Jarrett Smith on University Differentiation and Catching the Interest of the Ideal Student

On this week’s episode of Big Plan on Campus, Thomas is joined by Jarrett Smith, Partner and VP of Strategy at Echo Delta, a full-service marketing agency for higher education. Thomas and Jarrett discuss what it means to differentiate your school, how to assess how well your school is positioned as compared to others, and best practices to use to help your school stand out.

To begin their conversation, Jarrett shares the journey of his educational career graduating from a small liberal arts school, Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. He then shares how he transitioned from being a public-school science teacher to a corporate trainer at a large-scale grocery store company, to then finding his passion in marketing. Jarrett discusses his role at Echo Delta and how they help schools with recruitment marketing and research, as well as forming effective enrollment strategies. Thomas and Jarrett then dive into differentiation, which Jarrett defines as the competitive strategy schools use to set themselves apart. Jarrett describes some of the various strategies that schools utilize, whether that’s through highlighting cost leadership, particular niches or study focuses and more. Thomas asks Jarrett how differentiation was impacted by COVID-19 as colleges transitioned online to keep students safe and how bigger schools lost students who turned to local community colleges who offered the same remote experience at a much smaller price tag.

Thomas then asks Jarrett about what tactics schools who consider themselves as undifferentiated can do to help them recruit. Jarrett shares his insight about the balance of developing into a well-differentiated school while keeping your door open to other students who may not fit the mold the school has created to target specific students. He then talks about what makes higher education institutions like colleges so unique to advertise and create marketing strategies for since they don’t have a similar structure to other businesses. Jarrett shifts to discuss marketing strategies that some of his current clients utilize to stand out, including focusing on core STEM students and using narrative evaluations instead of standard grades and how differentiation isn’t just one tactic, it’s a series of methods that work together.

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