Education Marketing: A Quick-Start Guide

A Guardian survey not so long ago reported that ‘traditional student recruitment campaigns may have lost their bite’. The same journal also shared the fact that university applications have for some time been in decline, and the upshot of this is that educational establishments are ‘allocating more time and money to marketing, engaging on social media, improving prospectuses and developing their websites’.

There is no doubting that educational establishments are under increasing pressure. This is generally down to budgetary constraints; staff shortages or falling student numbers, or a combination of some or all of them.

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No business in any sector would ever succeed without a well-planned marketing strategy, so why should education be any different?

Whilst the Guardian survey hinged on university recruitment, the lessons it revealed really can apply to any type of learning institution, including those serving a professional audience, although of course it should always be remembered that niche targeting is crucial, particularly with education marketing and its typically diverse range of audiences.

No business in any sector would ever succeed without a well-planned marketing strategy, so why should education be any different? In this post we’ll be taking a look at six of the most important marketing initiatives educational establishments should be implementing as an absolute must in order to attract and engage prospective students.

1.     Set Clear Goals

Start by being clear on what you want to achieve. Do you wish to attract more students? Encourage overseas applications? Boost enrolment numbers? Work on staff retention? Entice a strong teaching workforce? Perhaps it’s a combination of some or all of these goals.

Once you are clear on where you want to go, you can start planning your route there.

Task: Set a primary goal for your marketing campaign (your key target), followed by a set of secondary goals.

2.     Identify Your Target Audiences

audienceA marketing campaign to attract UK students will vary from one aimed at international students. Higher education marketing strategies will differ from those used to engage with business students. And a marketing campaign targeting teaching staff will be different still.

You may well be aiming at a range of targets, which is fine. But you must be prepared to run separate campaigns for each audience sector, because the channels you will use to communicate with them will contrast greatly.

Task: Identify the audiences that fit in with your goals, then undertake research into their individual needs and challenges. If you are certain you can address those needs and challenges, you’re ready to move onto the following step. Also, as part of your research, discover which channels your chosen audiences are most likely to engage with, for example social media; Google; printed publications, etc.

3.     Differentiate Your Offering

Education policy changes in England and Wales have resulted in a scattering of routes into university rather than the single clear one that was previously the case. Marketing messages have as a result become complicated. With such an array of fee and bursary packages on offer, it has become something of a challenge to identify key differentiators.

Distinguishing your offering from the competition is essential: it’s one of marketing’s key provisos. However, in the education sector, traditionally there has been a failure to address this need. But with student expectations at an all-time high, and sector competition rife, establishments really must take a step back and re-evaluate their proposition.

Without clarity around what it is they are offering that others don’t, and in the absence of a marketing strategy that spans all relevant channels in order to effectively communicate this offering, there will quite simply be no chance of competing.

Task: Brainstorm precisely what value you offer to students and why it is better than what your competitors offer.

4.     Raise Your Profile

The importance of reputation and profile in education marketing cannot be over-emphasised.

Lack of understanding of changing student needs and behaviours has a lot to do with the problems faced in the education sector, as does an absence of skill in reputation management and self-promotion.

Establishments more often than not do great work, which often has positive repercussions for the local community. However, the same establishments are not so good at blowing their own trumpets; in other words, they are doing the work, but no one knows about it.

Fundraising; community support; the winning of an award; glowing student feedback; outstanding achievements of individual tutors or students; the introduction of new and innovative courses; the publication of exceptional results: anything like this should be shouted from the rooftops. It will make your establishment stand out above others; boost your reputation and get you noticed.

Task: Share every news story across the channels you now know your target audience is using. Feed them onto the social media platforms they use; send press releases to the publications they read. Whatever you can do to get your stories out there, do so. And if you can’t do it yourself, bring in an agency to do it for you.

5.     Build Relationships

light bulbs with words build your networkAside from doing their own marketing, savvy businesses engage others to help them with their promotional efforts. And there’s no reason why this shouldn’t work in the education sector.

What you’re looking for are advocates that will recommend and refer you, or write good things about you. Of course it all depends upon your target audience, but for example if you were looking to attract overseas students, you could look to forge relationships with relocation agents and English language centres.

Other advocates may include key community figures and organisations; journalists and of course, current and alumni students.

Task: Identify potential advocates with which to build relationships and learn the best ways of engaging with them. This could be through networking events, social media, mailshots, etc.

6.     Make Use of Social Media

Students expect educational establishments to have a strong social media presence, particularly across the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and, increasingly, Instagram. Of course there are other platforms that may be more relevant to certain audience sectors, and it must be considered that overseas audiences may well be using channels that are relatively unknown in the UK. For example in China, social platforms outside of the country are banned, so if this is your audience you’d need to be looking at the likes of Sina Weibo, Renren and Wechat.

pointing share

Social media is the ideal channel to share your news; to build your reputation and to engage with potential advocates. Every time you post an update to your website, it gives you the perfect opportunity to share it to a vastly wider audience. Content that is shared across social platforms can also enjoy an amplified search engine presence.

You may also wish to consider paid social media advertising campaigns, particularly as they allow niche sector targeting.

Remember that social channels were originally set up to facilitate sharing, and it is across these channels that thousands and thousands of recommendations and referrals take place every minute. Peer-to-peer recommendation is crucial in education marketing, and this is where it will happen.

Task: Conduct research into the social media channels commonly used by your target audiences, and start sharing your news and content om them. Look out for posts made by advocates and alumni and be sure to re-post and share them.

What Next?

A website review may be a good idea at the commencement of your education marketing campaign to ensure it is reflective of everything you’ve learnt during your discovery phase, in other words, that it is communicating your key messages; demonstrating your value proposition and effectively targeting your chosen audiences.

You may need some assistance in setting up your social platforms and getting started with social media and PR and networking campaigns; maybe you’re looking at a rebrand or a revamp of your printed collateral. Or perhaps you need guidance and steering when it comes to research and strategy planning.

At Figment, we have niche expertise in education marketing and have assisted numerous clients in this sector to successfully differentiate themselves against the competition; open up to new markets and build their reputations.

If this is something you could use some help with, we’d be delighted to meet with you to discuss how we could assist. Please get in touch: we look forward to speaking to you.

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