Wahida Ashiq from the Great British Mag explains the increasing similarities between higher education and commercial spaces.

Do institutions need to think more like consumer brands? Simply put, yes. Institutions that want to thrive in an increasingly competitive market – where students have more choice than ever before – need to think more like consumer brands.

Like it or not, prospective students are savvy consumers that shop around for the best product and want to align themselves with a brand that embodies their values and gives them a sense of pride and kudos. These purchasing patterns are no different to how they choose a new pair of trainers or a mobile phone. 

The only real difference is when it comes to international students who are also influenced by the reputation, conduct and safety of a country, which does leave institutions at the mercy of external factors, such as Covid-19, and government policies in relation to how welcoming (or not) they are to international students.

However, as dire as the present situation is, it does present the UK with an interesting opportunity to win back and even increase the numbers of international students. Given, the appetite for overseas study is still there but the destinations that will be favoured, in a post pandemic world, are all up for grabs.

One thing firmly on the agenda for all students, that institutions need to be mindful of, is their welfare and wellbeing. In addition, international students are looking for a strong justification for studying overseas. Addressing these concerns is not only vital but it also allows for a meaningful dialogue in a saturated market. 

Now is also the time to reinforce and repeat why the UK is a leading destination for international students but the challenge to overcome is not to sound stale but weave it into a brand message that sounds relevant and modern.

One principle that will help is to remember that not every student is the right student for your institution and success lies in strongly and unapologetically defining your offering and values in a way that you can easily be differentiated from your competitors because consumers want to see authenticity, leadership and passion. 

A brand that embodies this beautifully is Apple. Its innovative attitude has given the world products that were beyond the consumers expectation in every way.

Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple, was quoted as saying “Some people say, give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

In the same way Apple challenged the status quo in an established market, Institutions that want to thrive need to ask if they are the visionary places of the future, that embody the values and experience important to students and staff alike. And once this has been developed and embodied the brand will start becoming a self-fulfilling proficiency.