Welcome to the new normal. With the reality setting in that digital will become a part of the fall and beyond, many are struggling to attract students to their school without the actual campus aspect. Since online classes sterilize the in-person experience and level the playing field, numerous campus leaders have already expressed their concern on how they can foster their campus affinity through the digital layer.
Without an immediate answer for them, I took some time to think about how other industries create online and social affinity for me. Immediately, Apple and Nike popped into mind.
So what makes Apple and Nike different in the market?
It is not their computer or shoes but instead what they stand for. If they solely focused on their products in their message, Apple and Nike would be like any other. Because there are numerous competitors selling electronics or athletic wear, they would get lost in the other advertisements.
Apple’s mission statement is “Bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.”
They are also not the cheapest option, significantly higher actually. However, they have built a followership based on what they stand for: quality through simple design, in order to support your experience. Customers that buy their product know that they are purchasing quality products, and they continue to do so because of the personal connection they receive (‘Why’ statement).
Nike’s mission statement is “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.”
*If you have a body, you are an athlete.
In the higher education market, there is a lot of noise around “the best.” Nike and Apple do not come out and claim best. They let their consumers decide that based on the quality of their products and the accomplishments that people connected to them achieve.
Similarly, the ‘Why’ for schools need to be showcased. The reality is that most students do not choose a college because of “what” you offer: courses, dorms, majors, top faculty. Students want to personally be a part of a community that can inspire and push them towards success. You need to create a connection to WHY they should join and gain affinity to your campus.
Every school should try this 3 Step Campus Affinity strategy exercise in order to reshape your “Why” brand in the market:
- List the reasons that students should choose your campus.
- Do the same for a competing school.
- Cross out the shared ones. The remaining ones under your campus are the WHY answers that you should focus on spotlighting. It is what will uniquely attract prospective students.
You need to unconsciously resonate to your consumers. For all of the struggling schools at this pandemic time, you need to stand for more than the knowledge you disseminate, the best faculty, top rankings, graduation rates, programs you offer and your campus. Instead, represent how your campus will transform someone’s life and develop a sense of community. You need to connect with the human that wants to attend your campus, not the number that they will fill in the institution-centric metrics.
Below are some strategies to foster campus affinity.