Common mistakes when marketing to Chinese students
“Reaching Chinese students is easier said than done in a highly unique digital ecosystem in which many large universities have failed”
China remains the top source of international students globally with over 600,000 Chinese students leaving the country in 2017 to pursue an education overseas.
The US, Australia, the UK and Canada are still the most popular study destination countries, but the competition and interest for countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are growing. Add to that political factors impacting international student recruitment such as the Trump effect and Brexit, and it is clear that universities need to work harder to attract Chinese international students to their institutions.
However, reaching and marketing to Chinese international students is easier said than done in a highly unique digital ecosystem in which many large universities have failed.
Here are four of the most common mistakes when it comes to marketing to Chinese students and how to avoid them:
#1 Leaving all recruitments efforts to agents
Many universities and education providers are relying solely on study agents for their recruitment efforts in China. And while working with agents gives you critical in-market insight and should be part of your China strategy, you may be missing out on applications from Chinese students by not maintain a branded Chinese digital presence.
Research is showing that Chinese students are preparing to study abroad earlier than ever before and they also research universities in much greater detail than westerners do. Setting up a Chinese website that is optimised for local user preferences and search engines will help your institution make it into the consideration set early in the decision-making journey.
#2 Failing to address key concerns in marketing material
When it comes to choosing their international study destination, 60% of young Chinese still heavily involve their parents in the selection process. And their decision-making factors are very different from the concerns of prospective students.
This means that the content you are providing on your English website or print material is unlikely to support the research and application needs of Chinese international students as well as it could.
When localising your marketing material, you should, therefore, look into creating content that addresses key concerns such as safety, cost of living, campus life and future employment prospects in addition to the usual information about your course portfolio and the application process.
“The content you are providing on your English website or print material is unlikely to support the research and application needs of Chinese international students”
#3 Not optimising your digital presence for the Chinese ecosystem
One of the biggest challenges for many education institutions when marketing directly to Chinese international students is making sure that they can actually reach their target audience. Due to Chinese internet regulation – also known as the Great Firewall – popular marketing channels such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are blocked.
The indirect consequence is that most websites hosted outside of China also can’t be accessed in the mainland or are loading incredibly slowly. In practice, this means that marketing to China requires a dedicated digital presence that is optimised for the local ecosystem. While it can take a little while to get your foundations right, it increases the chance of success for any paid lead generation efforts in this market.
#4 Not getting a verified WeChat account
With over 1 billion monthly active users, WeChat is a powerful channel for universities looking to market to prospective Chinese international students, as well as to engage with current students and alumni. The problem is that setting up a WeChat official account is a little more involved than creating a Facebook page.
First of all, you need to decide which WeChat account type will work best to support your China marketing strategy. And then there’s the issue of verification which is the best way to build trust with your audience.
“WeChat is a powerful channel for universities looking to market to prospective Chinese international students”
When it comes to creating a domestic WeChat account, there exists a bit of a grey area where international companies ‘borrow’ local legal entities from third parties. This will mean that your account will have your branding, name and content, but is technically still owned by the Chinese legal entity.
If you decide to open your local Chinese presence a little later down the track, followers can be transferred to your account. The issue with this approach is that it very often leads to disputes between the brand in whose name the account was opened and the 3rd party who owns it.
That’s why it’s recommended to go through an official Tencent (the company behind WeChat) partner when setting up your WeChat account to help you navigate the process.
About the author: Nicolas Chu is CEO and founder of Sinorbis, a company that revolutionises the way businesses and organisations enter the Chinese market through technology.