Marketing mistakes education institutions make in China (and how to avoid them)

 “Hosting Chinese marketing content on inaccessible websites is wasted effort and never going to work”

Jonathan Kalies, Head of CRM at eduFair China, summarises the mistakes made by international institutions when marketing in China, with some suggestions added for improvement.

Having worked across a number of professions within international recruitment and education in China, one aspect that intrigues me most is how international institutions market themselves in China.

Understanding the China of today seems to be a key issue here. Though there are some fantastic marketing campaigns out there which have managed to break through the ‘Great Wall’, mistakes invariably do occur. I’ve whittled them down to four key areas…

(1) Minimum requirement: be accessible

Though a lot of ideas generated by international institutions can be translated and understood by Chinese students, the channel of delivery can sometimes be way off. Like a horse running the wrong way around a track, hosting Chinese marketing content on inaccessible websites is wasted effort and never going to work.

Many websites are blocked in China. Time and time again I sit at my computer in China frustrated, seeing the grey screen of death on China specific recruitment pages with subtitles like ‘Ling’s Four Years as a Freshmen’. Hosting videos on websites accessible to those inside and outside of China is key here. As a general rule of thumb, Western social media, blogs, and video websites are all blocked in China.

“With China’s blazing economic progress, a percentage of the population never learnt to use a personal computer”

(2) Website vs. mobile

Firstly, independent Chinese websites and Chinese versions of websites are fantastically useful and should be promoted. An area which institutions generally neglect, however, is mobile-friendly sites. With the level of smartphone usage in China at astronomical levels, institutions need to do more. Even with the thinnest of fingertips, navigating a complex website on a smartphone that is not mobile-friendly can be a challenge.

Moreover, I have noticed an interesting technological ‘leap’ – with China’s blazing economic progress, a percentage of the population never learnt to use a personal computer, and instead use their phones to surf the internet. Generally speaking, these include three important market segments for international recruiters:

(a) Millennials (target market), due to the prevalence of mobile phones and perhaps family restrictions on PC usage

(b) The older generation (decision makers): Older Chinese may be unable to use ‘pinyin’ (the system of using the roman alphabet to write Chinese). While they cannot use a keyboard, they use a phone to write out individual characters

(c) Populations in rural areas (diversification): Economies in rural areas are developing later than cities, therefore smart phone usage is more prevalent than computer usage.

“If an institution’s name is translated poorly, the reputational damage is inconceivable”

(3) Translation: double check

If an institution’s name is translated poorly, no matter how big of a marketing budget exists, the reputational damage is inconceivable – being passed down business class to business class, alumni to student, as an example of bad cultural awareness. One example of this, amongst many, is the University of Western Ontario. Translated into西安大略大学

西=West, 安大略=Ontario, 大学=University.

Seemingly no problem, until you realize that Chinese characters do not use spaces. Therefore,

西安大略大学read by the Chinese is 西安大略大学

Which means: 西安 = Xi’an(a place in China), 大略 = A place name, 大学 = University. Therefore, the University of Western Ontario is most likely to be read as an non-existent university in North Eastern China with the name Xi’an DaLue University.

Having a native Chinese person look over final drafts is essential.

 “Ghost town accounts on Weibo send a message that the institution is out-of-date or doesn’t care about its Chinese presence”

(4) Social Media: have it so use it

WeChat, QQ and Weibo dominate the Chinese social media scene. Having these accounts is a good way to interact with Chinese students – it’s on their level and in an environment which they feel comfortable. However, having an account is not the same as using the account. Having and not using or updating is arguably a lot worse than not having. These ghost town accounts set up by international institutions on Weibo, whose last response was in 2012 referencing Obama’s campaign, send out a message that the institution is out-of-date or doesn’t care about its Chinese presence.

Keeping content up-to-date and responding to questions and comments in a reasonably timely fashion should be considered minimum requirements when setting up accounts. The reason why is that these discussions are viewed by potential applicants so can essentially be seen as marketing and feedback.

Let’s expand “study abroad” to include more than just “study”

“It felt like we were saying that, to get from A to B, we can only use cars – no buses, no trains, no innovative, alternative modes of transport”

By Mark Overmann, Vice President of External Affairs, InterExchange, reflects on IIE’s Generation Study Abroad goal to study abroad – and says that in order to meet it, educators must start thinking beyond the traditional model of study abroad.

I left the recent IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in DC excited, inspired, and more sure than ever of one key idea: reaching Generation Study Abroad’s “moonshot” goal of doubling the number of Americans studying abroad can only happen if we expand our notion of what “studying” abroad actually means. I’m not suggesting that we pad the numbers. But I am suggesting that we broaden our definition of “study abroad” to also include a variety of international programs that are educational and experiential in nature, but not necessarily academic.
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No end in sight for the UK’s Indian slump

“Unless there is a significant shift in UK visa policy or a re-introduction of Post Study Work, it is hard to see how the UK can recover its share of Indian students”

Aaron Porter, director of insights at Hotcourses, delves into the data…

Prime Minister Theresa May finished her first major international visit to India last week, and higher education was high on the agenda for the bilateral talks. Accompanied by Universities Minister Jo Johnson and a number of UK vice chancellors, attempts will surely have been made to arrest the slump in demand from Indian students looking at UK universities. Indian Premier Narandra Modi certainly raised the importance of ensuring the UK was both open and welcoming for Indian students.
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After Trump’s win, there is no use in feeling sorry for ourselves

“The way we can truly make America great again is by thoughtfully addressing this situation, not acting like the sky is falling”

Eddie West, director of international programs at UC Berkeley Extension and former director of international initiatives at NACAC, shares his thoughts on Donald Trump’s shock win in the US presidential election this week.

I am deeply disappointed by the results. But there’s little use in feeling sorry for ourselves. Instead we have to learn from the outcome. Here’s what I think I’ve learned… And I hope you will indulge me.
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Why we should be building bridges, not walls

“Whatever the outcome of the election, each of us owes it to future generations to embrace a sense of curiosity and acceptance of the world”

With the presidential election looming, IES Abroad president and CEO Mary Dwyer writes on the imperative of reaching out beyond US borders, whatever the outcome.

In just four days, Americans will head to the ballot box to choose our next president. The election outcome will have a significant impact on whether our country will continue to be constructively engaged in global matters related to trade, taxation, climate change, immigration, security and cultural exchange, or whether we will embark on a path toward isolationism, populism and nationalism.
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‘Migration mercantilism’ is an ill-advised policy

“Why would the Home Office want to include visiting students in its statistics? Most likely, the reason is because this is a category they can control easily”

Maurits van Rooijen, economic historian and chief academic executive at Global University Systems, draws parallels with historical mercantilism in overseas trade and the current political maneuvering in the UK that means international students face ever-tighter restrictions on studying in the UK.

History shows us that there is always a real risk that socio-economic common sense can get pushed aside.

For instance, from the 16th to the 18th century, many economies in Western Europe suffered due to mercantilism: the mistaken belief that governmental regulation of a nation’s economy, especially reducing imports, would strengthen the state at the expense of rival national powers.
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Ensuring the health and emotional wellbeing of international students

Mary Memarzia, Director of Student Services at Bellerbys Cambridge, reflects on how institutions can help to care for their international students’ mental health.

A recent report by YouGov states that one in four students in Britain suffer from mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. A major source of stress is their studies, with 71% of those surveyed saying that their university workload is their most pressing concern. 39% are worried about finding a job after university and 35% are concerned about their families.
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International schools needn’t panic over the oil & gas slump

“There’s no need to panic; there is a plethora of up-and-coming industries within these territories that is drawing in new expat professionals and filling the gaps”

Carolyn Savage, Head of International Education at Winter’s International School Finder, reassures international schools in the wake of the global oil & gas slump that is being felt in the education sector.

The recent slowdown of the oil & gas industry had an inevitable ripple effect on pupil enrolment at international schools. The International School Consultancy (ISC) predicted a drop of around 1-2% in enrolments in The Middle East this term, as well as lower enrolment rates in Asia-Pacific.

Some schools have seen little or no slowdown in the number of parents registering an interest, while others have experienced a larger reduction in enrolment, because they cater more specifically for families involved in the oil and gas industry.
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After the Language in London closure, what now?

“This type of sudden closure is awful for the whole industry, and at the end of the day it is the students and agents that we need to consider”

The sudden closure of Language in London, one of the three English language schools until recently that made up Language in Group, shocked the UK’s ELT sector last month. Here Margie Barker, director of Language in Totnes and Language in Group, reflects on the closure and the state of the industry.

Recently, yet another London school failed. While all such events are equally sad and distressing, this one hit home even more as it was a school that had belonged to a long term associate of mine. Language in London closed it doors without warning to any of us and staff, students and agents alike were all at once distressed and displaced.

Up until quite recently, my own school in Totnes, along with the Dublin school of Kevin Kheffache and Language In London, had been cooperating and pooling our sales and marketing efforts. This was primarily driven by the hope that that by combining our efforts our three smaller schools may be able to compete better with the big players in what is a very competitive and difficult market. We had recently decided to discontinue with this and return to working completely independently because the costs outweighed the benefits and our experimental cooperative simply didn’t work!
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Brexit means tough times ahead for UK HE

Professor Aldwyn Cooper, Vice Chancellor at Regent’s University London, shares some sobering predictions about UK HE’s post-Brexit future.

There is much discussion about the potential impact of ‘Brexit’ on UK universities. The answer, of course, is that nobody really knows what will happen next, and the total impact will be determined by the nature of any agreement that is finally reached.

In terms of research funding, where at present UK universities are the largest recipients of EU research and structural funding, loss of access could be devastating to many higher education institutions.
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