Digital marketing is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. With students spending more time online than they ever have before, meeting them where they are should be your number one priority. Marketing in the digital age is less about selling your product or service and more about building lasting relationships. Given the travel restrictions of the past couple of years, finding new ways to connect with them is all the more important.
We’ll be sharing with you why digital marketing is more important than ever in attracting international students. Here are a few of the reasons why:
1. Students spend more time online than ever
The gradual shift to digital that had begun to happen over the past decade accelerated dramatically due to the pandemic. And Gen Z has taken their online usage to another level. According to research collected by 99firms.com:
Gen Z has already very much adopted a digital lifestyle, indicating how they and future generations will likely continue to follow that trend. With students spending more time online than ever — meeting them where they are, whether it be on social media, your website, or hosting digital events — adopting a digital marketing strategy is absolutely necessary to attract international students.
2. The student journey has changed
Regardless of where they’re from, the pandemic threw a wrench in the plans of students around the world. Students who had dreamt of traveling around the world to study in the United States were met with rejection, delay, and disappointment. Now, nearly two years later, we’ve adopted a new normal, albeit quite a different one than what we’d grown accustomed to.
The learning experience has gone from in-person to fully online, and now somewhere in between. Universities are slowly starting to bring students back to their campuses, with many still maintaining their online status. In all this, international students are having to deal with constantly changing travel laws, visa issues, and any number of other problems. A big difference lies in their ability to get a feel for your university before actually attending it.
Moving the physical recruiting experience to digital can in many ways provide a more comprehensive experience for students than the pre-pandemic era could have. Common pre-pandemic practices such as campus tours, newsletters, and recruitment events can be done more frequently and accessibly online. In-person campus tours have been replaced with virtual tours, newsletters have gone digital, events can be carried out online and demand fewer resources — the student journey has changed, but you have all the tools available to be just as effective.
3. There’s a greater importance on brand image
Whether it be a consumer or student, people put more weight into institutional values and beliefs than ever before. In choosing which university to study at, students are considering the things you stand for and whether they align with their views of the world — this is where brand building comes in.
Creating student personas allows you to conceptualize the students you’ve attracted and hope to attract to your school. Understanding who that is begins with getting to know what your university has to offer. What are your greatest strengths? Sometimes these stories tell themselves: Is your school ranked for anything? Do you have well-known alumni? If you’re starting from scratch, here are a few examples you could focus on:
If understanding yourself is the first step in building your brand, understanding the student should be the second. Finding the unique traits that make up your prospects largely comes down to analytics. In today's day and age you’re able to measure everything from where your visitors are from to what they’re viewing. There are plenty of tools to help you accomplish this, from Google Analytics to platforms such as Facebook itself.
To successfully acclimate your brand to the digital space, building a recognizable brand is just as important as having one that resonates with your audience. Brand recognition starts with optimizing your website and social media accounts, but more specifically the colors you use, the logo, and the messaging used to convey your university — do they amplify the message you’re trying to tell?
Your messaging can be carried out through social media, emails, video content, blog posts, live streams, and more. The options are endless but what works for one university may not be what works for you. Depending on what you have to offer, the types of students attracted to your university may differ, demanding a wholly unique messaging strategy catered to them.
4. You can target specific audiences
Marketing strategies in the past had taken a one-size-fits-all approach. Regardless of who you hoped to reach, everyone received the same messaging through newsletters, magazines, etc. Digital marketing has brought a new slew of targeting features that allow you to put unique content before the eyes of exactly who you want to see them. This allows you to create multiple, diverse marketing campaigns that target audiences with their own set of needs.
Start by segmenting your students by similarities they hold. These can include anything from age, gender, field of study, country, region, or even their interest in a particular hobby. Building these segments will allow you to create marketing campaigns tailored to each audience — not to mention you will have the capability to target them to that extent.
5. Competition is rising
As new competitors are constantly entering the digital space, competing with other universities for a small pool of international students can be challenging. Many digital strategies take time to develop, and it’s often months to see the results. In that time, your competitors could take advantage of your idleness and build relationships with students that will be too hard to overcome.
Students very early in their decision making process have already narrowed down their options to just a few universities. It’s not impossible to sway their mind, but it takes personal communication and an effort to cultivate relationships.
According to an article by the Digital Marketing Institute, studies have shown that:
Students are looking for an experience just as much as a place to study. Start their college experience on a positive note by establishing personal interactions through your digital toolbox. As competition continues to rise, having an established image of being a friendly, communicative university through digital platforms will act similar to word-of-mouth marketing.
6. It still maintains the spirit of traditional marketing
Successful marketing always has a way of conveying a sense of authenticity. Traditional marketing has a tangible feel to it. Finding that spirit in digital marketing can seem difficult with distance being so far between us. However, that realness just requires a little creativity to bring out and can go a long way in allowing you to connect with students.
Study in the USA has worked alongside universities to bring that tangible experience to students through the digital space. But how?
I think we can all agree that there’s nothing quite like a good story. Hearing stories from the mouths of students who’ve been experiencing them is as real as it gets, and it works. Study in the USA has hosted live sessions and podcasts that have been a space for students to share their stories, providing real and authentic marketing that shows what universities are truly about. Marketing may not be as tangible as it once was, but digital marketing can still be just as real.
With students spending more time online than ever before, the competition to win over international students has started to heat up. Digital marketing can be a powerful tool to tell your story, build your brand, and entice new students to attend your university.