How to stand out from the crowd in the business school market

23 November 2015
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Last week it blew a gale and rained a lot in Manchester. But on the upper floors of the Hilton hotel it wasn’t the weather that was getting people excited: it was the collective reaction of some 200 business school leaders to the just published Government Green Paper on the future of the higher education sector and the proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in particular. While it is hard to disagree with the sentiment behind the proposals – the Government hopes to reward excellent teaching with reputational and financial incentives – the concern is that it will result in an unnecessarily bureaucratic exercise and ultimately an increase in fees.
At the Chartered Association of Business Schools’ (CABS) annual conference Deans and senior management teams from across the UK’s business schools gathered to debate the wider range of pressing issues affecting the HE sector. Breakout sessions provided plenty of opportunity to access the latest trends, analysis and insights into business school strategy. While the standard of teaching is undoubtedly an important issue – and will remain so while the value for money debate still rages – a recent CABS membership survey revealed that the second biggest challenge facing business schools is their ability to differentiate themselves from other institutions. It’s seen as a bigger challenge than recruiting and retaining staff; bigger than engaging with business; bigger than attracting international students, eclipsed only by their concerns over research funding.

SERIOUS was invited to lead a session on this topic and presented to a capacity audience. Faced with the commercial reality that business schools are having to market themselves, they were keen to learn more about the importance of differentiation and how to achieve it.

Packed with examples, our presentation was divided into three sections:

  1. How to create your brand (POSITIONING and IDENTITY)
  2. How to differentiate your brand (MARKETING)
  3. How to up your game (DISRUPTION)

Of course, all this hard work amounts to wasted money and wallpaper unless your people are aligned behind your brand, so there is a big question of leadership and organisational culture to consider too.

Deans and their senior management teams have a responsibility to overcome obstacles – be they academic, political or financial – and work collaboratively to make sure that they deliver the promises they make to their students at every stage, at every level, across every department.

Delivered consistently, a brand shapes consumers’ perceptions and expectations. A successful brand celebrates personality, honours values and embodies the spirit of the subject that it represents.
You can see our presentation here and if you’d like to discuss how you might differentiate yourself from your competitors we’d love to talk to you.

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