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Why international higher education marketing is so bad

Would you ignore a $433 billion market? That’s how big our market is set to reach by 2030 and marketing in higher education has a massive role to play.

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"Simply put, a one-message-fits-all strategy, not adapted to the market or to the language, doesn’t work"

Just to highlight this, colleges and universities in the US spent over $2.2bn on advertising in 2019, but these budgets rarely get allocated to one crucial segment of the market – international students. If institutions around the world don’t do something to change this soon, they are going to miss the bus.

At Platty, we continually have marketing meetings with universities, colleges and government agencies and one major trend keeps appearing: when it comes to domestic marketing and recruitment, higher ed marketing departments are power houses.

They have large budgets, hire creative agencies and staff to support them and have a holistic 360-degree marketing strategy that covers full digital strategies including SEO, articles, social media channels, TV ads, and influencer engagement. But when you talk to them about their international marketing initiatives, the response is generally less impressive.

For the majority of higher education institutions, they either don’t have the resources, don’t know how to market to international audiences or haven’t included this vital aspect into their recruitment strategies. Instead, they choose to rely on an agent recruitment network or boots on the ground recruitment with no elements of long-term digital presence, strategy or marketing.

“The real challenge for recruiters will be figuring out how to stay ahead of the pack”

In the US alone, in 2019 (pre-pandemic), international higher education accounted for approximately $38.6bn in economic activity annually and more than a million students – and globally the international education market is to reach US $433bn by the end of the decade. With this outlook, and the pandemic seemingly subsiding, there are huge opportunities to attract new generations of international students. The real challenge for recruiters will be figuring out how to stay ahead of the pack, how to be innovative in international recruitment and attract a diverse and global student population back to campus.

Ignoring social media and an in-language, in-country approach

The pandemic disrupted higher education in more ways than one. Most educational institutions had to adapt and embrace new tools for learning and communication, from web conferencing software to collaboration software – and of course social media.

Building a long-term digital presence in-market – the Achille’s heel of international recruitment – is an essential part of a recruitment strategy, yet few institutions know how to do it well. At Platty, we have embraced this disruption and are now helping many of our partners understand the true power of social media and content marketing, and more importantly creating a local in-country and in-language community. Planting the flag in the market, as we like to say, is what we do best.

It’s easy to talk about social media in marketing, buying ads and doing SEO, but the real value is in creating a community that is unique to an institution – cultivating an audience, connecting them with industry experts and influencers, and making them come back for more – keeping the conversation going on for weeks, months and years.

In order for all of this to work, universities and colleges have to understand how the different cultural context in these countries affects how students make decisions about their education. Simply put, a one-message-fits-all strategy, not adapted to the market or to the language, doesn’t work.

Shaking things up for international education marketing

Sadly, there is no magic formula for growing in new international markets and consolidating your brand and your “sales machine” in established markets, I’m sorry to say. But by starting strategically, building brand and presence by setting a solid content marketing strategy that is consistent and systematic, creating a solid approach to social / community building and cultivating that community, over time institutions will see that their brands are not only out there, but recognised and have loyal followings that will last for years to come.

About the author:

Mauricio Segura is co-founder of Platty, a unique and innovative digital marketing and tech startup shifting the paradigm on international education marketing for governments, universities and institutions across the globe. Mauricio is a Brazilian, Aussie and a Kiwi and a long-standing entrepreneur, with previous and ongoing ventures in International Student Recruitment (Spiible – an innovative digital agency), App Development and International Trade. He has worked in some of the largest global companies and received education and training in locations such as Australia, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, New York, London, France, Brazil, Sweden and Norway.

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