International Education Marketing – Conventional versus Digital

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.

International Student Consumer or Decision Making Behaviour Cycle

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.

 

Research Proposition

 

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).

 

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.

 

Figure 2

International Student Enrolment Cycle

  • Information Gathering
  • Facilitation, Education & Non-Education Factors
  • Utilisation
  • Information Gathering & Informing Peers (start again).

(Smith, 2001)

 

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).

For more articles related to education, training, marketing and communications on Andrew J Smith’s Academia profile click through

Introduction to Digital or e-Marketing for Small Business – Instructional Design

Topic:  Introduction to Digital or e-Marketing

for Small Business

 

Goal:

Small business owners and/or managers understand the concepts, resources and actions for a digital or e-marketing strategy.

Subject Matter Expert and/or Target Market:

Have the SME covered personally, however I would potentially approach a local business chamber of commerce looking to support local businesses in their marketing and sales.  It could also target a specific sector, like has already been done below, i.e. travel and tourism, or international education sector.

 

Rationale:

Worked in education and training small business related to study abroad in Australia developing a digital marketing strategy covering Central Europe, Turkey, UK and Australia; conventional marketing was too expensive, not transparent and ineffective.

Self-taught using available online resources, became familiar with many techniques and actions, with formalisation of learning through recent MBA course subject ‘e-Marketing’.

In my professional experience, in addition to state university and vocation school marketing managers, many small private colleges precluded any effective digital marketing strategy in favour of expensive conventional advertising and promotion via travel to one off events for international student recruitment; not financially viable in new markets nor medium term market development.

Generally Australia has low very digital literacy amongst managers and owners, including small business, due to legacy industries preferring existing processes, sub-optimal education curricula, demand for immediate simple solutions and lack of innovation.

However, the travel and tourism industry, with state agency support, have had access for over 10 years to an e-Marketing kit, designed for small travel operators to leverage their marketing and sales digitally, both locally in Australia and internationally with global network; it’s been quite successful as world’s best practice.

The advantage is that small businesses with good digital strategy can increase their target market, analyse well, work with their and gain insight into their own customer base and have more significant profile than physically larger organisations.

 

Content Delivery &/or Presentation:

Can be introduced, presented, learnt and assessed via basic understandable steps, requiring participants to bridge differences between conventional marketing or sales, with digital.

 

 The design would include:

 

  1. What is marketing? How do your customers find you? What do they say about you?
  2. Website appearance, design and management and content management systems (CMS)
  3. Social Media how does it work? Which blog and social media?
  4. SEO/SEM How to reach new audiences and markets?
  5. How to evaluate any strategy or system?

 

Teaching and learning resources would include examples of good (and bad) practice via following or analysing a business from its website (social media, blogs, customer feedback etc.), feedback from participants relating to their own business examples.

This should be leading to them being able to assess needs, develop strategy, implement and evaluate, continually.

Outcomes are assessed by learner input, producing a strategy or approach, resources and media e.g. how to create a Facebook page, open a Twitter account, find useful resources etc.; using own PC, laptop, tablet or mobile.

After this overview, e.g. even presenting to actual target audience, could lead to being commissioned for more of the same, and higher-level training courses.