International Education: Student Consumer and Decision-Making Behaviour: Brief Literature Review
This study draws upon international education industry research and reporting; with relevant theories in marketing research literature to inform consumer and decision-making behaviour, leading to effective marketing and communications strategy and systems. The main themes include systems, consumer behaviour, market research, purchase process including a focus on information seeking behaviour, traditional (international education) marketing, WOM, culture, relationship marketing, digital or Web 2.0 impact and human resource requirements for business and organisations.
How do students’ information seeking behaviour relate to marketing and communications strategy in international education?
What is Consumer and Decision-Making Behaviour?
Observation and analysis of changing consumer behaviour still views influencers or peers via WOM as important, but the information seeking behaviour and access to information has changed further with digital technology; international education and other sectors are no different.
From the literature, consumer behaviour observes or delineates various stakeholders inside and outside an organisation on a pathway to achieving their needs and wants, whether it is the purchase or use of a product or service. Further, one needs to understand the influencers that may include personal, social and cultural through research and evaluation and possibly technology, especially digital along this process (Kotler & Keller, 2012).
Consumer and marketing behaviour or customer attitudes about marketing are important, and need to be accessed through client or customer feedback, and analysed (Maria Josephine et al., 2008). This is also follows the logic of any system whether computer, business process or learning and development; best practice and common sense requires user, customer and stakeholder testing and feedback. Any business or organisation can learn about their unique customers or target market and marketing through systematic feedback then develop strategy as part of a dynamic cycle, contingent upon digital and human resources.
In many sectors, including international education, the digital environment or technology has changed interactions, communication and WOM in the discovery or research phase before final decision making. Although WOM is pervasive, little is understood about personal communication processes and information seeking, although imperative for digital communication and marketing for purchase decision making (Goldenberg et al., 2001). Decision making behaviour can be represented by a simplified five-stage model of phases or dimensions above including: problem recognition or identify need, information search or discovery process, evaluation of alternatives or weighing up, purchase decision and action, start again (see Figure 1).
Five Stage Purchase Decision Behaviour Model or Process (simplified)
- Recognition of Need
- Information Search
- Evaluation of Alternatives
- Purchase Decision
- Post Purchase Behaviour
(Kotler & Keller, 2012).
Information sources during the ‘Information Search’ phase can include personal, commercial, public and experiential, with personal being the most effective and trusted source of information. Further, between evaluation and decision stages of a consumer or buyer, is the forming of intention to buy which is influenced by attitudes of others e.g. WOM and unplanned circumstances (Kotler & Keller, 2012).
One study found the order of importance of the most significant factors in discovery or search phase included: friends’ recommendations, reputation of institution and quality (Ahmad et al., 2016). Confirmed further i.e. studies of decision choice are needed, international education services are dynamic, student behaviour is not fixed, and the state should promote destinations (Vuori, 2015).
There are relationships between the five stages presented above, especially evaluation and purchase decision. However, all are contingent upon relevant information and searching for information, how is ‘Information Search’ manifested?
Previous research in an international education context had developed a dynamic representation of the international student cycle, independent of business literature, which resonates well with Kotler & Keller’s (2012) ‘Purchase Decision Behaviour Model or Process’, confirming ‘Information Gathering’ as a significant dimension.
International Student Enrolment Cycle
- Information Gathering
- Facilitation, Education & Non-Education Factors
- Information Gathering & Informing Peers (start again).
The information gathering phase or dimension was represented by the following factors: information service or provision, information access, counselling, awareness, promotion and feedback; with WOM and emergent web based technologies cited as becoming significant (Ibid.).
Understanding the process phases or dimensions in more detail, especially ‘information seeking’ now impacted or dependent upon digital technology, can both highlight the phase for analysis and inform optimal marketing and communications strategies. Accordingly, industry has conducted much similar research adding to the same process, but not scholarly, reflecting the rapid change in communications and digital technology in the ‘consumer decision journey’ (Court et al., 2009).
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