Joe Chetcuti – Director of Front – discusses what the FE sector can learn from the commercial world when it comes to marketing and attracting students.
The competition to attract students is now tougher than ever, so the challenge for many further/ higher education establishments is how to differentiate themselves when course content, teaching practices and facilities are often on a par. Many institutions don’t even start to explore – or know - the tactics that are available to them which is a fundamental mistake. The need to present an engaging and creative proposition that delivers a message around learning and education is key but so too is one based on lifestyle and culture. In my view, the real question is what the further/ higher education sectors can apply from destination marketing and FMCG practices in the commercial world.
It goes without saying that the education sector is not the same as FMCG, consumer durable or destination marketing but there are many cross market learnings that can benefit FE and HE marketing. Although the student is a learner by behaviour, attitudinally they are definitely now a consumer and should be treated as such.
As with FMCG products, there is often little differentiation between product features and it is the same for colleges and universities. However, the student is now a consumer and has a choice, not just with which institution but with which life route to take; going straight into work, choosing an apprenticeship, further education or higher education. This makes it even more imperative for marketing functions to understand student motivations and to communicate the right messages to drive recruitment. Fail to do that and you’ll fail to attract the very best students.
What we learn from destination marketing is that locations are more than just a singular offer, even if the motivations to visit a city, county or country may appear singular such as going to a concert, beach holiday or museum. There are multiple other considerations and influences such as the social scene, transport links, the local cost of living and the proximity to amenities. It’s exactly the same when deciding on further and higher education providers.
Identifying your audiences, their role in the decisions making process and how they will be influenced is something that that FMCG and destination marketers have honed to a fine art. That process is now an intrinsic part of how they do business and there is absolutely no reason why such precision and planning can’t be employed in FE/HE if you follow a few simple rules.
Have a sense of place: Destination marketing thrives on place. Compare how London and Oxford present themselves in relation to a big city urban college and an agricultural college. Define what makes the bond between people and places and use this to differentiate your offer; for example, the lure of the big city vs. small town accessibility vs. countryside freedoms.
Be single minded: Most successful FMCG brands focus on one position and mine this to a great depth. Some good examples include: ‘community’ with Coca Cola, ‘technology’ with Audi and ‘surreal fun’ with Skittles. This consistency leads to an expectation of quality and clear differentiation. This can be a daunting prospect for a complex, multi-faceted education organisation but strategically it will pay dividends.
Focus on the now as well as the next: Although education leads to a brighter, better future don’t forget that the now is most relevant to and front of mind for your consumers. So, don’t just focus on what one can become but also how one will feel, experience and enjoy whilst in education along with why it is a good choice now. What we learn from FMCG here is that activation is key.
Use relevant channels with relevant creative: You would expect an advert on a bus to be consumed and therefore created differently to a YouTube film - yet many think that complete consistency across channels is what is best. This approach may make the brand look neat from the brand manager’s point of view, but consumers rarely see the whole gamut of communications. In reality, this means a press advert idea simply ported over to a film concept will not motivate those who are smart consumers of online film or social media.
Understand your customer: Segment your audience by motivation and always make sure your marketing talks to each of them relevantly and with the right weight of activity. This should include influencers such as social media, friends and parents and future employers or higher education providers.
Finally, stand up for something and do it differently to the competition: Do this consistently over time with signature activity and in an authentic way to build your brand an unassailable competitive advantage.
Joe Chetcuti, Director of Front