What Can Higher Education Learn From Liquid Death and Other Brands Positioned in a Sea of Choices? 

Posted: May 8, 2024

Sarah Mullins Marketing Strategist

We’re bombarded with choices at every turn. From toothpaste aisles overflowing with options to the number of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, the sheer volume of choices can be overwhelming. Students face a similar challenge when entering the college landscape. They know high school courses like English and science, but they’re suddenly confronted with dozens of options at the college level. 

Higher ed has so many choices to choose from

Words like undergraduate and bachelor’s degrees are brand new to high school students. So are specialized areas within a field like engineering with electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering. Then there are multiple campuses, a variety of modalities, colleges, schools … The list goes on and on. While higher ed marketers may not be able to reduce the number of options and available programs, they can certainly streamline the decision-making process for students.

Think about the difference between Chipotle vs. The Cheesecake Factory

Aside from the fact that one is more upscale than the other, the experience of choosing your entree at Chipotle versus The Cheesecake Factory is different. At Chipotle, you’re presented with a clear and concise menu offering a limited number of base options (burrito, bowl, or salad) that you can then customize with toppings. The Cheesecake Factory, on the other hand, overwhelms with a 21-page menu overflowing with diverse options, making the decision process significantly more complex. The same principle applies to your university’s messaging. While you want to highlight your unique strengths and offerings, too many can be overwhelming to prospective students. Similar to how a streamlined menu at Chipotle facilitates a smoother decision, clear and concise communication is key to effectively engaging your audience.

We are forced to make dozens of decisions daily

Reflect on the choices you have to make every day. We’re plagued with decisions. Brands that streamline their offerings offer consumers a mental massage by not giving them more to think about. It’s one of the reasons Trader Joe’s is so successful. They have a smaller store and minimal choices. You won’t see 37 pasta sauces at Trader Joe’s. Or how Apple has transcended as a go-to phone option. There’s one iPhone and a few colorways. Athletic Greens and Dollar Shave Club are all examples of brands intentionally reducing decision fatigue and providing consumers with minimal decision making.

… Higher ed isn’t exempt from the decisions

Prospective students are bombarded with information from schools. It’s no longer two or three colleges recruiting the same student. It’s dozens. Through our research here at VisionPoint, we find that many institutions are sending nearly identical emails and brochures explaining why their school should be at the top of students’ lists. 

So … What can higher ed institutions do?

  • Invest in an advanced CRM: CRMs are sophisticated and capture information that students release and voluntarily opt-in to sharing. This helps customize communication and deliver what students are interested in.
  • Take advantage of the data they shared: If a student indicated that they’re interested in the business analytics program at your institution, send them information about the business analytics program. They expect it.
  • Focus on relevant information: If a student has visited campus already, avoid sending them an email to sign up for a campus visit. 
  • Simplify your content: Use clear, concise language and avoid jargon to make information easily digestible. It’s not condescending to bring your content to an eighth-grade reading level, it’s appreciated. Especially when others in a household, such as parents and guardians, are often influencing the prospective student.
  • Create interactive tools: Utilize quizzes or other interactive elements to help students explore their options and discover suitable programs.

If you’re unsure how your brand is positioned in the market or how to set yourself apart from the competition, VisionPoint is an expert in researching higher ed brands, deciphering brand strengths, and developing a brand platform. If you’re interested in learning more about VisionPoint’s approach, get the conversation started by filling out the form below.

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