Creating Distinction in a Crowded Marketplace: A Lesson from High Point University
In the current hypercompetitive business landscape, achieving distinction — standing out from the crowd — is no longer an option; it’s a necessity. Amid a vast sea of similar products, services, or even institutions, the ones that emerge as leaders are those that manage to create a unique identity, a distinct image that sets them apart from their competition.
As you may know, I am a part of the “In Residence” faculty at High Point University — and the President, Dr. Nido Qubein, has been a close personal friend for many years. It’s one of the great joys in my career and life to contribute to the growth of the students and participate in some of the activities of the Business School as well as other aspects of this incredible institution of higher learning.
So, in our pursuit of understanding the art of creating distinction, let’s consider High Point University as a highly illustrative case study.
Over the past few years, HPU has experienced remarkable growth, not just in student enrollment but also in academic reputation, infrastructure development, and community engagement. Their secret? Dr. Qubein and his team recognized the need to create distinction, and more important, they acted on it.
In a saturated education sector, HPU chose to place an emphasis on holistic development (they are called “The Premier Life Skills University”) and experiential learning. Their mission was not just to be a place for acquiring knowledge but to become an institution that prepares students for life.
HPU did not simply aim to graduate students; they aimed to produce “life-ready leaders.” This forward-thinking, student-focused approach created a strong, unique brand image for HPU that resonated deeply with its target audience: students and their parents seeking a comprehensive, growth-oriented educational experience.
HPU does not shy away from proclaiming that they are a “God, Family, Country” institution. They are clear about their mission and values — and Clarity is the first of the Four Cornerstones of Distinction that I discuss in my books, “ICONIC” and “Create Distinction.”
Moreover, HPU understood the value of authentic engagement with its community. From partnerships with local businesses to investment in community projects, HPU demonstrated that they were not just in High Point, but they were a part of High Point. This strategy not only enhanced their reputation but also differentiated them from competitors who may not invest similarly in community engagement. Also, this engagement with the community serves as an important teaching tool to demonstrate to all students the importance of “giving back” as an essential element in a successful life.
Additionally, HPU embraced the digital age, adopting innovative technologies and fostering a tech-forward learning environment. This transformation allowed them to keep pace with contemporary educational needs and stand out among traditional educational institutions. This has also helped lead to the establishment of many new academic schools within the university, such as the School of Law, School of Optometry, School of Nursing, and School of Entrepreneurship. This is all part of a $400 million expansion project that Dr. Qubein announced.
The case of High Point University underscores two key points.
1. Your distinction must spring from value integration — in this case, HPU offered a unique, holistic educational experience, built community relationships, and embraced technology. All of these became part of HPU’s DNA. (Note: it is value integration, not “value added.” Something added can easily be subtracted. When your values are integrated into your everyday activities, they are almost impossible to be eliminated.)
2. Second, distinction is built on authenticity. HPU didn’t pursue these strategies simply for appearance’s sake; they were aligned with the university’s mission and values.
We must recognize that in a crowded marketplace, consumers have the luxury of choice. (Think for a moment how many colleges and universities are out there that HPU must compete with to be the choice of students and parents!)
Your organization must strive to be the chosen one. And to be chosen, you must be distinctive.
Creating distinction demands clarity in understanding who you are as an organization, the unique value you offer, and how you can communicate that value effectively. It’s about understanding your audience’s needs and preferences and tailoring your offerings accordingly.
Distinctiveness is not just about being different; it’s about being better in a way that matters to your audience.
High Point University provides a remarkable example of how a clear vision, strategic focus, and commitment to adding value can turn an organization into a distinguished leader in its sector. HPU is an inspiring reminder for all organizations to embrace their uniqueness, integrate value, and create distinction.