June 30, 2010

Branding Challenges for an Education Enterprise

Privatization of higher education in India has presented a challenge for the brand pundits & the business owners alike. How do we identify a brand promise and equity so that customer loyalty & brand image can be created? Several large education providers have increased their media spend to get greater share of voice, heart & mind. But most of them end up promising almost same equity. Therefore the challenge is to achieve differentiation based on certain deliverables of great value to the customer & provides a certain barrier for the competition.

Higher education ‘brands’ in India suffer from regional weakness that is completely out of sync with the global reality. Therefore majority of the brands advertise for their assumed local footprint without factoring in a pan India appeal.  Strangely the education sector in India has been allowed to work as a not-for-profit business therefore its formal corporatization has not happened with intensity. Certainly most organsiations in education service sector operate for profit motive only. This leads to overt presentation of organization as a charity/trust aiming to promote a socio-religious cause & covertly looking to create wealth by all means.

I am amazed at the kind of names one comes across in this sector. You have institutes named after gods & goddess, castes, persons etc, there are very few such organizations that have neutral names. Education open minds & promotes new thinking challenging the existing world view but still lots of organizations in this trade operate under traditional names.

Most of the brands in this sector swear by the following characteristics:
1.       Years in operation
2.       Size of campus
3.       International relations
4.       Faculty quality
5.       Number of courses
6.       Affiliations
7.       Placements

Therefore we have institutes after institutes advertising about their placement record, Size of campus, number of students on campus and/or leadership. How does a student benefit in her/his studies if there are thousand more students in the campus? How many students can the IIMs boast of?

During PG level & professional studies students focus intensely on the study ignoring their sporting & other recreational activities. So how could a large campus be a magnet for a student? If you build your institute around the personality of one individual promoter how could you satisfy diverse group of students with one single personality?

Higher education brands must keep secular names to appeal wider audience. Such brands must develop equity in a particular academic field and discipline to create top branding. There is opportunity to associate with a glamorous sport to create image. You would do well by promoting values like team work as against promoting leaders. Higher education organizations must look for new identity in order to keep continuous interest of student.

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