of Integrated Marketing and Communications at Washington Adventist University. We were discussing the challenges a smaller institution faces especially in the increasingly competitive world of higher education and what his thoughts were on how they move forward. He put it in such compelling context, I asked him if I could share it with our friends. So, here it is in his own words. Enjoy.
As one school year or fiscal year draws to a close, it’s not too early to start planning for the next. I lead marketing at a small university facing some big competition. See below for the four lessons from the story of David and Goliath I’m thinking about.
Knowledge is Power
David was in the right place at the right time because his father sent him on an errand to deliver a care package to his older brothers and their commanding officer. Having left the food with the quartermaster, he wandered down to the front to pick up the latest buzz.
It’s always good to keep up with the state of play in your industry or market.
You Do You
After accepting Goliath’s challenge to single combat, King Saul offered David his own tunic and armor, which David dutifully donned. After walking around in it a bit, he took it off. It was too big, and he was unaccustomed to it.
Be yourself. Find your niche. As Simon Sinek stresses, “Start with Why.” Be very clear about why you do what you do.
As he descended into the Valley of Elah with slingshot in hand, David stopped at the stream, and selected five smooth stones.
If you’re going to war, go armed and dangerous. That might mean brushing up on a subject you should know, but could know better. It could mean doing more research for an upcoming negotiation. It may be time for that market research you’ve been putting off.
Finally, at the moment of truth, “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.” 1 Sam. 17:48 (NIV)
This is no time to shrink back. Meet your challenges head-on!
Doug Walker is Vice President for Integrated Marketing and Communication at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, MD.
This may seem like a bizarre question. Why ask? Of course, it’s special. No one has the same traditions, or the dedicated faculty and staff that your school does. And, the unique and super-talented students. Of course, you’re special.
But are you really? Let’s try this. Go through these questions and tally how many are “yesses” and how many are “nos.”
- Does your tag line have the word “transform” in it?
- Does the notion of “transform” feature prominently in your main body copy?
- Is there a mention of “mind, body and spirit” in your mission statement?
- Is one of your differentiators the individual attention that your child will receive from faculty and administrators?
- Do you have lots of pictures of students in a science lab or in front of a computer to show that you have STEM programs?
- Do you have pictures of your students showing them involved with the community and volunteering their time to a worthy cause?
- Do you prepare your students for future careers that no one can imagine? Is the word “passion” used more than five (5) times on your website?
If you answered “yes” to more than four of these questions, that is good. All the above are the essential basic ingredients in the world of education. It’s what parents expect when they pay a tuition. It may not have been a decade ago, but, today it is. If it isn’t about the singular focus on their child, their holistic development and preparation for future careers – and all these are worthy aspirations – then you don’t even make the first cut.
But, they alone don’t make you “special.” So, how do you show that your school is “special?”
You need to find out what makes your school unique and different. There are resources and activities that make your school standout to perspective audiences, and there are the things no one can replicate. So, to find out what they are, let’s try this:
Step 1 – Make a list of your competitors and have their websites handy. You’ll need them in a few minutes.
Step 2 – Take a piece of paper and write down all qualities that are unique to your school and that make you stand out. Your list should easily have 20-30 quality attributes. (If you can’t come up with 20 – 30, you either aren’t factoring in all the components of what makes up the experience at your school, or you have a bigger problem).
Step 3 – Now, go back to the websites you looked at earlier and strike out all the attributes that are on your list that they also mention. Once you’ve done this, identify the attributes that you didn’t share with your competitors.
Step 4 – Now, you’ve got to be honest and objective. Are the remaining attributes – the ones no one else had – important or significant to your audiences? If not, then you’ve got work to do. As you can guess, you are too similar to your competitors and when it comes to comparing two products and services that are indistinguishable and similar, price always wins.
Step 5 – If you have a meaningful attribute (or two), then you have to weave this into your marketing and communications. Don’t bury it. You have found a meaningful differentiator, so use it to your advantage.
Promoting an organization, service or product, no matter how noble the mission, in a competitive category requires a focus on what makes the offering special and different and, ergo is a better choice for your audience. It’s not easy to figure out what these meaningful attributes are, but when you find them, they are extremely valuable in setting you apart from the rest of the pack.
If you want to discuss further, you can contact us and we can talk.
A couple of weeks ago, I opened the paper and in the first section were two articles that, frankly, felt like flashbacks to when I was boy. One was about Uber and its driverless car crashing in Texas. The other was about efforts to recruit people to colonize Mars. When I was a kid, I heard about these things…on the Jetsons, Star Trek and Lost in Space. Stories of this nature were called “science fiction.” Today, they are “news.” We are using our voices in our homes to activate our appliances, solving trivia questions and ordering take out. Today, gene therapy is available to many with prior incurable illnesses. Virtual reality is a common place tool for designers and architects – as well as gamers and documentarians. We are watching IBM ads with “Watson” and thinking, “AI – how cute” – unlike Hal. (2001 Space Odyssey reference for the younger folks reading this).
So, what does that mean for you? These are signs that things are going to change again in the world of marketing and communications. We are quickly approaching what many people are pointing to as the next stage of the integration of technology in our lives and workplaces. This evolution will affect our relationship with financial institutions as Bitcoins and Block Chains become more widely accepted forms of asset transfers. We are going to be manufacturing products at home through 3-D printers and this will allow us to customize products without any delays. And, what can’t print at home will be ordered online and delivered to us within hours through a drone or self-driving vehicle.
These changes will affect the notion of customer service. Are you going to be responsible if a 3-D printed product doesn’t “fit?” What about the just-in-time-delivery of products and services for all those who forgot to pick up the basil for their homemade pesto sauce, the screwdriver to finish the DIY bookshelf or the shoes that to go with the dress? Ultimately, the components of your value proposition are going to change. And, they are going to change at a macro level from you controlling the shopping experience and interaction with your brand to the consumer dictating that experience and relationship. The equation is going to change on a micro level. We are going to have to be flexible to meet the needs of our consumers from what the product is and how it is delivered. In a nutshell, flexibility and adaptability are going to be more important ingredients in your value equation.
There is a lot to think about here – especially when it comes to how you evolve your value equation and brand promise among your most important stakeholders. It’s more than re-thinking what search terms to buy or what color your logo needs to be. You will need to engage in a long-term planning process and gather pertinent information. This will give you an idea of what trends affect your specific industry and target audiences. It needs to be thorough and objective, because I promise you will need to address some significant gaps in your current value proposition. It also needs to be put in context of what the world will look like in 3-5 years.
This is isn’t easy stuff. Gazing into a crystal ball and trying to divine the future is a risky proposition. But, it is necessary if you want to position yourself for what lies ahead.
As always, feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to talk further and explore in depth the implications of where the new wave of technology is going to drive your business and organization.