Archive for the 'University Brands' Category

Is Apple positioned to disrupt universities?

Monday, November 2nd, 2009


Apple’s relentless pace of innovation has already disrupted the music and mobile phone industries. Given the scope of Apple’s technology development, are universities next in line to be disrupted by Apple’s far-reaching digital platforms?

NOTE: See our updates here and here. The latter discusses the iPad.

A speculative disruption scenario

In this post I’ll sketch a purely speculative disruption scenario suggested by Apple’s current and projected technology innovations. It appears that Apple may soon have a seamless system of hardware, software, services and online infrastructure to become a pivotal player in higher education. As such, Apple itself may become a brand of education.

That said, I have no evidence that Apple might even desire such a role. My hypothesis is simply that such a role might be available to it.

Apple’s potentially disruptive resources

In the field of higher education, Apple’s potentially disruptive resources would include the following:

  1. A method of organizing and managing huge amounts of online content and curricula
  2. A convenient means of delivering educational content and curricula to students
  3. Portable digital devices that students can use for digital textbooks, lectures and course materials (if some speculations are true)
  4. A transaction system for collecting tuition and fees
  5. An administrative system for maintaining student records.

Specific Apple resources would include Apple’s online iTunes University, Apple’s (rumored) forthcoming “iTablet” (for multimedia lectures and textbooks), its online iTunes store for transactions, and its platform of digital services for record keeping.

Apple as disruptor in music, mobile and perhaps publishing

We all know how Apple’s platform innovations disrupted the music industry with iTunes, the iTunes Store and the iPod. Apple subsequently changed the game in mobile communications with the disruptive platform of iPhone and App Store. Publishing may be next on the list if Apple’s rumored “iTablet” turns out to be a superlative e-reader, perhaps optimized for textbooks, and structured within a disruptive platform. Imagine Apple as the world’s default digital publisher, connecting readers with content producers. You may be buying your books, magazines, newspapers, music, movies and videos through iTunes, all downloaded in a few seconds to a spiffy Apple portable device with Apple’s famed ease of use.

For this to happen Apple would need a gigantic new data center—which it just happens to be building. It might suggest a mobile future for iTunes U.

Universities: tradition bound

Let’s now consider universities, those valued institutions whose basic structure and functions have been relatively unchanged for centuries. Are there equal or better ways of imparting high-level learning that don’t require the traditional four-year, classroom-based system of lecture-driven instruction? Is there an alternate means where instruction can be raised to the highest levels of interactive, multimedia learning, perhaps customized to student learning styles, and where costs can be contained, instead of spiraling upwards? And might there be a common digital platform where a university’s teaching and knowledge could be scaled worldwide, opening up massive new markets?

Apple’s foot in the collegiate door

Apple already has a foot in the collegiate door with its iTunes U on the  iTunes Store. (Yes, they’ve put a university in their store.) The iTunes U features steadily growing numbers of  (free) podcasts of complete courses from leading universities, plus many specialty lectures . Currently these are targeted to the iPod and the iPhone.

I’m a real fan of iTunes U. It has gems like this.  In its present form, though, iTunes U wouldn’t seem to have much disruptive potential. It’s mostly audio podcasts, and a lesser number of video podcasts. It’s wonderful that Apple makes it available. It’s a credit to participating universities as a means of expanding their educational outreach, as CNN notes.

Looking downstream, however, the emergence of new (and integrated) Apple technologies might position iTunes U as a potential disruptive force in higher learning.

A disruptive iTunes U scenario

Could Apple transform iTunes U into a global digital university, setting the world’s highest standards for interactive digital learning? Given Apple’s current and forthcoming technologies it may be possible to reposition higher learning from institutions of place (ye olde universities)  to an integrated system (and network) of instruction. This could be a system of online education orchestrated and operated by a central source, so that the learning modules could be of consistently high quality and be available anywhere, anytime, on convenient portable devices.

Apple’s potential partners in a distributed model of learning

How would this new digital model of learning be organized? It would need a core technology partner, and the closest company to fits that bill is probably Apple. It would need university partners, perhaps a gold list of the top 25 universities from around the world. Together they would offer premium (paid) curricula and courses downloadable via iTunes U.

Course materials (lectures, textbooks, exams, study guides, reference materials, etc.) would be optimized for the (rumored) Apple iTablet/e-reader.  Assuming that the Apple e-reader is an interactive device capable of web graphics, text, animations, movies, links, etc., these new courses would stand to be far more compelling than their classroom ancestors. They would also be much more engaging than the current podcast model.

An iTunes U disruption package

Here, then, is a hypothetical iTunes U disruption package, conceivably purchased from the iTunes U store for use on Apple’s “iTablet” (as speculated).

  1. Digital textbooks (designed as multimedia/interactive books)
  2. Digital lectures(designed as multimedia/interactive presentations)
  3. Digital course materials (movies, music, art, etc.) outboard of online textbooks or lectures
  4. Online student discussions, group exercises, team collaboration and uploads
  5. Sign-ups, downloaded materials, fees and tuition paid via the iTunes U store.

As a student, you’d visit iTunes U, chose your course or courses, pay the fees, and download everything to your portable device. No lines. No waiting. No “semesters.” Order a logo sweatshirt, and you’re good to go. This may cost less, deliver more learning, and be far more convenient than attending a traditional university.



A university makes a money-back guarantee

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Guarantees play important roles in commercial brands, but do they have any role to play in university brands? A new guarantee at Stanford University raises some important issues.

Enjoy the game—or your money back

Stanford is making brand history of a somewhat controversial kind. In order to fill seats at home football games, the University’s athletic department is offering fans a “Gridiron Guarantee.” If fans don’t enjoy the games at Stanford Stadium, they can get their money back.

That’s right: it’s a money-back guarantee from one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Giving football fans “their money’s worth”

Let’s review some background on the Stanford guarantee. Several years ago Stanford replaced its ancient 85,000-seat stadium with a modern 55,000 seat facility, thanks to $100 million from donors. While the new stadium is more compact and comfortable, it has yet to have a sell out. In this same time frame, prior to the 2008 season, the Stanford football team had a losing record of 10-25, with many defeats at home.

From the San Francisco Chronicle

When you’ve won two home games in the last two years, a money-back-guarantee might seem a little risky.

The Stanford athletics marketing department has little choice but to take a big chance and hope that the payoff finally comes – first on the football field and then, maybe, in the stands of its sparkling but half-empty stadium.

The deal works like this: New season-ticket and new “Family Plan” buyers can ask for the “Gridiron Guarantee,” and if unsatisfied with the “entertainment value” at season’s end, the cost of the season tickets will be refunded.

“It’s good motivation for us, but that motivation is already there,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We definitely want to give fans their money’s worth.”

A guarantee can change a university’s core identity

University brands typically operate in a realm above commercial guarantees. The concern with any sub-tier “guarantee” is that it can change the core identity of a university brand, tipping it from a traditional brand of collegial culture and learning—where commercial guarantees are irrelevant—toward a “buyer-seller” brand of commercial transactions, where hot deals and promotional promises are the name of the game.

A guarantee can alter a university’s brand context

At first glance, Stanford’s Gridiron Guarantee seems innocent enough, and it has some carefully-crafted limitations. Nonetheless, it points toward some new contexts for the Stanford brand. As it’s currently framed, the Guarantee implies that Stanford is now a brand of “entertainment value.” This puts the University in the same brand boat as ESPN, or even Vegas. Is that where it wants to be?

Moreover, at least one Stanford team is now obligated to give fans “their money’s worth.” That seems an odd mission for unpaid athletes ostensibly imbued with Stanford’s traditional identity and values. (The football coach doesn’t need the Guarantee to motivate the team; it’s an external obligation. As his quote in the Chronicle indicates, the team’s motivation to win “is already there.”)

A slippery slope toward more “guarantees”

The first “guarantee” made by a university, however innocent, may set a precedent. It may set the university on a slippery slope toward more guarantees—with no end in sight.

Where might Stanford’s Gridiron Guarantee take the core Stanford brand? If a Gridiron Guarantee is on the table, perhaps other performance guarantees are in order. Might parents ask for a “Commencement Guarantee:” a money-back guarantee if their sons or daughters didn’t “enjoy” their Stanford experience, or somehow didn’t “receive their money’s worth?” Similarly, would there be a “Donor’s Guarantee” to insure that funded developments perform as expected?

Why position Stanford athletes as “entertainers?”

The Gridiron Guarantee states: “If at the end of the season you do not feel that you received your entertainment value for the ticket, Stanford Athletics will refund the price paid for the season ticket.”

From a brand perspective, one might ask why the Gridiron Guarantee positions Stanford football players as “entertainers”—as if they’re the Rockettes with cleats. Does the football team exist to put on a show? Is that why the players risk serious injury during months of practice and in league games? Is “entertainment” their charter? Isn’t there a higher purpose behind the concept of athletics at Stanford? Are the players given athletic scholarships or entertainment scholarships?

A healthy university brand shouldn’t need guarantees

If a university brand is healthy, “guarantees” shouldn’t be necessary. The brand itself should have the wherewithal to sustain the campus and its relationship with the community. This includes everything the campus and the community create together, such as a fan base.

It’s worth noting, however, that a brand that lacks confidence can project its insecurities outward. As one sports columnist noted, with reference to what he called the “daffy” Stanford guarantee:

If you buy a ticket knowing you could get your money back if and/or when you are disappointed, you are being rewarded for either your lack of faith, or the team’s.

An attendance problem—or a brand problem?

Ideally, the Stanford football team would win most of its games and Stanford Stadium would be deliriously packed. There’d be no “guarantees” needed.

Until the new football coach can make that happen (not impossible: the man has energy and imagination) Stanford has a need to fill seats at home games. A sports marketing approach would typically view this as an “attendance problem,” to be solved with promotions, and maybe something inspired like a “Gridiron Guarantee.”

As noted above, that approach, however well-intentioned, may actually work against the University’s brand.

A brand approach

A brand approach would aim to solve the problem at the strategy level instead of at the promotion level. It would ask if the lack of attendance might be a sign of a deeper brand problem, where the full value of Stanford is not being developed and articulated. The goal would be to create a higher platform of attendance to sustain the team through thick and thin.

A brand approach would ask questions like these:

  1. Is the brand identity where it should be?
  2. Is the correct brand model being employed?
  3. Does the brand leverage its platform strengths?
  4. Is the brand culture sufficiently inclusive and expansive?
  5. Does the brand create the kind of student/alumni that the University needs?
Photo: maveric2003 — Flickr

Notes on “university brands”

Monday, September 8th, 2008

What follows are some of my notes on “university brands.” These are preliminary thoughts as I’m working through various ideas and concepts on the subject.

I’ll be adding to this post, or changing it, as time goes on. Comments and suggestions are welcome, as always.

Should we use the phrase “university brand?”

I go back and forth on this question. I’m not totally sold on the phrase “university brand”—even though I use it. Part of me says that universities really don’t need “brands”—certainly not in the commercial sense. Universities just need clear and coherent expressions of themselves. As it is, universities are largely “self-branding.” They’re co-creations of faculty, students, alumni, community and their own histories.

The last thing universities need is “branding” advice that’s more appropriate to a strip mall. Universities are a special form of culture. They’re brands of culture rather than brands of commerce.

Maybe we should just say “university” instead of “university brand.” The concept of “university” is pretty universal to begin with.

That said, there’s a lot universities can learn from the concept of “brand,” mainly because much of what we call “brands” today was invented by universities hundreds of years ago. A university that understands brands has a better understanding of its potential value streams, and its future.

A recap: what is a brand?

Brands are methods of creating personal, social, intellectual and moral value. Think of them as company potential X customer potential. They’re collaborative efforts, proactive co-creations that result in more freedoms for participants.

The above definition sounds pretty much like a university, does it not? In many respects, universities are brand models for others to imitate. Why do so many businesses call their facilities “campuses?”

What can a “university brand” do that a “university” can’t?

Well, nothing, really—if the university totally has its act together. (Not all universities do.) A “university brand” is a method that enables a university to create new forms of value. It opens a university to more of the world; it enables the university to initiate and to innovate in ways that the “old” university probably would have ignored.

Great brand ideas can come from faculty, students, administrators, alumni and the community.

What about strategy?

A university brand will have a strong strategic component. This will be aimed at adding new value to enable the university to be more, and to do more, in years ahead. Brand strategy = value strategy.

Universities as brands of collegial learning

One way to view “university brands” is to say that universities are brands of collegial learning. Thus, the difference between two universities lies in their approaches to learning. But there’s obviously more to it than this. A class at Cal or UCLA may be essentially the same, but the “brands” of these two schools are different. Superficially different? Essentially different?

The strategy of place

A university is also a brand of place. Campus = four years of “brand experience.”  What is the brand strategy during these four most formative years?

What’s the appropriate brand model for a university?

The conventional brand model—where a brand is fashioned as a stylized sales stimulant—is rarely the right model for universities. It’s unilateral, superficial and too dependent on advertising.

A standard marketing approach to building a university brand, in which the “brand” is defined as a package of symbols, slogans, values and images to be communicated to students, alumni and others is not enough. The “brand” is not an idea or an “image” to be sold.

Brands are programs to get things done. They lead by example.

The problem with many university brands is lack of intensity, not lack of “essence”.

A university brand model would include: a collaborative culture that’s collegial, exploratory, innovative, questioning and proactive, with a focus on shared freedoms rather than top-down doctrine. It would be a joint venture of discovery. A “way” rather than a “thing.” The commencement exponential.

What makes university brands uniquely powerful?

What makes university brands uniquely powerful is that they’re structures of culture rather than structures of commerce. They’ve existed as “brands” in this context since the first universities were founded in Europe in the middle ages. Those institutions had unique identities, traditions, communities, customs, rituals, a special context of place and mission, a social life and an intellectual life, and they imparted all of these elements into their students, who went forth into the world so “branded”—and proud of it.

Universities are brand platforms

Certainly true. University strategies are platform strategies.

Universities and personal brand applications

Big potential here. Cf:  personal brand applications. Esp. Google, and Chrome.

Universities are context machines

Certainly true. Universities can generate multiple layers of meaning, for multiple publics. These can support multiple value streams, even sub-brands, some quite potent. Can be life-defining. The end of the “4-year college.”

The difference between university brands and commercial brands:

  • You can be a “Harvard Man” for about $200,000
  • You can be an “Aqua Velva Man” for $3.25

Which is the better deal?

Photo:  Richard Peat — Wikimedia Commons