The Importance of Competitive Analysis: Lessons from a Four-Year Old

I recently had the pleasure of coloring Easter pictures with my four-year old and two-year old daughters at Sunday school. We spend a lot of time coloring at home and I didn’t expect this session, with about 25 other kids under five, to go very differently. My girls sat down and selected a few crayons of which the two-year old proudly (and loudly) identified the colors, showing off her newly-learned skills. They each took a minute to look at the picture and started coloring furiously—or maybe I should say scribbling furiously.

While my four-year old is quite mature for her age and always seems to be developmentally at the same level or above her peers, I guess I never sat in on a coloring session with any other kids aside from my own. As I looked around the tables, I started to notice that most of the other four-year olds were coloring in the lines. They were selecting colors that matched up with what they were coloring and doing a pretty good job creating their masterpieces.  In looking at my girls, I couldn’t really tell the difference between what the two-year old and four-year old were doing.  In fact, I might even go as far as saying that the two-year old was doing abetterjob. When we color at home, I give the girls a lot of autonomy. They can select their crayons, choose their pictures, and do whatever they want. I never stand over them and tell them things like, “Santa isn’t purple;” I just let them color and have fun.

I have to admit, I was a little self-conscious wondering what the other parents might think of my four-year old’s scribbles, and my competitive nature started to rear its ugly head as I looked around the room. Fortunately, I was able to put my concerns in check and realize that it wasn’t a competition. In fact, I realized that I probably would have never sensed any inadequacies in her coloring if I hadn’t looked around the room and started to make comparisons in the first place.

So, what can we, as higher education marketers, take from this? The moral of the story, my friends, is that nothing happens in a vacuum. Looking at things in isolation often prevents us from seeing problems and room for improvement. In thinking about your marketing and branding strategy, you need to look around the “room” and see what the competition is doing. You need to do a competitive analysis.

When we work with clients on competitive analyses, we compare your strategies and messages to that of your peer and aspirant competitors. We do this through analysis and critique, and include various strategies like “secret shopping.” By creating a point of comparison, we help to ensure that our clients are both standing out from the competition AND utilizing the best practices of their competitive set. We want you to “color the best pictures at Sunday school” and we’re committed to helping you figure out the best way to do that for your college.  So, give us a call and ask us how we can help you to both stay within the lines and step out of them to carve a different path for your institution.

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