From education to employment

Do you have an FE marketing strategy or a wish list?

Every provider needs a well structured marketing strategy and marketing plan that is based around their business plan.  The problem is that the strategy often ends up being a wish list.

Few people would argue with this basic need.  But what do we mean by a marketing strategy and how can providers use a simple strategy to achieve their objectives without spending a fortune on marketing?

Let’s start by defining strategy.  For me it is a plan of action designed to achieve your particular goals or objectives.  It is that simple …or is it?

I get to see dozens of marketing strategies every year.  Many of them are huge tomes that should carry a health and safety warning stressing the danger of attempting to lift them.  For example, last year I was asked to run a two-day training programme for a FE college in the southeast.  Before the course was run they sent me their marketing strategy, with an apology that is wasn’t quite finished … but that I could have the first 90 pages!

I have to admit I didn’t read it all.  But from reading a selection of pages it was clear that what I’d been sent was a mix of dubious market research and a wish list.  There were no concise objectives or indication of how they were to be achieved. It certainly wasn’t a plan of action designed to achieve defined goals.

So what does a simple FE marketing strategy look like?

A good marketing strategy need be no more than a single side of A4.  I like to base it around the acronym RATES.  Rates is a strategy I’ve developed over many years and have used with many colleges.

The RATES marketing strategy is designed to: –

  • Reduce the cost of marketing.  Whereas traditional marketing channels e.g. print advertising, are extremely expensive (especially where the target audience rarely read papers) it is possible to reduce marketing costs by doing simple things like negotiating print advertising rates or using online advertising on search engines and social networking sites such as Facebook (it is where young people congregate).  Simple techniques like this can significantly reduce marketing costs and improve market penetration.

I’d also recommend many of the hundreds of “free marketing”  that most colleges ignore.

  • Automate as many marketing functions as possible.  Many marketing functions are routine and can be automated at very low cost; this frees up staff to be more creative and productive with subsequent potential to improve recruitment

  • Test, measure and improve (TMI) marketing actions.  We’ve all heard the saying that “most of my advertising/marketing doesn’t work, the only problem is I don’t know which half”.  Both online and traditional marketing is actually much easier to test, measure and improve than many people think.

For example the advent of Google Analytics provides an objective means of testing, measuring and improving their website.  There are also analytical systems that permit the objective testing of other marketing channels.  Considering how easy it is, and how much can be saved, it is surprising that so few providers pay much attention to this vital area of marketing. Their marketing ROI will suffer if they ignore testing.

  • Engage more effectively with an increasing number of customers and prospects.  Consider FE websites. In most cases college websites are little more than electronic versions of the prospectus and totally fail to engage visitors.  The reality is that people do business with people and it is therefore essential that we get to know our customers and discover the names and needs of our website visitors.  I’ve yet to visit a college where they could tell me the name of a recent website visitor .. can you?  Obtaining website visitors’ names and contact details is easier than many imagine.

  • Simplify your marketing.  Marketing processes need to be simple, as complex systems add cost and confusion.

In it’s basic form the RATES strategy consists of five lines.  Top or tail that with a brief note of your objectives and you have the basis of a one page marketing strategy around which to build your marketing plan.

In future articles I’ll expand on Free Marketing Techniques and the five elements that make up the RATES strategy.

Stefan Drew is a marketing consultant, and was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges. He now works with providers throughout Europe and the US. Visit:

Related Articles