There are around 20.000 universities across the world, which means that competition between higher education institutions is intense and every year, each of them is trying not just to recruit a big number of students, but to recruit the best creative brains or in other words, top student talent. In order to survive and flourish, each university has an opportunity to win these battles. This opportunity is called marketing. Today as never before, higher education institutions focus on marketing strategies. Many of the best universities design their plans with the most prestigious marketing professionals and invest a lot of time and money to achieve a significant competitive advantage. The average amount spent on marketing strategies has increased by over 50% since 2000.
Of course, marketing strategies, as any other fields that are knocking at the door of development, have changed a lot throughout the last years. If in the past thirty years, universities were recruiting students based on their reputation and word of mouth. Today that is not enough. The world is moving too fast, the changes that are occurring in different fields, including the higher education global market, force universities to change their tactics, marketing plans, strategies, directions, improve education conditions, implement innovations, hire the best teachers, have technology and program studies.
When it comes to building marketing strategies, universities should take into consideration 3 key questions: what to communicate, to whom and how. Universities are able to deliver consistent, clear and authentic messages to their prospective students after a good analysis and evaluation of their potential.
What to communicate?
Before starting to build a message that university will share among young people that want to study at universities, it is important to find the key strengths and emphasize them. Strategy& identified 4 key benefits that tend to define and discern a university from others:
- Selection â€“ gathering and attracting students and faculties that will strengthen and reinforce the schoolâ€™s idea and purpose;
- Knowledge â€“ both the specific type of knowledge/disciplines offered and the relative eminence or distinction of these knowledge/disciplinesâ€™ level;
- Certification â€“ the ability to provide relevant and important trainings and certifications in technical and problem-solving skills as well as the particular degrees offered;
- Immersion â€“ the relative â€śuniversity experienceâ€ť, whether that is on campus or through remote learning, students and faculty feel a deeper connection to a school when they are immersed in its culture and ideals.
The role of the university here is to understand which from the above benefits are its strengths and undertake efforts to forge the right message and promote it to the right audience. Besides this, the message must be close to the core values, brand, reputation, history of the university and of course positioning to make a difference. Combined, these elements can bring to higher education institutions a wider reach, more top student talent and elevate the performance of their brands.
To whom to communicate?
Marketing strategies start with knowing your audience, your market. It would seem that a message should be communicated only to the main target audience that in our case is formed by young people aged between 20 and 30 years â€“ however, that is not the actual case. Even if students are the main target group and the main costumers of the services provided by universities, there are a lot of groups that should be taken into consideration. All universities audience segments are important: undergraduate or graduate students, prospective or current students, parents, alumni, visitors, media, teachers, examination developers. When delivering the messages and building up a strategy everybody from this list should be taken into account. Stakeholders are responsible for what is and will be rumoured about specific university.
â€‹How to communicate?
Now we are in the digital century, in the century where the information is moving with light speed. Obviously, a lot has changed in the marketing world during the last few years, but even so universities have two ways to promote and deliver their messages using online or offline channels:
- Strategic social media â€“ todayâ€™s students have grown up communicating and sharing experiences on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Using the power of different networks and engaging content, universities can use social media to attract students, interact faster with the current students and stay connected with alumni. Social media is the largest area of innovation and growth in higher education marketing.
- Running a responsive website â€“ if until now it was sufficient for every university to simply set up a website, Googleâ€™s change of algorithms when showing results means that it is now also important to design a responsive website with a good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking.
- Advertising â€“ even if the marketing trends show us that offline advertising will disappear step by step, universities still have the opportunity to promote and engage students through offline advertising, such as: banners, posters, universities journals, and flyers.
- Mobile development â€“ higher education institutions are making greater investments in having a mobile presence, from the institutionâ€™s website to the development of mobile friendly course content.
- Search engine optimization â€“ for universities which offer slot programs, it is a must to ensure that these programs are in the top of search engine listings.
When universities have to choose the best ways to promote themselves, they have at least five methods to do that. Knowing oneâ€™s strengths and stakeholders, it will be much easier to understand what information can be promoted through specific channel to ensure an excellent recruiting process and great student experiences.
The universities can benefit from marketing strategies in the same way the businesses benefit from it. Establishing a partnership with a marketing agency that knows and understands really well the specific challenges and can use its experience to meet the specific needs of the university can help a lot the educational institution.
The education industry is facing a lot of challenges, but marketing is a way that can help it to adapt no matter what. Done right, with proper planning and strategies, marketing can shave the costs of education, increase the number of high-achieving students and help universities to boost their position in the market. Done right, marketing strategies can help to elevate the brand and reputation of the university, so that it may correctly position itself and subsequently defend this position. All that remains for each university is to do the best they can to continuously improve their programmes, teaching, provision of learning facilities and to find the right way to the black box of the consumer.