As said in previous articles, your aim as an entrepreneur is to own a specific niche.
By owning a specific niche, I mean you are in a position of leadership in that particular category; your goal is the automatic association in your prospect’s mind as the solution to a peculiar need he happens to have in his life.
Let’s consider from this perspective the case of the most prestigious business schools in the US.
They are all business schools, right?
Thus, how can a single business school be a leader in the market when the entire niche is owned by Harvard Business School and Stanford Business School?
How can a single business school compete against the history of these two schools?
How can they be considered a valuable investment in spite of not being the two best business schools in the country?
The average marketing manager (which we do not aim to be) would propose increasing the marketing budget, which is the advertising budget, and making up an attractive, entertaining advertising campaign.
What they wouldn’t consider is that the best business schools in the world are perceived as the best based on these three criteria:
As a consequence, someone who aims to join a top tier business school doesn’t choose the school based on a fun advertising campaign.
He or she chooses that school because of the credentials they will get as a result:
Someone who achieves something that very few others achieve.
What some universities do to increase their value in terms of perception and exclusivity is publicise the total number of applications received versus the number of applicants accepted.
Thus, if you have a degree from a school that only accepts one in six applicants, you must be very good at what you do; and this allows me, as a well established company with indisputable credentials, to hire you by being willing to pay more than I would pay another recent graduate with your same degree of knowledge who did not study in a top tier, highly selective university.
Top tier universities, indeed, convey the perception of selecting the very best students around, in spite of a big distortion in their recruiting process: an applicant might be more than qualified to get in but may lack the money to pay the tuition.
This distortion benefits the students who enroll, as they are all guaranteed to make valuable connections there that will open many doors for them in the future. This is the undeniable power of the network.
Sending out CVs is for the poor.
Networking is for the rich.
Let’s get back to the top tier business schools in the US now.
How do they compete with Harvard and Stanford?
Well, they have discovered that the best way to compete with Harvard and Stanford is not competing directly.
Indeed, the top tier business schools in the US have differentiated themselves from anyone else by representing excellence in a particular business specialisation.
Let’s have a list to clarify:
Those universities understood a basic principle:
If you can't be first in a category, you can be first in a new category.
You can't be first in the category “business school”?
Then try being first in a new category like “business school specialising in finance.”
As Al Ries states multiple times, BEING FIRST equals BEING BEST.
BEING FIRST puts you in the undeniable position of LEADERSHIP, and leadership is what you want to protect.
However, when I say “BEING FIRST” I am not arguing first in the time, but FIRST IN THE MIND.
You must be first in the mind of your prospect when a solution to a specific problem is needed.
How can your brand positioning be the FIRST?
By spending unlimited money in advertising to promote your proposition?
Of course not.
This is not the function of advertising at all.
The function of advertising is to defend the brand positioning of your company in order to protect it from fierce competition and to prevent your competitors from jumping into the position of leadership that you wish to represent.
MONEY FLOWS WHERE LEADERSHIP GOES.
Indeed, sometimes leadership in a specific niche isn’t that clear and is always contended.
And you can’t protect with advertising what you do not already possess.
In a temporary scale, the first step to be taken in order to build your brand positioning as a leader isn’t using massive advertising but creating an unstoppable, ruthless PR campaign.
As very well written by Al and Laura Ries in their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, advertising lacks a key feature that PR allows you to have: CREDIBILITY.
I’ll give you an example.
If I go door-to-door ringing the bell of 100 people to tell them that I am the cleverest person in the city, the number of people who will believe me is near zero, while most will think I am psychologically unwell.
But if the school I attend gives me a scholarship for being the best student of the year, or if the mayor of the city gives me an award as the smartest person in the entire city, the chance that at least 50 of the people I was supposed to ring would believe that I am actually the most clever guy increases.
Advertising is mostly an auto-celebration that doesn’t have the legitimacy that third-party endorsements provide.
The belief (and so the perception) that top tier business schools accept only one out of five students becomes an endorsement for the quality of the university itself, because the demand for that university exceeds the available spots.
Becoming a student in a top tier business school positively affects the outcome of your investment in terms of salary: the brand of the institution becomes a third party endorsement for the quality of your personal brand.
Indeed, that top tier university where only one in five applicants gets accepted has properly selected you.
Thus, having studied in the best business school specialising in that particular business sector conveys the perception that you must also be the best in what you do, since you have had the best education in that field.
I know, the job market doesn’t work like that anymore, but I am describing a factual trend.
How can a business school become the best in its degree of specialization?
By conveying the perception of being the best.
The first standard in conveying this perception is represented by the criteria to be met in order to appear among the best in the rankings. University rankings are like Google’s algorithm: your ranking depends on how trustworthy and authoritative your content seems to be.
The second standard in conveying this perception is represented by the initial salary that entrepreneurs are willing to pay to your graduates: if it is the highest in the market, then the perception will prevail that you are the absolute best at what you do.
The third standard in conveying this perception is represented by the amount of quality research you produce on a yearly basis and how it is positioned within the market. Do your researchers get quoted and shared in the business and academia environment?
The fourth standard in conveying this perception is represented by the authority of your professors and researchers. The higher the perceived value and level of influence of your academic partners, the higher the perceived value of your institution.
The fifth standard in conveying this perception is represented by the tuition fees your students are willing to pay in order to be educated within your institution.
The sixth and last standard in conveying this perception in being the best is represented by the background of your students: what do their parents do? Answering this question increases the value perception of your academia as the degree and quality of network and sponsorships widen even more.
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Founder and Managing Director at POWER BRAND. PR that Sells for Startups and SMEs,
How to turn your content into a PR advocate
Why you should write a book from a PR perspective
How to use PR to disqualify your competition
How to get media coverage by giving the media what they want
Brand Positioning. Broadcast PR. Brand domination.