Communicating the brand of an education institute
While there is a trend of high-powered advertising by some education institutes, all promotions have generally been low key, especially for institutes that cater to basic and professional education. Why is that? It probably stems from the basic values associated with an education institute. The underlying values upholding this sentiment are the views that educationists are “sacred” and “selfless” in the mould of the “Guru-Shishya” values. At Vertebrand we have had the opportunity of advising several such institutes and in each case the basic principle of the communication strategy, as it emerged remained the same – that an Institute is not expected to ‘indulge’ in high powered advertising and often it is seen as expression of weakness’ for the institute. Exceptions do exist as it does.
While there is a new trend of high-powered advertising by some education institutes like 11 PM and Amity University, generally all promotions have generally been low key especially for institutes that cater to basic and professional education. Why is that?
The following table 1 summarises the kind of communication that is ‘accepted’ for the various categories of institutes. It is evident that creating a brand is thus a ‘long-haul’ for the institute, except for the finishing type category like Vocational and Tutorial.
|Accepted communication style: ATL/ BTL||Exceptions|
|College: Basic Education||Local/Regional||Courseware change|
NIIT is an unique position of being able to straddle between a professional and vocational category, at least when it started. It has however now moved into the professional group and accordingly its communication style has also changed reflecting its current status. So how does the institute communicate the brand? In Vertebrand we have had the opportunity in assisting several, and in this paper we take a case of one of them to demonstrate how it can be done. For obvious reasons the identity of the institute is masked.
The institute, based out of North India, was established several years ago when it saw an opportunity to train students from the lower income strata, and who did not have the necessary qualifications to enter into engineering colleges. At the time of inception, the institute chose to move into the space as a professional college, rather than a vocational institute like an ITI, although it was tempting to do so from the point of view of turnover, cost and other factors that make the institute financially viable. The students were the ones passing out high-school. It was aware of the paying capacity of the students, and to address the same, it arranged for student loans from banks. Further over time, to supplement its income, and to attract right kind of teachers, the institute also started a small company that produced quality products, and the shop floor became an effective training ground for the students. The institute trained students to be excellent shop floor workers, able to work on the latest machines. It had tied up with the local engineering companies for placement. The institute never advertised and depended upon the word of mouth promotion. Placement was never an issue as the companies swore by the quality of the students. In the recent times a slow but perceptible trend emerged. One, the number of students who applied to the institute showed a slight decline and two, the number of students who needed to be placed in the institute’s commercial venture started signs of increasing. What it appeared at first, that the commercial venture was more viable than the institute. However later it was a realization that in-fact the growth in the student intake was more to do with the very slow decline of intake by the commercial establishments they have been feeding to. The institute believed that they had a brand problem and turned to Vertebrand to suggest what they should do and how to communicate.
Solving the communication problem
While we spent considerable time to isolate the real reasons, the end recommendation on communication was primarily around the basic sensitivities of the institute. The fundamentals we deduced were as follows:
1. To retain its focus of the brand as a professional institute and not dilute the respectability it had earned over the years.
2. Increase the footprint of area from where it gets its students. Increasing trend is for students, who are in the income category relevant for the institute, are looking to get placements in call centres. They opt to do quick call centre courses.
3. Increase the footprint of the area for student placements. The industries in the current footprint are in the decline for increasing the manufacturing facilities. They are instead increasing the outsourcing of components hitherto manufactured in their own facilities.
4. The communication plan was to address the core expectations:
a. Career opportunities
b. Further education opportunities
5. The communication needed to be more in the nature of endorsements rather than direct advertisement. For the kind of institute, the direct message was advertising would be detrimental to the image of the institute as a place for learning and career building.
6. The communication strategy was to use seminars in schools with the speakers who are alumni and the HR department of companies. The institute would only answer questions regarding course details, hostel facilities, facilities for women students and similar relevant questions. The audience would have to be the students and the parents.
Our communication strategy was to let the benefactors do the ‘promotion’ of the institute, rather than the institute itself, while the focus remained on the administrative details, as is expected by the parents. In this process the brand of the institute re-created among a wider audience of students. The brand was “A place where you get the right knowledge to become useful to society and you are able to enjoy a better life”. The entire promotion activity was done on a one-on-one basis through the seminars.
The institute achieved good success through these measures and retained its ‘brand’ values.