Marketing has become number one on critical path to marketing further education colleges. Recruiters Morgan Hunt looks at the top eight promotional channels available for colleges and what it takes to be at the top of the game.
Fundamental change in FE along with cuts in funding is prompting colleges to think more about how it can market itself to bring in new income and improve education outcomes for its communities. Marketing has become one of those essential skills that education institutions need to have. Crafting and creating value in the community is a must do to deliver value to its community through products and learning services that meet the needs of local employers, students, parents and adult training. Colleges still have their core curriculum to deliver, but beyond this it needs to supply education services that meet the needs of a target market and at the same time deliver learning satisfaction across a group of stakeholders that include all the above along with inspection.
In marketing talk there is the concept of a core product that meets basic needs – enter core educational curriculum. This is what a college must deliver in maths, reading & writing etc. Then there is the augmented product which adds additional levels of benefit to the core service – enter an extended college curriculum. The additional levels are driven by demand, so in a college, according to the framework, they would be driven by the needs of the college's local community and key stakeholders. In further education additional levels of benefit would serve to support their core learning services and since they are driven by students, employers, educators and adults, the value of the augmented curriculum is as important as the core itself. This is what differentiates a college from other colleges in the region.
All trained marketers will be familiar with Kotler's concepts of core, basic, expected and augmented products and services. Defining what customers' want is the first basic lesson in marketing and now colleges have to acquire these strategic skills together with the more tactical promotional skills in making this happen and overseeing external communication. This is the kind of marketing that will generate additional income to keep colleges in the black.
Marketing is often the most misunderstood of all the business functions where it is generally confused with advertising, social media, or websites. Of course while the latter are part of the mix of activity that a college might include in its arsenal, the marketing mix needs to be underpinned by strategy which in turn will determine what courses to offer, what students to attract and the tone of voice. Getting the course mix right is crucial to the service offering of further education colleges since boosting income under a reduced cost base is one of its biggest challenges. The success of how learning programmes are delivered to students will form part of the colleges' strategic plan, which will also include expected outcomes, finance, and promotions. Partnerships and alliances with other organizations are more popular than ever, especially those which combine resources and expertise to deliver and satisfy a wider mix of learning needs.
When college branding is done right
A college getting results will always be a key differentiator. Yet the communication power is in the college brand and intrinsic to this will be reputation, service, quality and community. Brand power strengthens the college's ability to be a student generator, a partner puller, a media aggregator and the answer to a parent prayer. A brand for many commercial enterprises is no longer a singular concept. Sub branding and brand franchising allows for extending the brand values into multiple service lines that serve multiple segments. For a college this might be to take an area of its expertise to a different location, stretching out its geographic reach. Individual educators, trainers and teachers, highly reputed in their subject, might also support a colleges' sub brand in their own thought leadership drive. Or indeed a college's sub brand could feature within employers' recruitment campaigns and or support for local community work. The point is that brands and sub brands work together to specifically target subject niches which, if demand is strong, can create a barrier to entry for other colleges in that niche.
Top 8 promotional channels available to colleges
Advertising is expensive and a college could bust its central funding budget on this alone, but there are many activities where the channels themselves are for free. However keep in mind that even these channels need managing, branding and fresh content all of which requires resource and expertise to bring it all together.
So what options are available for colleges?
Our top 8 promotional channels are:
1. Social media – engaging all key stakeholders; students, teachers and parents.
2. Press and PR - thought leadership and news. Get teachers to write up their expert opinions.
3. Blogging – regularly publish articles on a variety of subjects related to college life. It is important that the principal features in these.
4. Collaborations/associations – join partners in their promotions, get involved in their events. Try to piggyback on their employee events.
5. Events – stage events in the college that attract audiences. Try to get speakers to commit for free. These can be self funded, promotional or generate a surplus.
6. Alumni – are there any famous people who studied at your college? Get them to support your work and feature as successful college leavers. Alumni is a rich networking source that can be used in a variety of ways.
7. Website – be sure that your site is optimised and is the hub for all your content feeds.
8. Merchandise – while your college may not reach the merchandising heights of Manchester United, merchandise can not only promote but also drive some profit too.
Skills needed in colleges for successful marketing
The answer of course is marketing skills yet these can be trained and nurtured. Marketing has many specialist disciplines but the key is how to optimize activities, bringing them together to spark into life like a combustion engine, with content as its fuel utilize as much as possible internal resource. Principals must acquire the basic strategic marketing skills in order to set and agree the strategy.
The college must also have, or have access to, digital marketing skills with good content writing. Creative design and image is part and parcel of the overall communication process which needs to be set and agreed by the college, its governors and senior executives. These are the top level marketing priorities that all colleges must engage with in creating education value within their communities.
Chris Wimshurst is education director at Morgan Hunt, which works with FE colleges to recruit marketing and communications expertise and senior appointments within the education sector