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The Challenges Of Marketing A University And How To Overcome Them

Bek Agius — 6 September 2019


The art of marketing a university is unsurprisingly a challenging one. To sell a completely unique education experience to a vast range of consumers from a diverse range of backgrounds in a highly competitive space is not for the faint-hearted.

The university sector has experienced steady enrolment growth in Australia since the 50's and since that time, the volume of institutions has grown to 43 universities across the country.

Over many years, the university experience has evolved into much more than a place to obtain an accreditation, it has become a very personal decision by a student around what kind of person they'd like to become in their formative years. The result for marketers is that students take a significant amount of consideration when selecting the right university, meaning that there is more pressure on universities to show their key point of difference and stand out from the crowd.

With the right university marketing strategies, these challenges can be overcome.

Promoting Yourself Without Being 'Salesy'

With so much competition in the university space and so many promising a completely one-of-a-kid experience, it's becoming increasingly difficult to stand out. The key with delivering a stand-out offering has a lot to do with integrity.

As with many educated consumer groups, the prospective university student can spot sales talk a mile away. The key to expressing USP's that are valuable to your audience, is to ensure they are values that really matter to the people within the organisation and that these are values that are exemplified in all areas of operation, not just marketing content. In other words, it's not enough to just talk the talk.

The best way to communicate an honest message around USP's is real user generated content from those experiencing the value every day - the students. 'A day in the life' type content in the form of imagery, video or testimonials from current students that are genuine advocates of their university is very compelling and authentic storytelling that can help a potential student relate to the content as they see themselves in it.

Below is an example of the University of Wollongong doing a fantastic job of turning user generated content into an honest recruitment and awareness campaign:

Full campaign case study by For The People agency

Engaging with the Tech-Savvy Market

The key target market within the classification of 'prospective student' for a university in 2019 is the Millennial or Gen Z demographics. These consumers are extremely digitally motivated. Angela Woo from Forbes explains that Gen Z have "never known a world without unlimited digital access" and that Millennials have grown up in the whirlwind of the internet becoming the predominant media.

This audience relies heavily on websites and social media platforms to research services and this content plays a huge part in shaping how they feel about a brand. Ergo: simply posting imagery on a website and social platforms is not enough. They have seen all the traditional marketing ploys before.

Technology must be embraced and an integrated marketing strategy must be employed to help potential students connect, and invest in the story being told. These digital touch points will more than likely be the first impression of the brand, especially for international students.

In the end, the university consumer wants to engage with with a brand they feel like they can trust through a relationship that has been nurtured and where a personal connection has been established.

Appealing to International Students

If appealing to a consumer group that is local and understands your cultural context is difficult, recruitment of international students is both vastly more difficult and more competitive. The pool of competition is now global and the institutions vying for attention are much more diverse.

This diversity is exactly why international students are so vital to a university. They are an extremely vital part of the student body and can act as powerful global advocates for the university to give international prospective students that same opportunity to connect with the brand in a personal way that relates to their experience. Utilising a strategy like this with the aid of tools like social media is essential in attracting international students.

There are also many ways the university website can be enhanced to support this endeavour like easily accessible study and course information in multiple languages, virtual campus tours and user generated content including testimonials.

Full website for University of Sheffield's #WeAreInternational campaign.

When we get down to brass tacks, the university that is clearly able to identify and articulate the key values that drive every part of their activity is already ahead. The prospective student is simply looking for a place they can see their own values reflected and it's the university marketing team's job to tell them that story and take them on that journey. Honest storytelling from students just like them creates a link that just maybe, the university they choose will have them leaving a little better and a lot more intelligent than when they entered.

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