Does the high street have a future?

Many column inches have been devoted recently to the “death of the high street” following extensive store closures and the demise of major household names such as Toys R Us, House of Fraser, BHS and so on.
Part of the blame has been correctly identified in the growth of on-line shopping, but the solutions proposed (such as cuts to business rates, consolidation of store in viable areas and complaints that on-line retailers should be subject to the same tax and rates regime as bricks and mortar operators) are part of an old business model which needs to be radically changed.
Although high-street retailers have set up their online operations to compete, they still see them as part of an overall business model based around the stores.
They don’t see that on-line shopping and the in-store experience are different models.
For me, the best analogue is the music business which was one of the first sectors to be disrupted by the growth of internet shopping.
The business model was built around selling physical stock in terms of CD’s from high street stores.
As the Internet took hold, with tracks increasingly available to down load at lower and lower costs, retailers reacted by trying to diversify into books, T-shirts and games and competing on price with deep cuts to CD’s which were becoming an increasingly outmoded technology.
Today, high street retailing of music is almost non-existent as HMV hangs on by the skin of its teeth.
The production side of the industry saw their profits eroded by the low prices and low commissions paid by online distributors at the same time as high street retail shrank.
People predicted the demise of the industry as artists and record labels struggled to make money.
Then came a radical re-appraisal.
Music had always been about performance, but the old business model was to use performance to sell physical product i.e. records.
What if the industry went back to its roots and made performance an end in itself, with record sales a by-product rather than an end in itself?
So we have seen huge investment in tours, festivals, the technology of stage production and consequent rise and rise in ticket prices.
Artists and their promoters now make far more money from performances and merchandise than they do from record sales.
They recognised a clear delineation between the listening experience, bought now mainly online, and the performance experience which on-line couldn’t replicate.
Herein lies the lesson for the high street. Instead of tying itself to a business model based around physical infrastructure to sell goods (where even on-line sales are just a virtual dimension to that model), retailers need to follow the example of the music industry and clearly distinguish between the “performance” experience, and selling physical products.
What can they do in-store which can’t be replicated easily on-line? How can they attract customers with experiences, events, tie-ups which they might pay for? In what ways can they replicate the changes to the music business where there had to be a re-alignment from record sales to making money from performance?
Unless the high street retailer is prepared to let go of old thinking in this way, we will continue to see the closure of stores and high-streets turning into ghost towns.

The product – the forgotten dimension of University branding

I have been involved with many conversations about branding with different Universities, most of which revolve around Institutional values and mission and brand architecture/sub-brands. Where the “product” is mentioned, it tends to be at a faculty or course level in a recruitment context rather than as an integral part of the University brand offering – why are we here, what do we offer and why do we offer it?
Kotler’s model of the dimensions of the product is well known and consists of:
Core Benefit – This is the basic level that represents the heart of the product. Here, the focus is on the purpose for which the product is intended. It answers the question ‘What is the buyer really buying?
Tangible Product – The tangible product is the physical product or service offered to consumers. This represents all the characteristics of the product like quality, features, design, brand name, packaging, etc.
Expected Product – Following on from the tangible product, this is a set of attributes and conditions buyers would normally expect when purchasing the product.
Augmented Product – These are additional customer services and benefits such as warranty’s etc. and are very important for a firm operating in a competitive market.
Potential product – finally, this represents how the product could evolve in response to technological changes or changing consumer requirements.
Looking at Universities with this model in mind can help illuminate the nature of the product they offer and how it should underpin any discussions about brand and positioning.
For instance, up until the 1992 education act which transformed the former polytechnics into “New” Universities, Kotler’s model as applied to a University would have said:
The core benefit was about getting a degree as a marker of having achieved a certain level of education, but without necessarily having an expectation or link to getting a specific job (outside areas such as medicine or the Law)
The tangible product was therefore a teaching and learning process leading to a certificate of having achieved that degree, along with the grade achieved. At a time when only about 10% of the population went to University, this was enough to take graduates into good positions with large companies via the so called “milk-round”
The expected product was all about teaching and learning and the facilities to do so. There was relatively little expectation about career content or skills development.
In terms of augmented product, Universities attempted to enhance their offer through sports and learning facilities, access to distinguished academics and networks of alumni.
Finally, the potential product took into account changes to technology in terms of teaching and research, but did not anticipate fundamental changes to the academic model i.e. a three year degree and a follow-on post-graduate qualification.
In this environment “brand” related to Institutional reputation as a whole – a “degree from Oxford” or whatever – was as important as reputation for a specific area of study.
This product model has fundamentally changed over the last 15 years under the impact of fees and needs to be explored within the context of developing an institutional brand strategy.
If we look at Kotler again:
Core benefit – not only about getting a degree as a marker of having achieved a certain level of education, but now also expectations around the degree leading to a specific job or employment opportunities. This has changed the dynamic around what a degree (and therefore the University) is for – it’s about employability
Tangible product – similarly, the tangible product is still about a teaching and learning process leading to a certificate of having achieved a degree, but now also includes a requirement for employer contact, some kind of work experience, and projects
Expected product – Now includes not only Teaching and learning facilities, but work experience built into the course, and academics with experience of industry etc. and links to major employers
Augmented product – under the impact of fees, Universities are looking at ways to augment the product with facilities, new buildings, improved accommodation and also the opportunity to work with employers
Finally, in terms of the potential product, there are discussions about virtual learning, shorter degree courses, degree apprenticeships etc. but the fundamental product has not really changed and is very robust.
What does all this tell us?
It is clear that aspects of the expected and augmented product have moved into the core product. It is not just about the degree but also the need to include work experience, connections to employers and degree courses which meet their needs along with those of the student.
It also brings into question who is the customer for University degrees? There are a number of stakeholders including students who are paying for the product, organisations who are employing graduates and government who are focusing on the skills agenda.
Indeed, the “product” of today’s Universities could be said to be employable graduates, not the degree course per se.
The key issue is that the dynamic of Higher Education has changed such that Universities are now seen as engines of economic development, growth and employability. In many ways, we have gone “back to the future” where Universities are being encouraged by the market and government to adopt a model not dissimilar form the polytechnics i.e. practical degrees and supporting skills and employer engagement leading to graduates well-equipped to enter the world of work.
The post-92 Universities have a remarkable consistency with that vision and they need to recognise that heritage and strength.
Given the potential product now has to include economic, wealth and societal benefits as well as academic achievement, it is clear the delivery of Higher Education has to adapt. The three year degree and post-graduate qualification has been very resilient and resistant to change.
But the future product must take account of employer needs and involvement in content; shorter more focused degrees; virtual learning and the role of technology; a real commitment to degree apprenticeships and different modes of study including sandwich courses.
Should we be talking about 21st century polytechnics?

Personal branding – 5 things to get right to achieve your goals

“To thine own self be true” – Shakespeare

Personal branding is the process of building a unique brand around you as an individual and follows the same concepts as developing a brand around a product or business.

And, just as in business, Personal branding is becoming increasingly important because the complexity of modern life means audiences look to brands they can trust when making decisions.

The importance of trust in today’s brand marketing cannot be over-emphasised.

In addition, branding for individuals and businesses has reached a new level of complexity because of the rise of the Internet. The interplay between the real and the virtual world means you have to think about the need to manage multiple identities consistently.

For instance, employers are increasingly using social media tools in order to vet potential job applicants.

5 things to get right

  1. The elevator pitch

The quote from Shakespeare above means two things – you have to understand who you are and what you do, and then you have to present it authentically and consistently.

One way to do this is to write a personal statement. Think of it like an elevator pitch.

You are in an elevator with a potential client and you have 15 seconds between floors to tell them who you are, what you do, how you can help them.

What would you say?

Think about:

  • Your skills
  • Problems you can solve
  • Who would benefit
  • Your USP – what makes you different?

This is all about your professional reputation, so you need to be critical of yourself and ensure what you offer can be delivered.

  1. The Proposition

Like all good branding statements, you need to sum up your brand in a single phrase or sentence which encapsulates the offer you are making to customers.

There are lots of examples out there, but here’s mine:

I’m Ivor Lawrence and my company is called Underlying Form. I believe passionately in the power of brand strategies to transform companies, connect with their customers and motivate their workforce.

It’s a core to your business – a brand is a promise kept.

I specialise in helping organisations develop strong brands and improve the effectiveness of their marketing activity by focusing on re-discovering their vision

Once you have developed who you are and what you do, you can use the proposition just the same as in branding a product to produce consistent communications and messages and to answer the dreaded first question in any conversation – “Tell me about yourself/ your business”

  1. Start thinking of yourself as a brand

What do you want people to think when they hear your name?

My boss in an advertising agency I worked for called it “The drawer in the mind”. So, when people think about cars or insurance, or plumbers or consultants, they open the drawer in their mind with those headings and ask themselves two questions:

  • Who have I heard of?
  • What do I know about them?

Once you start to think of yourself as a brand, you can start to be more strategic and more creative about how you promote yourself.

You need to audit your existing footprint – what is your online presence? Do you present yourself consistently across platforms?

Do you have a simple on-line profile/web site you can refer people to?

  1. Promote yourself

Think about your audiences, the ways to reach them and the messages you want them to hear.

For instance, LinkedIn is a great networking tool for professionals which enables you to develop a profile, connect with potential clients and promote yourself through blogs and articles.

However, you have to focus on your brand, your audience and your offer otherwise you can end up with a large, unstructured network of acquaintances.

Find ways to produce value by creating content which is useful to people – this article is an example. This is not about selling. This is about sharing your knowledge and showcasing your expertise to build your reputation.

Be thoughtful about what you share and where you share it. Every tweet you send, every blog you publish, every comment you make on other people’s blogs contributes to your personal brand. But this isn’t a negative issue – all these instances are a positive opportunity to present yourself and your ideas widely and consistently.

  1. Walk the talk

 A strong personal brand has a story and a personality as well as skills and experience.

Think about Richard Branson, David Beckham, and Muhammed Ali.

All these people have a skill set which set them apart, but they also have a story and a way of presenting themselves consistent with that story.

Branson is an entrepreneur, an iconoclast and someone who likes to work for the customer and take risks to make things better. This is presented consistently form his business dealings through his personal exploration challenges to the things he writes.

Look at some of the great figures from history and the presentation devices they used to get their message across and present themselves in a memorable way (consistent with their proposition):

  • Churchill with his cigar, two finger salute and bowler hat which immediately said stubbornness, pugnacious, strength and self-belief
  • Ghandi with his simple loin cloth and spinning wheel which portrayed him as a simple man of the people, non-violent, and not swayed by self-enrichment
  • John F Kennedy with his youthful image, glamorous lifestyle and positive vision for the future

These may be extreme examples, but they show the need to think about the image you give people and how it is consistent with what you are offering.

So there you have it. 5 things to think about when it comes to personal branding and how it can help you achieve your goals.

Please visit my web site to find out more about who I am and what I do

www.underlyingform.co.uk

5 step brand strategy template

“Brands exist because they make choice easier, more certain and more rewarding.”

Naomi Klein No Logo

 A brand is the most important asset to any company. A good brand strategy template not only articulates what the company offers and allows clear and consistent messages, it also acts as a rallying point for staff and improves engagement.

The best definition I have seen of a brand  is:

A brand is far more than a logo – it is a promise kept.

Any successful branding process will take a “deep dive” into the organisation and ask some searching questions about what it is and what it does.

There are many different models for developing a brand strategy – my preference is to structure it around the following topics and questions:

Brand Vision

What type of organisation do we want to be? What are we in business for? This is perhaps the most difficult part of the process and is about the “Why”

Why should customers want to engage with you?

In today’s market place, some of the most successful companies are those with a clear value proposition, a raison d’etre. Whether it is Apple with its core values of we want to think differently, challenge convention and work for consumers or Nike everyone can be a hero and achieve their goals, offering customers the  “why” is the most powerful part of your brand strategy

Brand Values

It’s about how we behave and what we hold dear

This is important both to your customers and staff: following on from your vision, the values reflect how you will do things and the way the organisation (and staff) responds to customers.

To go back to the Nike example, their values are about exercise being fun and about everyone reaching their potential or Apple thinking differently and challenging convention.

Virgin values are about fun, Value for Money, challenging convention

So what are the core values in the business which will help deliver your vision?

Brand Positioning

At this stage, we are looking at how we would like customers to feel about us and how can we benefit them. So the next step is to articulate the brand in two parts – brand essence and proposition.

The brand essence takes all the work done so far and articulates in a few words the core of who you are and how you benefit customers.

Think of Nike “everyone can be a hero and achieve their goals” or Virgin “challenge perception”.

This leads to a proposition which is the offer you are making to customers. Think of it as the corner of their mind you want to occupy. When they think of your brand, what immediately comes to mind?

Nike’s proposition is “if you have a body, you’re an athlete”

Virgin’s Proposition is “Don’t just play the game, change it for good”

These simple statements can be given to communications agencies to develop powerful brand messages. Tesco’s proposition “no one tries harder for their customers” led to the incredibly successful “Every little helps”

Brand Strengths

What are the strengths the brand has or will need to deliver the vision?

Here we need to carry out SWOT analysis, look at customer perceptions, carry out competitor audits and examine our operations.

Are we in a position to deliver the brand and the promise we have articulated? What do we need to change or improve in order to do so?

Brand Personality

Only after we have done the previous steps can we turn our attention to the visible brand identity – the feel, tone of voice and corporate identity.

The brand personality concerns the overall image of a business in the minds of its stakeholders and has three  components: Design (logos, colours); Communication (advertising, Public Relations) and behaviours (Personality, Values, Mission )

These need to be based on the proposition and values and presented coherently and consistently.

To sum it all up, I have a simple formula which is credibility+visibility= profitability.

This is the essence of a good brand strategy.

Good luck!

When bad drives out good – reflections on Oxfam

 

The torrid situation at Oxfam has been well documented and played out in the full glare of International media attention.

I don’t want to comment on how Oxfam got into this situation, but rather focus on some of the issues it raises for all organisations.

The first issue is – as the title says above – bad drives out good. No matter how well an organisation performs or the good it has done in the past, when something bad happens that good work carries very little capital.  The good is forgotten and driven out by the bad.

Conversely, the bad stays with them and can take an awfully long time to overcome. It’s called crawl out cost – what is it going to take to get back to a position of trust and investor confidence.

Look at BP. The crisis in the gulf not only brought the company to its knees, but destroyed its reputation and the cost of the clean-up is only one aspect of what will be a long and painful crawl out.

The other day I was in conversation when the subject of Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill came up. I mentioned how powerful I thought it was and asked my colleague if he’d seen it.

“No,” was the reply. “And I’m not going to.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, he wasn’t a very nice man, was he?”

So the perception of Churchill before the war in this person’s mind completely outweighed his success in the war years, even to the extent of not wanting to see a possibly Oscar winning performance.

Another issue raised by the Oxfam story is why do organisations to go off the rails?

My first question is – who/what are these “organisations?” When commentators say on TV that business needs certainty and business won’t be happy with decisions, I wonder where these “businesses” are, what exactly are they?

Margaret Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society” and was criticised for being heartless. But what she meant was that there is no such thing as an amorphous thing called “Society”. When things go wrong, it’s all too easy to say it’s society’s fault but we can’t because there is no such entity.

What she was trying to say is that society is made up of individuals, families and groups and we all have a stake in, and a responsibility for, what happens around us.

It’s the same in organisations.

How many times do outcomes get blamed on “the Organisation” or “The Corporation” as if somehow there is this entity outside human control which is making all the decisions?

Oganisations, like society, are made up of people and the people working there have a responsibility to do the best job they can and improve performance. No one (well, most of us) goes to work to hurt people or to rip people off or to exploit people.

So what happens? In many cases, senior management become remote from the day to day and remote from their work force. They lose sight of what it’s all for, what they are there to do.

They lose sight of their values in the complexity around them, or they start to believe the end justifies the means (such as making a profit).

So the lessons from Oxfam I would recommend to all senior management teams are:

  • Bad drives out good – you can lose your reputation overnight and it takes decades to get it back
  • Organisations don’t exist as separate entities making decisions – people do that and management must take responsibility for decisions good or bad.
  • Values are what make organisations and are the reasons why people want to work there and engage with them. Don’t compromise on your values.
  • And most of all, listen to your staff and your customers – it’s why you are in business.

The limitations of reason – lessons for marketers.

I was reading an article recently in the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert (Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds – New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.) which had some fascinating insights into how people think.

The article quotes a number of experiments at Stanford and elsewhere looking at  how people form their views, the role of peer pressure in their thinking and how reason and evidence don’t always come into the decisions we make.

A number of observations stand out:

Firstly, “Once formed,” the researchers observed, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.” Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted.

Secondly, the article asks us to consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.”

In this experiment, students were asked to respond to two studies about capital punishment. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favour of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.

Thirdly, researchers see an effect which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do

“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” two of the researchers write. “And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views.”

So reason is not what we thought it was. It seems to be much more about our social interactions and social standing than it is about objectivity and factual evidence. It is often about being right in the sense of being able to win an argument, rather than being “right” in terms of objective facts.

People use “reason” to reinforce beliefs and confirm their opinions, and then this bias becomes deep seated and difficult to shift.

There are lessons here for marketers and anyone involved in developing successful brands. For instance, to what extent do we use market research to truly uncover new insights, or to what extent do we use it to confirm existing opinions and prejudices in our marketing strategy?

The experiments also reveal the importance of creating the right “first impression” and to recognise that, once formed, opinions about brands will be difficult to change and information will be filtered depending on how individual consumers perceive them.

It also speaks to the power of social media and confirmation bias when numbers of people come together to agree on a point of view and filter out any conflicting evidence.

People are not as rational as they would like to believe – and that is why Marketing has always been an art, not a science.

Full article:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds/amp?__twitter_impression=true

Who are you? Branding in Higher education

Well, who are you? (who are you? who, who, who, who?)

I really wanna know (who are you? who, who, who, who?)

Tell me, who are you? (who are you? who, who, who, who?)

‘Cause I really wanna know (who are you? who, who, who, who?)

  • Pete Townsend

University marketing has been in the news again recently following the ASA reviewing University advertising and telling some Universities to change their messages to avoid misleading claims.

The majority of challenges have been about University’s messaging on their positions in rankings, awards and comparison tables.

The ASA has now issued guidelines to Universities to provide more robust data and be sure they can back up any claims with solid evidence.

Of course, this brings them into line with the commercial sector and is another example of how Universities are being seen as commercial operations as much as teaching and research institutions.

This brings me to the second interesting development which was the recent report into University branding published recently by SMRS (branding in higher education: an inside view – November 2107)

This report highlighted the importance of branding to senior management given the competitive market and changing external environment.  Apparently, 94% think branding in HE will become more important in the next 3 years and 60% of institutions identified internal understanding of brand as a key challenge.

For me, the most interesting challenge was that Differentiation remains  the top aspect of branding that respondents feel is ‘very important’ to the ongoing success of universities today (60% in 2017 and 57% in 2016) and that internal understanding of the brand is one of the main brand challenges.

What are we to make of all this?

Firstly, Universities are businesses and must look at their marketing and advertising in the same way as any commercial business. It would not be acceptable for a commercial business to claim they were in the “top 10” or “top 1%” or to claim some kind of uniqueness without being able to support it with evidence.

Secondly, it shows Universities are still struggling to articulate a clear proposition which differentiates them in a crowded market. The emphasis University management puts on differentiation in the SMRS report shows this longing for clear blue water.

Finally, the importance of an internal understanding of the brand so that staff and students recognise the importance of delivery to the brand and the customer experience.

Where does this leave us?

It is incredibly hard for Universities to differentiate themselves – they all do research, they all teach, they all work with business etc.

It is also hard for them to say they offer a significantly different or better “product” as commercial companies do – stronger, more powerful, more features, unique technology type claims are very difficult and they can’t really compete on price without an open market.

This is why they are led to making claims about their position in league tables or indices like TEF.

I would argue that it is more important than ever for Universities need to think about the values, the personality and the vision of their brands – why they are there and what they are trying to achieve. This is as important to the staff as it is to prospective clients. These intangibles then need to be backed up with stories illustrating who they are, but these stories need to be evidenced and believable or they will damage the brand.

I have a simple formula which is:

Credibility + visibility = profitability.

Universities need to take a long hard look at who they are, what they do and why they do it and then tell people internally and externally in an engaging and believable way.

There is no easy answer, and sometimes it might have to be the case as with AVIS – we’re number two but we try harder.

University marketing – every little helps

Despite all the awards, NSS scores, TEF evaluations and the millions spent on campus upgrades, the fact is University marketers are selling into a market where the competition either has products that are just as good as theirs or they have products that are perceived by students to be “good enough” in comparison, and choice often comes down to location.

Robert Cooper in his book on product leadership offers these “seven ingredients of a unique, differentiated superior product with real value for the customer”:

  1. Meets customers’ needs better than competitive products.
  2. Is a better-quality product than competitors’ (however the customer defines quality).
  3. Has unique benefits and features for the customer.
  4. Solves customers’ problems with competitive products.
  5. Reduces the customer’s total in-use costs (better value-in-use).
  6. Has highly visible benefits for users.
  7. Is innovative or novel — the first of its kind on the market.

So, if you judge them against these criteria, it’s clear Universities are operating in a market where true differentiation is very difficult (as witnessed by the interchangeability of mission statements, vision statements, key messages and brand values!)

In that sense, Universities are very much like supermarkets who all offer similar product ranges, similar shopping experiences and similar pricing strategies.

So how do we (and they) develop winning marketing strategies in what are basically undifferentiated market sectors?

The first thing is to focus primarily on the customer, not the competition.

It is easy to take your eye off the ball and fall into the trap of becoming defensive and reacting to the competition but it is critical to stay focused on the customer’s needs first and foremost, and then to manage the competitive challenge by asking key questions such as:

  • Who are we competing with and what is the customer’s perception of us versus them?
  • In the eyes of the customer, what are they doing exceptionally well and poorly and why?

The second thing is a focus on the product. Theodore Levitt says there is no such thing as a commodity because “the generic thing is not itself the product; it is merely, as in poker, table stakes; the minimum that is necessary at the outset to give the producer a chance to play the game.”

When the generic product is undifferentiated, the offered product makes the difference in getting customers and the delivered product in keeping them.

To differentiate itself from competitors, a supplier may offer the customer more than he expects – ‘an augmented product’. This could be innovation, product variants, flexibility to tailor products or service to exact customer needs, financing, consultancy services to improve the performance of the customer’s organisation, and many other enhanced benefits.

In other words, the offered product is differentiated, though the generic product is identical.

We all know this – it is marketing 101 on most syllabuses.

But I wanted to restate it, along with Levitt’s view that it is the role of management to identify the best way to add value in customers’ eyes through enhancements to the product itself or by developing value added services and by a relentless focus on the customer experience.

Crucially, it is superior customer insight that enables management to succeed in this task and it is suppliers of undifferentiated products that need it most.

Which brings us back to where we started.

Tesco saw the problem in simple terms – the only true differentiation in their sector was around customer service and the customer experience which was about all the big things and all the little things which needed to be in place from sophisticated logistics to having enough trained till-operators.

It also put marketing central to its thinking in the drive to understand the customer and ensure products and services matched their expectations.

This is the true role of marketing and is why it should be at the top table in determining university strategy.

Degree apprenticeships – a classic marketing problem

Background
From April 2017, all businesses with a wage bill of over £3m will pay an annual levy of 0.5% of the total. The levy will establish a national fund from which employers can draw to pay for apprenticeship training. The new levy will apply to the new higher and degree apprenticeships as well as intermediate and advanced level apprenticeship schemes.
There will be ninety per cent funding for businesses that are too small to pay the apprenticeship levy; large businesses will have 24 months to use their apprenticeship levy before it expires; and there will be funding for individuals to undertake an apprenticeship at the same or lower level than a qualification they already hold (if this allows them to acquire substantive new skills.
In addition, apprenticeships now apply to any job role – including management, financial and digital – and can be used as a route to a degree or even a master’s qualification.
So the combined impact of the new apprenticeship levy and new degree-level apprenticeships is set to transform graduate recruitment.
Strategic issues
• Degree apprenticeships with the best employers could become as sought after as places on degree courses with top universities.
• Levy-paying organisations are investing in degree apprenticeships and as a result are set to abandon their graduate scheme programme.
• Degree Apprenticeships are a substitution threat to traditional on-campus degrees rather than just offering the opportunity of additional student numbers.
• Degree Apprentices will split their time between university study and the workplace and will be employed throughout – gaining a full bachelor’s or master’s degree from a top university while paying no fees, earning a wage and getting real on-the-job experience in their chosen profession. The cost of course fees is shared between government and employers, meaning no cost to the student
• Recruiting students on to Degree apprenticeship courses will require a partnership between employers and universities, with joint development of programmes, agreed numbers of students per employer and recruitment and assessment carried out by Universities.
• Degree apprenticeships are likely to be lower margin than traditional degree programmes
• Even more so than with traditional degrees, schools and parents will have a major influence on the take up of the degree apprenticeships

Marketing questions:
Many Universities, understandably, are putting considerable effort into degree apprenticeships.
They are gearing up to supply the right programmes, to partner with prestigious employers and to put people and systems in place to recruit students.
This is partly in response to a commercial opportunity, and partly in response to their mission to act as catalyst for their regions and support regional development.
However, there are strategic marketing questions that need to be answered such as:
• What level of substitution will there be as opposed to genuinely new business? Has the University “done its sums” and come to a view about the likely level of substitution and the impact on the bottom line?
• What will the market look like in five years time? Has the University got a plan to deal with the impact?
• To what extent do Universities need to invest in educating the market about the new apprenticeships as well as recruiting their own requirements?
• Whom will these programmes appeal to? What are the likely profiles and locations of the target market?
• Which employers do Universities wish to partner with? Other Universities will be chasing them too – so what is the USP that will make employers choose one University over another?
• What will be the impact on the overall University Brand?
• Is there a need to differentiate degree apprenticeships from traditional degrees so that the £9000 fee can be sustained?
• Will the content of the degree apprenticeships need to be adjusted to recognise the vocational/training/skills development requirements?
• What process, people and skill sets do Universities have to develop business with employers and recruit, assess and mentor students?
• How important will the University’s brand be in student choice, versus the brands of its partner organisations?

Marketing strategy
Universities need to look at the questions above (by no means an exhaustive list) and review the potential for Degree Apprenticeships in a rigorous marketing framework covering:
Markets and market segments;
Customer attitudes;
Competitive threats;
Routes to market;
Pricing;
Brand differentiation
Impact on the bottom line.
This is a classic marketing case study and – for those Universities thinking of offering a Degree Apprenticeship in management- they could do worse than test out their proposed programme on the rigour of their own planning process.

Comprehensive universities – the wrong solution to a systemic problem?

An article on the BBC web site highlighted a recent report by Tim Blackman, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, which contends that the university system, with its obsession with hierarchies and rankings, has become a barrier to meritocracy. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40654935

Instead of driving social mobility, he says, the university system has become a mirror to existing inequalities and is amplifying social segregation.

Even if more young people from disadvantaged families are going to university, there is still a strong pattern of better-off teenagers getting into the highest ranked universities.

He says this creates a system in which a “good” university is likely to be synonymous with being the most selective, which is the opposite of what the country needs from a higher education system.

As with the debate of grammar schools versus comprehensives, the argument goes that the brightest students should be spread across the system, rather than being clustered in a small number of universities crammed with other similar youngsters.

“The root of these problems is academic selection, which has created a sector based on social class advantages,” he says.

I am not sure the problem is academic selection.

We know from parental behaviour that they assess schools and Universities based on academic performance and selection criteria (higher tariffs are seen as proxies for price and value – if the entry barrier is high, it is seen to be a “good” University)

There has also been a relentless increase in pupils achieving A* grades, presumably because they want to be able to get on the course they want, at a university they perceive to have a good reputation – so selection works both ways.

Although we know that poorer young people are still less likely to go to university than their better-off classmates, higher fees have not deterred students from applying to University and Students from all backgrounds are more likely to go to university than ever before – including the poorest, with numbers rising through the years of fee increases. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40511184

So the “barrier to meritocracy” seems to be a very nuanced one of opportunity and standards at school level, support given at home and the economic environment and attitudes to education, not simply academic selection at a University level.

Focusing on academic selection is the wrong target – or maybe we should just do away with selection criteria and simply have University catchment areas as we have done in the school system?