“You can’t assume that your domestic marketing strategy can be applied internationally with the same level of success”
Dan Sommer, Education Marketing Expert and President of Global Education, Zeta Interactive, considers some of the challenges university officials must consider when building effective regional strategies.
Over the past 12 months, universities have experienced declining enrolment numbers for a variety of reasons: demographic shifts; an improving economy; increasing competition from both for-profit institutions and more traditional schools; and the influx of disruptive technologies and learning platforms. University officials are now tasked with looking at creative ways to counterbalance declining domestic enrolment numbers.
In the past, university leaders have been forced to consider things like adjusting discount rates or modifying quality standards to meet financial objectives when tackling declining domestic enrolment. Now, however, increasing international recruitment is a meaningful alternative to consider and one that we see as a top five priority for most university leadership teams.
Going international represents an opportunity for institutions to maintain tuition while counterbalancing declining numbers, but it presents an array of challenges to marketing and admissions teams. You can’t assume that your domestic marketing strategy can be applied internationally with the same level of success.
There Is No Such Thing As A ‘One Size Fits All’ International Strategy
When expanding to international markets, it is important to understand the regional differences that might impact your success. Developing an awareness of how your brand will fit in different regions is key. Further, some regions are more price conscious then others and may require differential pricing or scholarship options to overcome financial barriers. Thus, as you develop an international strategy, the first step is to dive deep into the educational landscape of the country you are entering.
“As you develop an international strategy, the first step is to dive deep into the educational landscape of the country you are entering”
Finding the Right Product Market Fit
A number of factors should be considered when launching particular programmes. For example, there are regions that have truly embraced online programmes (the UK), while others take a more mixed position (Canada). Yet others do not currently recognise or support online learning (certain regions in Asia). In developing your strategy, understanding both consumer and government acceptance of online learning is key. Based upon what you uncover, you might consider a strategy that focuses on a hybrid model with some classroom learning and some online, or a or periodic campus immersion experience with the majority of learning online, with limited face to face campus time. I have seen the latter be highly effective for South American recruitment.
Institutions should also consider whether additional contact hours or local student support is needed to enhance the learning experience. If your programmes are taught in English and you are in regions where English is secondary, you may need to deploy additional tutors to offset the potential learning gap.
“It’s important to consider whether your programmes are fully relevant to local conditions and economies”
Finally, it’s important to consider whether your programmes are fully relevant to local conditions and economies. While the MBA is currently the most popular programme internationally, each region may have preferences regarding specialisations (e.g. entrepreneurship vs. Islamic Finance). It is dangerous to assume that the programme that works so well in the US will work equally as well in every region.
Selecting The Right Marketing And Recruitment Partners
In an ideal scenario, it would be possible to generate all of your international inquiries within your marketing department or with your existing partners. The reality is there are many nuances to local student recruitment. For example, if you plan to recruit students in Russia and CIS, selecting a partner with Yandex experience is key. If you are utilising email marketing services, does your partner understand local privacy regulations? There are thousands of new media outlets to consider, from local, SEO-driven education directories to highly targeted regional publications that the right partners can introduce into your marketing mix.
Further down the ‘funnel’ are call centre partnerships (locally and with regional expertise) that can play an important role in qualifying traffic. US institutions often attempt to call new web leads within 120 seconds, but this may not play well in some regions. Language and tempo may also need to be altered on a regional basis and can be the difference between success and failure in new markets.
The Devil is In the Details
Last, but certainly not least, is the question of whether your institution has the operational infrastructure to qualify and enrol international students. Often, institutions create separate units to manage lead flow and applications from international students. Developing the infrastructure that will allow for the proper vetting of candidates (e.g. understanding whether local credentials meet admissions standards, language qualification, and even consideration of prerequisites) can be highly complex.
In addition, local currencies and exchange rates could present a number of challenges for your finance team. Many institutions consider outsourcing aspects of the enrolment process, which can help to reduce some of the complexities.
Dan Sommer is an education marketing expert. He is the President of Global Education at Zeta Interactive, a leading digital marketing company that helps global brands to acquire, engage and retain customers. Dan has helped dozens of universities to innovate and achieve success through innovative marketing acquisition, retention, engagement and partnership programs.