The VPM Blog

Are There Luxury Brands in Higher Ed?

Posted by Don Crow on Jun 18, 2014 4:00:51 AM

This week I was forced to upgrade to a new smartphone. I won’t make this an Android vs Apple debate, but I will say that I stayed with the little green alien of Google fame.

In my research of a replacement smartphone the number one question asked was however, “iPhone or everything else?”

And since we opine about the current and future state of Higher Ed here at Verge Pipe Media, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the smartphone wars and the war for student talent across America’s campuses.

So if you’re considering College, is the question, “Ivy league or everything else?”

If you are looking for an elite out of box experience, a lifetime of networking and open doors, and a feeling of belonging to a select group, then it’s Ivy or Bust.

If however, you’re looking for something else, and ‘else’ is a combination of variables that range from affordable, to location, to campus life, to average student loan debt at graduation, then you’re going to further segment the remaining brands that fall out after the Ivy League.

If you follow my comparison, the Ivy League provides the iPhone experience (although ‘select group’ is unquestionably larger than average). Android provides the everything else. You can get more features, larger screen size, better cameras, more everything with many of the available Android smartphones on the market. And yet, a cursory glance around our office reveals I’m the only Android user in attendance. Aside from asking myself, “Can be in my future?” it demonstrates the power that Higher Ed still holds in producing a lifetime feeling of belonging.

Belonging is a powerful leveraging when it comes to purchasing.

Here at Auburn, we’re confronted daily with mentions of the, ‘Auburn Family.’ It transcends Athletics and extends into every manner of degree and even into the employees (many of whom aren’t AU Alumni). Other Universities around the country take a similar approach with, “Nation” being a popular term to describe the fan base + friends + parents + Alumni.

So how do you position your University as the luxury alternative without sacrificing brand value?

Scarcity – cap your enrollment or further force the exclusivity of your University by limited enrollment to a select background or test scores. Once again, I cite Auburn since they’re in our backyard: within the last 10 years AU decided to cap total enrollment at 25,000. As a result, test scores of incoming freshmen continues to rise, producing more pressure on the enrollment process.

Leadership – make a bold statement and back it up. Something like, “our graduates are in the workforce within 30 days of graduation.” Granted, no one is going to say that, but I think you get the point.

Groundbreaking (combine Scarcity and Leadership) – create a degree program no one else has. Give it a cool name and make it inter-disciplinary and promote the relationship building and outside the classroom experience that is guaranteed to all those who are brave enough to make the leap. I love seeing degree programs which combine a more traditional study with elements of environmental sustainability, business acumen, and interpersonal relationships (soft skills, gasp!).

Price – yes, I am going there. In spite of all the criticism and amped up conversation about the rising cost of a college degree, raising your price is still a great way to say to the world, ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford us.’ Just look at the crop of small, liberal arts schools who have been following this model for 100 years. NOTE: I cannot be held responsible if your Alumni base gets disenfranchised and your endowment starts resembling the account balance of an English major who isn’t a teacher (yes, there are folks who make less than teachers).

In summary, it is possible to be the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the world of everything else. Knowing there are luxury brands in Higher Ed just lends credit to the fact that there are brands across Higher Ed. Understanding where your University fits within the brand discussion is the first step in moving it into a niche within the crowded brand space.

Topics: higher ed

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