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3-steps to develop student preference (and stand out from your competitors)

I want to reassure you that I am a huge advocate for student-centered communication development as it ensures the communication is relevant and engaging, but sometimes focussing on one thing leads us to take our eye off another.

Consider the 10 social media ads from 10 different institutions below;

I don’t mean to pick on anyone here, all of the ads were served to me after making a few Google searches about business courses. They all look professional and in isolation appeal to a prospective student considering PG study to improve their career prospects.

But at the same time, they all look very similar. It’s hard to say (just from the ads) that any one of these options would be better for the student than another and that’s a problem.

Ultimately a higher education institution wants to generate student preference for studying at their institution. Being relevant and engaging isn’t enough if your target market prefers to study at a different institution.

So as well as considering what our target students care about the most, we also need to recognise what our competitors are known for, so we can ensure we develop a message that is relevant, engaging, and preferred by the target students.

To develop a preferred message we still start with defining what the student cares about the most, then focus on what our competitors are known for before finally identifying what we do best that is important to our target market and better than our competitors to develop the message that will drive preference.


So as well as considering what our target students care about the most, we also need to recognize what our competitors are known for so we can ensure we develop a message that is relevant, engaging, and preferred by the target students.

Then prioritize what the target market hopes to gain from their study and identify their attitudes and behaviors when deciding where to study.

Identify how the target market goes about making their decision: who do they consult? What questions do they ask?

Finally, identify how the target market likes to communicate about studying. How does this vary throughout their journey to enrollment?.

By this point, you should have a solid insight into your target market (and how they are similar and different to other target markets).


Who else does your target market consider when they are assessing if you are the right choice for them? Are they local competitors, national or international? Prioritize the most substitutable institutions.

How are these competitors perceived by the target students (and agents if the target market lives off-shore)? What are they known for? What are their strengths in relation to the course or area of the institution you are marketing?


Starting with the prioritized list of target student interests, what do you do well that meets their needs? Of these, what do you do better than your competitors?


Don’t focus on the things students care about, but that your competitors do (or are perceived to do) better than you in your communication, (but consider these areas for improving your product and service in the future). Your competitor will no doubt focus here and you can’t beat them, so best to focus somewhere else.

Don’t focus on the things you and your competitors do well, but the student doesn’t care about it. They aren’t relevant and won’t drive preference.


Focus on the issues students care about the most that match the areas that you are better at than your competitors to drive student preference for your institution. You should now be able to confidently answer the question; “why will students choose to study at our institution in preference to all other institutions?” in a way that is still student-centered, but now benefits from focussing on a clear competitive advantage.

NB: while this approach applies to all stages of the prospective student journey, it’s worth noting that student needs change as they progress along their journey towards enrolling and the messages should change from lead acquisition to conversion activity.

Hopefully, this approach proves useful, if you’d like to discuss it further please contact me, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

At MacMorgan we help institutions develop a student-centered approach to growth. If you'd like to find out more about our unique approach, please click here for more information.

Click here for the previous week's blogs.

John Chatterton

+61432 906 790


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