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Gabe the Pug

QUESTION: Higher ed is a crowded marketplace and all the universities are starting to sound alike! Do you have any advice for brand managers on how to differentiate their schools?

ANSWER: Well, stop sounding so much alike, for one! D’uh!

My four Puglets are headed to college. I’m so proud of my first litter, brilliant little tykes! How am I going to afford four sets of tuitions? That’s what happens with multiples, but I digress. Which college to go to is a tough choice for a kid and a parent to make, especially a pugnacious one (imagine me, only cuter and multiplied times four).

We’ve been looking through the stack of viewbooks that we’ve received. I mean, we’ve gotten so many, even if the pups dogpile on top of each other, the stack is still higher. But the worst part and the real bone I have to pick with college materials is that they all sound the same.

We try to get a sense of what each institution is really like, but it’s hard when everyone uses the same exact words…almost in the same way. I feel like I’ve read the following paragraph in just about every viewbook: “At Utopian University, hands-on opportunities engage students through course work, research and internships, and small classes promote faculty-student interaction.”

And then there’s the jargon…I call it “educationese”: – words and phrases that are used over and over and that have started to lose their meaning:

  • real-world
  • transformational
  • engaged learning
  • hands-on learning
  • global perspective
  • multicultural experience
  • internationally-known faculty
  • your future
  • student centered
  • big school. small feel
  • the right fit
  • you belong here
  • going places
  • start here. go anywhere
  • discover the (your college name here) difference!
  • success starts here

Sheesh, that list was hard to even read through. I understand these are words you live and breathe on your campuses – they’re some weird, native language. But potential students can’t tell the difference between you and your competitors. The repetitive language makes everyone seem the same. Ask yourself this, What makes you different?

Even those colleges that talk about “the Jane Doe College difference” usually mention the same words – small classes, challenging academics, personal attention… I know, I know. I’m in the marketing biz. Differentiating is tough! However, it can still get done.

Figure out what makes your college unique and describe it. Look at it from a student’s point of view. If you want them to apply, let them know what makes you different from the other schools. That’s ultimately what you want right? Set yourself apart! D’uh!

Hard to believe that I am going to do this, but I want to end on a positive note. I want to give a bark-out to college marketers who are getting away from educationese and find fresh ways to articulate these concepts based on the college’s brand personality. Here are some fresh phrases that have stayed with me from the stack of viewbooks:

  • active landscape – great way to talk about community
  • classroom without borders – students get to study abroad
  • get a backstage pass – another way to talk about getting a campus tour
  • built for the modern mind – memorable way to get at the idea of innovation in teaching, research, technology, etc.
  • gray matters – a way to talk about academics
  • learning with a real twist – great play on words and getting at the idea of internships
  • classrooms so life-like you’ll forget you’re in college – way more exciting way to describe real-world experience
  • learning unplugged – fun way to talk about campus activities
  • plug in – great connection to online services and communities

If you really are different than all the other colleges and universities out there, then describe yourself differently. Like me…  I am not just a Pug, I am “The Pugster.”

It’s fresh, gives me a “presence,” and connects with the kids.

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