The word ‘disruptive’ has become more complicated lately. It’s a term that’s long been associated with innovation in our digital commercial landscape. Recently, we’ve been sharply reminded of its original definition, as businesses around the world face the disruption that a global crisis has caused. 

For us in the education industry, the two meanings converge. The pandemic has forced us all to innovate quickly and overcome change to survive. A disrupted world has also upended the status quo of your markets. There are winners and losers, yet the tables could – and probably will – turn again. 

There are no opportunities in global calamity. But there are opportunities in the way we respond to it. There are opportunities in the new technologies, ways of working and new discussions around the future of education that have changed all of our lives. 

Right now, schools in the UK are holding conversations around the right time to reopen. A semblance of normality seems to be somewhere just over the horizon. Disruption, however, is something that will always affect you and your team. Whether it’s disruption from a global crisis, from competitors changing the game or even from dramatic changes within your own institution, your work needs to reflect the changing world you’re in if you’re going to stay relevant as a brand and as an individual. 

We’ve been talking a lot about the positive things universities have been doing during the crisis. This week, we’re taking the opportunity to reflect back on some of the things we’ve discussed and learn new lessons. Think of this as The Brand Education’s Greatest Hits Album!

Remember your history of innovation – Higher Ed as a Virtual Business

“If your institution has been around for some time, you’ll already have a history of making changes to provide the best educational outcomes. Tap into your university’s legacy to enhance your brand communications and reassure students. Remember that if the perceived standard of education falls, your reputation will gradually diminish, enabling other institutions to fill the void. Make sure your brand communications emphasise the fact that you’ve innovated with great success before. It’s vital that both current and prospective students know that their prospects won’t be affected by the change.”

Remembering what we’ve survived to get where we are is a great way to ready ourselves for the challenges to come. Reviewing the communications sent during past crises can also help you to learn from past successes and failures. When things are back to normal, don’t forget to spend time examining your success and failures during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Access changes everything – Higher Ed as a Virtual Business

“As an institution, you need to reflect the world your students will be entering. That means greater access to education for potential students around the world. It also means a larger talent pool, more competition and more networking opportunities. There are also costs, too. Make sure your brand communications capture just how much of an impact these changes are going to have on your target audience. Suddenly, your brand is globally significant.”

None of us can predict the future. Back in December, few of us could have imagined what was around the corner in May 2020. We also can’t predict what new technology or policy could change the world of education forever. We can, however, make educated guesses based on the values of our industry. Access is one of those values that’s never going to go away. Universities will always want to expand their reach, educate more students and do more for the public good. Any tools that allow them to do that are a good bet for the next big industry trend. 

Bring them closer – Digital events for Education

“Students still want to feel connected to their university, no matter how far away they are. Making your institution feel welcoming digitally is a big challenge. However, it’s one that can be solved with time, effort and the right digital tools. Universities that are doing it right make big investments into digital campus tours and virtual classrooms. They’re incredibly important tools that can help make students feel a part of something special. They also help to develop your brand authority. This, in turn, can improve recruitment, retention and overall student success.”

Here at The Brand Education, we spend a lot of time trying to find out what students say to each other about their universities. Unsurprisingly, personal connections to the places and people that make up your university are at the very heart of those conversations. As marketers, it’s our job to help those connections grow. That might mean putting a face to a name, offering authentic insight or making a building feel like home. It’s those feelings that will ultimately sell courses – not statistics and bragging rights.

Quality still rules – Digital events for Education

“For decades, online learning was something of a taboo and often regarded as being sub-par in relation to on-campus education. Events are part of the process of shedding that reputation, showing that the quality of courses you can offer is as high as any on-campus programme. However, bear in mind that your students will be thinking critically when they attend.”

These intangible ideas – quality, connection, innovation – are the heart of great education marketing campaigns. Your success is contingent on the extent to which you can communicate them in an authentic, creative way. Don’t forget, though, that creativity itself is a process with its own rules and requirements. Put in the work and build your creative muscles in order to create campaigns that are truly unique (and disruptive!).

Communication – Key Soft skills in University Marketing

“Everyone has a different way of communicating, so it’s important to be able to speak different workplace languages. Reflect: are people getting what you’re saying? Are you getting what they’re saying? If not, think about how you could come to understand each other. One practical fix is to ensure as many channels of communication are open as possible. One person may prefer formal meetings, another discreet email chains, while others are most at ease over lunch. Be open to all of these and more.”

Your communication skills can never be too good and there are always deeper levels to explore. Our article on communication skills only really touches the surface of what can be achieved when you reach a really advanced level. Advanced ideas like information inequality and content hierarchies can offer insight into why some messages connect and others don’t.In times of disruption, you can improve people’s lives, or even save them, with the right words delivered at the right time. If there’s one skill that will save you in the coming crisis – and there is always a coming crisis – it’s this one.

We hope this piece has helped you put the past few weeks in perspective and got you thinking about the future. Don’t forget that the pace of change in our global society is speeding up, not slowing down. Your institution is relying on you to keep pace and match the twists and turns of the market. Don’t forget that we’re always here to help you do thrive, no matter how the winds change.