Drawing inspiration from the world’s most successful companies can help your institution stand out from the crowd of other schools vying for the same pool of prospective students. With a few adaptations, higher education can really benefit from implementing more marketing and customer service best practices from best-in-class brands — the companies that have successfully remained relevant, and at the top of their industry, by staying responsive to changing customer demographics, constantly innovating, and using technology to put the customer first.

college campus vs apple store

Let’s take a look at how your campus can learn a thing or two from the world’s first trillion-dollar company: Apple.

Apple Builds Awareness and Loyalty with Unforgettable Branding That’s Accessible to All

When you walk into an Apple Store, you immediately know where you are regardless of the sleek bitten apple logo. The futuristic, open space with shining, silver technology invites customers to come in and try them out, and they do — in droves and sometimes for hours at a time.

Apple approaches design and marketing in a way that’s distinctive to its brand, which is what sets them apart from most other traditional retail and technology companies. Their focus on design simplicity and intuitiveness is famously unparalleled. No matter which of their gadgets you’re looking at, from a watch to a phone, you know at a glance it’s an Apple product. Their brand narrative is strong and consistent, as are their design standards. By thinking about every aspect of the product and making it simple and intuitive, they enable the consumer to feel in control and right at home from the moment they first touch a product.

This also means there is a very low barrier to entry. Anyone can spend a few minutes with any Apple product and feel like an expert. And if customers don’t immediately feel like an expert, Apple offers in-store learning sessions with theater-style seating and a massive screen to break it all down.

The next time that person who just spent an hour testing the latest Apple product and acquiring new tech skills at the Genius Bar needs a laptop or a smartphone, what brand do you think they will think of first? And when that same person needs a fix on their laptop, why wouldn’t they go to the place where making an online appointment to visit with not a tech person, but an Apple Genius (branding at its best!) is effortless? Apple knows that making their brand unforgettable and accessible to all, allowing customers to get familiar with their products, and offering a free tech education in stores is a rock-solid way to promote brand loyalty.

What Can Higher Ed Learn From the Apple Store Experience?

Think about it: your institution’s brand may show your uniqueness, but does it also represent your accessibility? From the moment prospective students and their families step foot onto campus for the first time, it should feel welcoming and intuitive to them. Signage, decor, and even the layout of building entryways should all be simple, consistent, and familiar — while reinforcing your brand at every turn.

It’s important to sweat the small stuff, because every detail truly does matter. How are you engaging prospective students before the hard sell of admissions comes in? Can you offer free college-readiness sessions or mini-class previews for different majors like Apple does for their new technology? Can you build a relationship by supporting students’ needs long before their application or enrollment decision comes into play? If you can, you are far more likely to be the first school that your prospective student thinks of when it’s time to take action and make a decision.

When It Comes To Selling, Apple Emphasizes the ‘Why,’ Not the ‘What’

Apple emphasizes the “why” of their products, not the “what.” Why is this new iPhone going to make the customer’s experience better, instead of how much data it stores? Most people don’t care if the newest iPhone has twice as much memory as the old model, or how many more pixels there are in the camera. Instead of getting into the weeds with the new device’s specs, Apple has trained their employees to articulate why these features are important. More memory means customers can take more photos and videos without running out of space, and more pixels means better pictures every time. Talking about upgrades and technology improvements in this way resonates with all customers.

How Can Admissions Staff Communicate the Value of Attending Their School Like an Apple Employee?

Higher education is also selling a product—an education—but attending your institution is not just about walking away with a degree. It’s also about the why. Why is getting a degree at your institution going to help a 40-year-old mother of two improve her life? Why should a high school track star choose you beyond your amazing facilities and coaches? Why is your institution different, and why should students choose it over all the other options out there?

Is it your commitment to educating nontraditional students, as evidenced by class times that are convenient for working families, and access to tutoring and advising after 5pm and on the weekends? Do you use integrated technology in a way that makes the lives of students simpler and easier? In every interaction with prospective students and existing students, make sure your admissions staff understands and emphasizes the why. 

Now Your Campus Can Manage Walk-in Appointments Like an Apple Store

TargetX Engage Queue Management System

TargetX Engage, the latest TargetX solution, builds on the Genius Bar model at Apple stores to help manage walk-in appointments for both academic advisors and students. It allows students to sign up for meetings and provides real-time information on how long the wait is, so they are able to track their place in line. They can even enter their cell phone number to receive text notifications when they’re next up to see their advisor.

It also ensures that advisors, like Apple’s Genius Bar tech support staff, can view notes on their appointments and issues specific to each student in their queue. Advisors can take notes from student sessions and automatically upload them into the student’s record for seamless integration. This means that every time a student is seen by an advisor, whoever is helping them has their entire history at his or her fingertips. Now that’s compelling customer service.