Have you differentiated your institution enough? Strengthen your audience engagement with these 15 tips

By Reimaginers founder Melissa Pepers

Differentiation is an essential business strategy for institutions. It allows you to stand out from the competition and ultimately increase student enrolment. With business design, you can maximise the opportunities to connect with your audience on The Good Universities Guide, The Good Schools Guide and/or Studies in Australia while standing out in an environment with many competing providers.

However, how do you differentiate your institution? What strategies should you use to engage your target audiences? In this article, futurist business designer Melissa Pepers of Reimaginers shares her top 15 tips that education providers can use to strengthen their audience engagement — through business design — and thus achieve differentiation in today’s competitive online environment.

Design a better future

Tip 1: The power of an alignment plan for your institution

Create an internal manifesto and formal process for how differentiation decisions will be meaningfully applied to all aspects of your institution. This will help you establish a clear business strategy for differentiating yourself from competitors in the market. It’s also important to consider how your target audiences will respond to these decisions, as this will guide your approach. Analyse the current business environment and the needs of your target audience for a best practice plan.

Tip 2: How to develop a future-focused strategy

To be a thought leader and stand out among competitors, your institution must take an innovative path to connect to your audience. Designing the future of education is the first step in this journey. Brainstorm with leaders on what this should look like, why it matters and work with The Good Universities Guide or The Good Schools Guide to gain insight into the issues that are important to your target audience.

Tip 3: Uniting for success: Bringing together stakeholders for a stronger business future

By considering all key stakeholders, it’s possible to create a future in education that is worth caring about. This means crafting a shared vision that takes into account the needs of all participants in the educational system: administrators, faculties, parents and/or students and alumni. Imagine the fit between customer, market and idea in a Venn diagram. People tend to focus on just one of the circles, maybe two, whereas the best ideas usually answer needs and take advantage of opportunities from all three areas.

It’s at the intersection of customer needs, marketplace movements and unique ideas that lead to innovations people want to pay to access. From this vision emerges common threads that bind the individual goals together, forming an overarching mission that everyone can be excited by. That means more student enrolments!

A venn diagram with purple circles that represent customer, market and business, intersecting in the middle. It's sitting against a black starry background.

Close the gap

Tip 4: Bridging the gap: Examining the divide

Examining the divide between a current state of operations and a desired future position is essential for successful progress. Obstacles that hinder progress can arise from common aspects of an institution that lack differentiation. This leaves management unprepared to enact change. It also leaves students or parents who are ready to engage with a better way disappointed. Overcoming the challenges that lie in this divide helps define your path to a new way of operating.

Tip 5: Small steps, big changes: The power of incremental adjustments

To effectively transition to this new and exciting future, incremental implementation is key. Small changes can make a big impact when it comes to how to connect to your audience, as well as instilling trust in the institution. To ensure long-term success and growth, an institution should consider what must be removed, altered or started from the existing educational system. This can range from outdated learning methods to processes that create unnecessary obstacles for engaging students and/or parents. By taking initiative to innovate current procedures, an institution has the potential to make a significant impact on student enrolment and wider audience engagement.

Tip 6: Leading the way: How early rewards demonstrate your institution’s commitment to positive change

Taking a stand and showing the world your commitment to ushering in positive change is a great way to demonstrate your institution’s progressive vision. Engaging in new initiatives or forming meaningful partnerships can create powerful public representation of your intent, allowing you to quickly differentiate from other providers. Using existing resources such as The Good Universities Guide or The Good Schools Guide is an effective way to keep your audience informed on any developments, ensuring that everyone is aware of your institution’s progressive efforts.

Two women sitting at a table. One wearing a blue jumper with a rainbow and the outline of a cloud on the top right. The other a black top. They're smiling as they talk about the opportunity in presenting their institution's commitments through the Good Schools Guide.

Differentiate yourself

Tip 7: Designing for your audience: How to stand in their shoes and create a better product

To be successful and differentiated, organisations must understand the expectations and desires of their audience. The plan must be varied to meet these needs, and the audience must be actively engaged in the planning process to close the gap between the provider you want to become, and the provider they need you to become. This ensures your position is different and profitable.

Tip 8: From insights to innovation: Turning insights into trade secrets

Pushing boundaries is essential to achieving great success, and having a unique position isn’t enough — a differentiated strategy must be implemented in order to maintain and develop it. If your focus was on being the fastest at executing your vision, identify which particular quality of speed is the most important to you and use it as a metric to measure and improve upon. Translating the above insights into capabilities and developing strategic initiatives to continually bring them to life is a key way to turn your unique ideas into a trade secret that can be difficult for others to replicate. This is how you create an advantage no one else can touch — and secure success for the future.

Tip 9: Journey to the future: Time travelling your business strategy

Time travel with a pioneering perspective is an exciting way to bring about the future. Your institution is the most relevant and trusted guide when it comes to learning about this topic. Imagine the headlines that could be written about you in a newspaper from the future — wild, amazing and captivating! Engaging parents and/or students to create these headlines themselves can make for an even more meaningful experience for everyone involved. The Good Universities Guide and The Good Schools Guide allow you to:

A table of 5 people. All looking at the computer screen in the middle of the table. Three have their laptops open. They're talking about the importance of a logical unique position that says something different about an organisation.

How to connect with your audience

Tip 10: Win hearts and minds: The power of appealing to logic

Crafting a compelling claim about your current position and future ambitions that is rooted in logic and backed by real-world results is an effective way to establish yourself within the niche you’re striving to occupy. This overall goal should be encapsulated in a unique position that no other institute could say about themselves, and this should rightly underpin any engagement strategies implemented in audience communications. This way, parents and/or students will appreciate that their provider is fulfilling its promise of offering them a unique educational experience. By including this claim in your profile on The Good Universities Guide, Studies in Australia and/or The Good Schools Guide, you can connect to your audience and easily establish yourself as an industry leader.

Tip 11: From rational to relatable: Using emotional positioning in your marketing

To effectively engage an audience, you must understand which emotions may be causing them to feel resistance or unease about their current circumstances. By understanding the emotional elements that may be causing discomfort, you can tailor your approach and adjust how you interact with them in a way that acknowledges these feelings and helps build trust. Additionally, it’s important to understand which emotions are particularly attractive and motivating in order to craft a message that resonates with the audience in their current circumstances. Branding can be used to tap into these emotions by giving a face or identity to the innovation, further shaping how your audience feels about your organisation.

Tip 12: Stay relevant: Updating your communications for today’s audience

Realise your efforts with tangible results. To do this, you need a bridge between your upgraded business thinking and operations, and the new generation of thinkers you’ll be impacting. Updated marketing is essential here and the most critical but overlooked area of growth is paid communications. Sponsored content is essential in reaching new minds with your message at the scale you need for new students. It’s most typical to be in front of many thousands of new students to get one enrolment, and sponsored content is the best way to do that. Powerful first impressions lead to powerful results. The Good Universities Guide, The Good Schools Guide and Studies in Australia have the capacity to evolve a message across multiple touchpoints. Pique student interest in an exclusive email before capturing their hearts and imaginations in an inspiring blog post.

Two people sitting at a table doing a high-five. The male has a blue collared shirt on with blue striped tie. The woman is donning a white collared shirt underneath a navy blue blazer. They both look excited talking about updated marketing communications. On the table there are two glasses of coffee, an open laptop and a bunch of paper.

How to become a thought leader

Tip 13: Create room for progress: Making space for continued growth

Pioneers are often faced with imposter syndrome — the feeling of being an unworthy fraud despite one’s professional success. When replacing existing systems, however, it’s important to not be afraid to dismantle them to make way for your own innovations and solutions. For any institution that wants to remain a thought-leader in their industry, carving out regular time for management to chip away at new innovations is essential. This should be done on a monthly basis to ensure that fresh ideas are regularly being developed and implemented. Such sessions can help create new solutions that not only facilitate progress but also keep the organisation at the forefront of change and innovation in your field.

Tip 14: Simplify your strategy: The power of a one-page business plan

Having a clear, concise guide about your organisation’s differentiation is essential for quickly and easily briefing potential partners and furthering your cause. This guide should identify precisely what makes your school, university, RTO or TAFE unique, as well as what it isn’t, so that anyone who reads it can quickly grasp the key points of differentiation. A one-page format is ideal for this purpose, as it makes the information easily digestible and enables people to familiarise themselves with your mission in just a few minutes.

A woman with black long hair sitting at the head of a round table with two other people. She's talking about organisation differentiation to the person on her left and making a hand gesture. She has an open blank page in her notebook in front of her, with a pen in her hand. Behind her is another table with chairs, where two women are sitting.

Tip 15: Maximise your institution’s potential with a professional business designer

Working with a business design expert is a valuable asset to any organisation, as they’re able to guide you through the process in a proven way. Expert guidance through the process helps you to save time, as it’s much faster than trying to create your own solution. Getting it right the first time can help you make sure that all of your goals are achieved in the most efficient and productive manner possible. My online business design program Turning Points will take your ambitions from blue sky thinking to real world action in an appealingly fast and affordable system.

Seizing vs. Seeing opportunities: Understanding the crucial difference

The business world is full of opportunities, but it’s up to you to take the initiative and make something happen. To ensure that your institution stands out from the competition, it’s important to take initiative and create a strong strategy. This includes leveraging differentiation and engaging audiences quickly to cement the future of your institution and be a significant player in the future of education.

What steps will you take today to ensure that your school, university, RTO or TAFE is engaging students and/or parents and stands out from the competition?