The portfolio problem

Join us for this week's episode of Most Clicked where we discuss what Kyle terms 'the portfolio problem'. How can a university be known for ONE THING when it has hundreds of courses?

Working with universities on content marketing, one issue comes up time and time again: the portfolio problem. We all know the power of dominating a niche, but how can a university be known for ONE THING when it has hundreds of courses?

Here are 3 ways:

  1. One POV
  2. One format
  3. One niche

Matt Lees
Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of Most Clicked. I’m Matt from SMILE, I’m the host standing in for Nath this week whilst he’s away, and I’m joined as ever by Kyle from the Education Marketer. Kyle, what are we talking about this week?

Kyle Campbell
In one of my LinkedIn posts, I love it when these ones do well actually, I never know how they’re gonna perform. So I wrote recently about something I term the ‘portfolio problem’. So I’m a content marketer and I believe in like, using niche audiences to build an audience and later get value from that audience. But one of the issues that come up in universities time and time again, is, well, to build a niche, you need to really focus on something, don’t you? But you know, university portfolios are absolutely huge. So how can you apply that sort of niche thinking at a portfolio level where sometimes people have hundreds of courses and the post dove into a few different ways you can approach this, I split it down into three different ideas between looking at the point of view, looking at the format and then finally, if you wanted to kind of focus on one part portfolio, you could design a niche around a subject area. But I know you had a few perspectives on this Matt as well so I’ll hand it back to you.

Matt Lees
Yeah, I thought, there were a couple of good examples that you put particularly into the kind of Point of View section that you had in there. And Aston was one of them mentioned, and I think you’d pulled them out for employability. And I kind of had a question about how does a university stand out from the crowd when every university is talking about employability?

Kyle Campbell
The funny thing is, like, it’s a fairly recent thing, that universities are talking about employability. And I think, like, with a lot of ideas in niches. You know, if you become like the category leader for being known for a certain niche like Aston has done with employability, it automatically uses that momentum to continue being known as the king or queen of that niche. So other things, though, on other more tactical basis and maybe strategic as well. You know, Aston, it genuinely does have the employability element flowing through everything that it does. And, you know, you might view it as like, a surface thing like, Okay, we’ll feature a few students on a placement year. However, you know, for Aston, like, employability, they can’t release a new course, unless there’s some core element of employability built into the curriculum. There are strategic and school-based processes that make it a thing. Other things they do, you know, the thing that caught my imagination recently, you know, I’m sure it was a strategic decision, but they gave an honorary degree to Ben Francis, who’s like the CEO of GymShark, and is one of their older students. I don’t think he finished his degree, but he’s been quite close to the university ever since he left and you know, if you’re given that honorary degrees to you know, one for a better word influencers and, you know, highly successful entrepreneurs, they’re going to talk about it and you know, some of the posts that came off the back of that from Ben were incredible and just cement the reputation of the university. And other things they do, they run like, enterprise-led placements as well. So if you want to start a business, you can do that Aston, get your degree while you’re doing it and receive guidance as part of that degree programme. So they’ve got a lot of things going for them is what I’m saying in that area so that they can walk, you know, walk the talk, talk, the walk, wasn’t there. I don’t know what the words are gone. But yeah, they can do it. They practice what they preach. That’s a better way to say it.

Matt Lees
Yeah. And I guess, you know, when we think about the University of Gloucestershire, we’ve obviously done extensive work with them and the whole sustainability thing around moving their prospectus online, and all of the work that they do on campus all contributes towards that. So it’s about kind of owning a space is that fair to say?

Kyle Campbell
So, I mean, you’re right there. Gloucestershire is a great example. You know, they weren’t always the university for sustainability. Someone made that decision. And now it seeps through to everything that they do. They’ve got podcasts on it. They’ve got campaign creative on it. They’ve run prospectus based campaigns on sustainability messaging, you know, another example is the Open University, they major in the idea of flexibility. And the greatest provider of online courses, well, pre the pandemic, you know, there are a few other options out there now, but they’re still known as that university for flexibility. So, you know, even if your portfolio is vast, you can still be known for one theme and own that space.

Matt Lees
Yeah. And then the other category that interested me was around owning a niche, I quite liked the approach, then I’m fairly certain, there’s a, there’s a university in the UK, focused on agriculture. And we were having a chat about this beforehand and you said, you know, some universities really have the advantage because they own that niche. But it strikes me that over in the US, Harvard Business School is known as a kind of sub-brand of Harvard. But we don’t seem to do that quite as much over here. Like if we think about websites, everything seems to be kind of grouped together, whereas, in the States, things are more decentralised. Is there a movement towards that just think or have an opportunity to move towards that?

Kyle Campbell
You’d ask? That’s a really interesting one. I definitely say in the UK, that there’s more of an emphasis on having a single domain, and that sounds a bit web talky so maybe that’s kind of open that out a little bit. But I think there’s there’s a general movement to keep things centralised under a university brand and that makes sense. I think there are some areas where that is more harmful than good, perhaps. I mean, there are some universities in the UK that have such a world-renowned business school, like Harvard’s, for instance, that, you know, there are situations where that business school will have its own brands, and that makes sense for it to have its own brand, because it has that international reputation, whereas the university, for instance, might not. So if you’ve got a business school in the name, for instance, and you’re going to go and speak to a bunch of students who are interested in business, it kind of makes sense to go as a business school, doesn’t it? So I think there’s give and take in things like that, but I do feel given where we are with the internet, and how, you know, it’s possible, it’s far easier today to find niches and interests at that sort of community-level than it has been ever before in history that we might start to see a fragmentation of some university brands but in a positive way, in a strategic way. So, you know, rather than going out to market as the brand, it is actually possible today with like digital to go out to those niche audiences with a different identity with a different proposition. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as long as it’s managed.

Matt Lees
And so do you think when a university is looking to recruit students, do you think the audiences appreciate those niches, like, we worked on the University of Gloucestershire website, and I remember having a campus tour, and we were, we were taken around to various different departments, and we walked into the, I think it was graphic design department, they had this beautiful typography on the wall and that level of personality perhaps, isn’t reflected on what’s put out in the public. But when you’re on campus, you see it and I got chatting to people around the level of personality they want to bring through into those things. So do you think that’s, that’s something that needs to happen?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s beneficial. I think if again, it falls into what is possible in like, a digital space versus what works in a physical one, I guess. But I know for sure that its website’s definitely over the last 10 years have moved more towards that sort of minimalist aesthetic, like blocks fitting together and you know, I think a lot of instances again, that makes sense with like content design and patterns and you know, putting the user first they can actually access the services that they need. But I know for sure that it’s becoming increasingly easier to be more creative with your website designs, but retain that accessibility so I think as you know, we move forward and tech becomes better and, you know, rather than having to kind of have everything built bespoke, you can get some more elements off the shelf which brings the price down. I think we’ll start to see more websites reflecting the needs of those audiences more readily. I mean, I think it’s, it might be University of the Arts, London, who has a very kind of arts-focused portfolio, don’t they, and their website is functional. And you can toggle on and off the accessibility trigger on it. Trigger is probably not the right word button, switch. But it kind of reflects that kind of creative mindset that its potential students have, but it doesn’t, you know, lose the sense of serving user needs without losing accessibility, essentially.

Matt Lees
Yeah, some very cool points.

Kyle Campbell
Thank you very much. So I guess we’ll leave it there. I’ve made a really good cool point. So as always people thank you, thank you for watching. Thank you for subscribing and take care and we’ll see you again next week.

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Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer