The challenge of being different

25 March 2024

Andrew Crisp considers a growing challenge for business school marcoms professionals, being different.


It’s getting harder to stand out, to be able to say something meaningful about a business school that helps it be distinctive. The new report, Knowing Me Knowing You, from Roe Communications, EFMD and CarringtonCrisp, found that 73% of school marcoms professionals think it is becoming more difficult to differentiate their school compared with 60% four years ago.  Only 46% now agree their school is clearly differentiated compared to 67% in 2020.

For some, the challenge is complicated by having to follow guidelines of a parent university, often with a focus on undergraduate recruitment.  With rapidly growing, demands for lifelong learning, there is an increasing need to build a brand that caters for diverse audiences.

One solution may be to build a house of brands, with faculties, schools, research centres and more united under a common brand, but given the opportunity to develop an identity that both shares from the parent and allows flexibility to speak to a specific audience.  Managing such an approach can be complicated in large universities, but increasing use of intranets with clear brand guidelines provides an opportunity to empower marcoms professionals while ensuring brand consistency across the organisation.

Whether part of a university or a stand alone business school, the starting point remains how to build a distinctive brand.  Part of the problem is also identified in the Knowing me, Knowing You report, where half the respondents indicated one of their greatest challenges was too much short-term thinking.  Strong brands need consistency over time rather than reacting to the latest challenge with another new initiative.

Add to this with a lack of budget and the absence of a clear strategy for an institution, also identified in the report as challenges faced by marcoms professionals, and the task of being different becomes much harder.  And it is this budget problem that often stops institutions from developing a strong brand, fearing that a rebrand will be an expensive solution.

It needn’t be the case.  Rather than a new brand, a brand refresh, establishing the strengths of the institution, understanding audience expectations and clearly communicating, can be the best way forward. Even when there are multiple institutions in the same city with already strong reputations, there are opportunities to differentiate, to build brands that can support everything from recruitment to fund raising, research to corporate engagement and much more besides.


To download a free copy of the Knowing Me, Knowing You report, visit the EFMD website at

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