Where are you in the game of two?
The Australian education sector is quite a crowded place, with 40 universities, hundreds of private schools, and who knows how many private education and training providers to choose from.
But for education marketers, I’d argue those numbers are largely irrelevant: success depends on how well you play the game of two.
A prospective student is not weighing up forty schools or universities. In most cases your genuine prospects will essentially have a shortlist of three.
Why? Because that is about as many genuine alternatives as a typical human mind can process. Think of it as the top three rungs on a ladder.
If you doubt the theory of the ‘choice of two’, consider how we as humans make decisions. We are hard-wired to boil things down to a binary choice of either/or.
As a consequence, most categories over time evolve into ‘the game of two’: Ferrari versus Porsche; Holden versus Ford; Coke versus Pepsi, Liberal versus Labor, Telstra versus Optus…you get the drift.
Now I guess you’re thinking “That’s a great theory, but I have half a dozen major competitors.”
I’d argue you don’t.
Let’s use Victoria, and its eight major universities, as an example.
I’d suggest that, from a consumer perspective, there three very clear games of two, with a leader and a challenger in each:
Leader: Melbourne Uni “the sandstone”
Challenger: Monash “the big one”
Leader: Deakin “the innovative one”
Challenger: LaTrobe “the safe, traditional”
The Tech Uni’s:
Leader: RMIT the “the big CBD tech uni”
Challenger: Swinburne “the smaller creative tech uni”
(Note I did not include Victoria or Federation Universities. It is less immediately obvious where either fit, which is a real positioning challenge for both.)
Being first in mind for something is vital. People understand and respond to the notion of leader and challenger. Both are powerful positions.
And we find things easiest when these choices can be amplified in human terms that we understand. Rebel versus establishment. Traditional versus innovator. Magic versus logic etc.
This is what differentiation is all about.
In the game of two, your job as a marketer is to be clear on who your key competitor is, and know your relative position to them on the ladder.
This is vitally important, as your position will largely determine your communications strategy. Are you the leader, or the challenger?
If you are the leader of your category, then you must act like the leader. Your path to growth is to define and grow your entire category. Leaders must present an inspiring vision.
If you are the challenger, you need to take on the leader and their definition of the category. You need to present your brand as a superior alternative, based on your strengths and their weaknesses. Challengers often promise innovation, transformation or freedom from the status quo.
And if your brand is not a leader or challenger? Then it is back in third place or beyond. It means it is poorly defined, and at best, viewed as an inferior alternative to one of the top two. This is a classic discount or commodity position. Brands like this end up with what is left on the table after the leaders have had their fill.
The urgent task for any education marketer in this situation is to create a new category where you can reposition your brand as a leader a challenger.
So where does your brand sit in the game of two?