International Education Marketing – Conventional versus Digital

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Traditional International Education Marketing

 

There have been criticisms for some decades regarding the effectiveness of universities’ and related education institutions’ international marketing and their ability to identity what the market needs and communicating effectively (Nicholls et al., 1995).

 

Anecdotal complaints from within larger institutions, whether faculty or administration, is that even with high enrolment numbers, there is little understanding of ‘how’ students came to be enrolled, let alone those prospective students who did not, with indirect or invalid KPIs (key performance indicators).

 

This is compounded further in large entities by organisational structures on large campuses, leading to potentially sub-optimal co-ordination between international marketing, admissions, web marketing team, suppliers or agents and students; resulting in silos impacting analysis of communication and information sharing.

International Students - Digital Marketing

International Education Digital Marketing

(Image copyright Pexels)

Conventional Marketing or Sales?

 

Marketing strategy emerging in the 1980s relied upon travel to physical recruitment events, distribution of brochures or ‘marketing materials’ by hand, appointment of agents; mostly short-term sales and ROI model or basic ‘4Ps’.

 

This latter financial and physical ROI method of evaluation e.g. numbers of brochures distributed, and students recruited, may not be highlighting the important factors or process leading to enrolments, or missing many factors altogether e.g. WOM (word of mouth)?

 

The assumed positive outcomes from such strategies may be correlated with other factors such as ongoing WOM with peers, suitable course availability or online visibility.  Previous research had already highlighted critical factors of significance including need for innovation, quality staff and image, service culture, good use of information technology (IT), healthy financials, technical excellence and broad range of courses (Mazzarol, 1998). There is focus upon internal human and technical resource factors required as inputs for good marketing and communication, but not behaviour of those seeking relevant information.

 

Meanwhile, over ten years ago formal research recognised and confirmed in decision making of a student sample, it’s course first, over reputation and destination, along with creating awareness through search engine optimised (SEO) visible websites to be found directly and easily (Gomes & Murphy, 2003).

 

This latter study is one of the few formal research articles related to international student purchasing behaviour available in the public domain, yet emphasising the importance of SEO and digital over ten years ago.  However, Australia’s pre-eminent and university owned student marketing and recruitment vehicle IDP, like most and according to formal job description, does not view analysis of enrolled students or other prospective students as important or essential (IDP, 2016)?

 

There has been little if any related or formal research on how students find information except some industry groups, mostly in Europe about ‘how’ prospective students behave and interact.

 

For more articles or blogs on education, training, marketing and society, click through to Academia profile of Andrew J. Smith.

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International Student Information Seeking Journey – Overview

How do international students’ information seeking behaviour relate to marketing and communications strategy in international education?

 

Background and Overview

 

‘We have all these enrolled international students on campus showing success in our marketing, communications and financial ROI, yet we don’t know how they got here and what they think of their study experience?’ (Paraphrasing an anonymous university Marketing Manager, 2008).

Significant research has been conducted regarding international student marketing and recruitment identifying ‘why’ students make study purchase decisions, and return on investment (ROI) but not ‘how’ they reached their decision, or what was their information seeking behaviour?  Knowing and understanding this behavioural dimension can inform and improve marketing and communication strategies in the digital era.

 

Research Proposition:

How do international students’ information seeking behaviour relate to marketing and communications strategy in international education?

The international education and related service industries, generally know and understand the factors of ‘what’ and ‘why’ behind purchase decisions, but not the actual information seeking behaviour in a now digital environment.

 

However, by learning and knowing ‘how’ on consumer or student behaviour, a model or a template can be developed for marketing and communications strategy, and skills required to access prospective students in a digital age.  This can lead to more informed and effective marketing practices, strategies, and evaluation of ROI based upon deeper understanding of the information seeking phase and value of related channels or media.

 

International Students and Customers – Important Marketing Resources

All students and stakeholders have much market intelligence and expertise through their experience with education, accordingly they are an active, informed and valid source for research and feedback on the sector, to offer insight into not just what latent factors help students make decisions, but how, in a dynamic environment.

Further, a previous research study led to a cyclical marketing paradigm representing the process for students and stakeholders, from information gathering through the education experience.  Then students and alumni becoming ‘influencers’ as peers to attract new students at start of the cycle again, through both ‘word of mouth’ WOM and online.

This cyclical construct also resonates with the research literature in marketing, consumer behaviour and information seeking, represented by a process or time line of interaction and communication.

 

Digital Marketing Customer Journey in International Education

How do international students’ information seeking behaviour relate to marketing and communications strategy in international education?

Abstract of dissertation submitted for the MBA programme

The Business School, University of Roehampton, U.K.

Using the inductive approach of qualitative research to explore and highlight key factors in student information seeking for purchase or future study decision-making, then to inform marketing communications strategy and related practice, in international education and business.

(Image copyright Pexels)

The inductive approach or mixed research methods were used, both quantitative and qualitative, to explore international education marketing according to stakeholders, management and students; a process of triangulation.

The research uses a streamlined version of grounded research methods to elicit key factors from international education sector stakeholders, based upon a purchase decision-making continuum or cycle.  Following was development of a data collection instrument to quantify the factors highlighted according to dimensions or phases of education purchase objectives, information seeking, analysis and post purchase review.

The sample, although not statistically significant, was a culturally diverse cohort of online MBA students, able to offer insight into their attitudes, allowing triangulation with research and industry based literature, and key marketing stakeholder feedback.

A marketing and communications construct was developed, reflecting the process of purchase decision-making through phases with focus upon information seeking, word of mouth (WOM), new digital behaviours and how to approach in the workplace or industry.

A dynamic and ongoing strategy and system review is required according to how customers or students seek information.  This is through ongoing investigation or consulting process that mirrors similar cyclical processes including review or testing of marketing message and communication targeting.

The process developed can be applied to marketing and communications strategy or system development, with broader application to investigation and review in the workplace.  This allows empowerment and motivation of personnel, customers and stakeholders, through their input to ground the same strategies, systems or processes, for validity and reliability, increasing value.