The websites of the four public universities in Perth, Western Australia provided only two clear-cut customer experiences.
One appealed to a visionary ideal of tertiary education; providing a strong, personally emotive and aspirational platform for the prospective student.
The remaining three were primarily focused on the universities themselves, their achievements, their aspirations; with no emotive hooks for the prospective student.
Murdoch University’s website was a surprisingly engaging and refreshingly innovative take on how tertiary education could be positioned.
“We are calling for discoverers.” is the first message on the home page. Wow, does that connect with a higher calling or what?!
We then get a powerful statement of calling, with keywords that again harks to a higher vision beyond the mere product features: “… different types of thinkers, share ideas, pool knowledge, new ways of thinking, make the difference.”
These are the ideals many prospective university students could identify with. Universities are places of thinking, revolution, discovery, and world-changing/life-changing dreams. These are clearly echoed here on this site.
There is also a prominent invite to “Find out about our freethinking community” This leads to a dedicated page which emphasises the university’s commitment to thinking. So it is not just a nice Flash piece on the homepage!
There is also a compelling interactive “Figure out your life” tool. I actually played with it several times – which is saying a lot.
I am impressed. The value proposition is beautifully and powerfully articulated. It is personal, visceral.
Let’s face it, there is minimal meaningful differentiation when it comes to universities. Certainly in Australia in my own experience, all the universities I have been to are consistently excellent.
By going for a strong emotive, personal, aspirational approach, and by focusing on ME the prospective customer, Murdoch University’s website worked beautifully. It actually repositioned all of its competitors as unexciting and clerical.
University of Western Australia
The Noongar Land acknowledgement is a laudable recognition of the Aboriginal landowners. That aside, I can’t help but think it is an odd piece of communications, placed in the most prominent spot; especially to non-Australian visitors. (It actually feels like one of those strict, not-to-be-questioned “dictates from above” that steam-rolled any information architecture intent.)
Aside from the functional links to courses and faculty, the remainder of the site seems to be primarily focused on how great the university is – its goals, its achievements, its commitments, its history etc. The classic “I am the best” approach. Get that tagline!
There is nothing here to engage my emotions as a potential student.
Of all the four universities here, I was not surprised that the UWA site is what it is. It is understandably boring and dry because after all, UWA is the oldest (and therefore expected to be most conservative) university in the state.
Curtin University of Technology
The visual language on the Curtin University site is notably younger than the other universities. They are clearly targeting a younger, more hip, audience. This is a notable point of differentiation.
Unfortunately, the primary communication intent here is once again focused on the functional. Find a course, see a map of the campus, list the schools and faculties etc.
This could potentially be a high school, or a hip finishing college. There is no grand vision I can connect to. It just gets straight down to the administrative/operational business.
Edith Cowan University
The Edith Cowan University website continues the functional + all-about-the-university trend. All three panes of the rolling banner were about the university – ECU staff achievements, ECU values, and the mundane (but important to a small population of students) administrative call to register for graduation.
How universally uninspiring!
Again, there is no grand vision to engage me. It is just another university website. It may as well be an insurance website.
Am I being too harsh? This is after all the youngest (and largest?) university in Western Australia. Maybe they have not had time to find their unique value proposition yet?
This is how I now differentiate the four universities in my head:
- Murdoch University – seeking diverse thinkers to make discoveries that change the world. If you just want a boring university degree, we may not be the right one.
- University of Western Australia – the most established traditional conservative brand name university. You will not go wrong by enrolling here. But you may want to check your passion at the door.
- Curtin University of Technology – if you are young and hip and want a cool and immediately applicable university degree to kick start your life and career, we are the place for you.
- Edith Cowan University – we are big and have loads and loads of courses in many different campuses...
It is interesting how powerful a piece of communications can be when it is focused on the consumer, when it successfully identified and reflected their deepest desires.
The Murdoch University site reminded me of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign many moons ago, with ads that invited consumers to identify themselves with the greatest thinkers of history.
Which of the following invitations get your heart racing?
(a) We are the best university bar none. Please pick a course.
(b) We are looking for thinkers to make discoveries that change the world. Want to join us?