In this second post on why individual Faculties should and can take control of their student recruitment and marketing, we highlight the essential practicalities necessary for success. You can read the first post in this series here.
In the crowded and busy landscape of competing higher education institutions and their Faculties one question immediately springs to mind. Marketers call it “the buying proposition”, which is another way of saying – why you? The answers to the following questions are crucial:
- Why should students want to study with your Faculty as opposed to one of another university?
- What is special about you?
- What do you offer that no-one else does?
- What stands out about your courses that make them distinctive?
- What are you best at?
- Who are your innovative teachers and researchers and what is it that makes them special?
- What do your existing students say about you – are they satisfied with their learning experience?
- How do graduate employment outcomes measure against Faculties from other universities?
These are gateway questions – seeking the answers to them enables you to build a composite picture of your Faculty as it is. You can look at this picture and then ask another key question: what are we and what do we want to be?
Recruitment and marketing: sending the right messages
This is where you need to be very clear about your Faculty, about who you are and what you stand for. Signals such as “We are a 100-year-old institution” can be important but they apply to many places: such a slogan on its own will not determine a student’s choice.
However, carefully crafted messages that can help to create a relationship with students talk about what you stand for, eg: “At this faculty we believe in the need to meet new health challenges with different approaches as our world’s populations and environments evolve. We will meet these challenges by educating the most talented individuals to be innovators armed with the best possible knowledge of the current practice. We are world leaders in X, Y and Z and have over 30 courses that you can choose from to meet your interests.”
Our experience is that getting to this type of message is not hard – ask the question of your Faculty: “Why are you here? What is it about what this faculty does that you love?” Such questions draw out passionate and strong messages from Faculty members.
Further, you need to have a clear understanding of your flagship programs, those that are unique and/or world leading. Put aside any residual distaste for the various ranking measures (eg, QS, Times Higher, Times Best Under 50, ARWU Shanghai, US News, Global Nature, ERA etc) – whether you like them or not students and their families do pay attention to them.
Also, be aware of new rankings that are emerging that are likely to be extraordinarily significant in the future – these rankings address both industry views (e.g. Financial Times) or quality and student outcomes (e.g. QILT.gov.au). Having the highest employment outcomes will be increasingly significant as students find out how or are helped to use the data.
If any of your programs rank No1, or in the Top 10, or stand out in any way, be prepared to say it loud and proud. Be aware that a high ranking in one area can produce what marketers call the “halo effect” – it makes everything else that you do also look good. Be prepared to exploit that through publicity in appropriate channels (more about those later).
It is also perfectly legitimate in a competitive market to use ranking information to differentiate yourself by pointing out, for example, that you are ahead of X, Y and Z universities in certain fields and that you are “better” – or simply different in an innovative and distinctive way – than rival university Faculties. Take the time to marshal the data to find out what they say about you and your competitors. Where do you have the leading edge?
Traditional rankings’ value comes from the absence of reliable relevant information students can use. But Faculties can change this. Armed with the knowledge Faculties possess, institutions are also able to move towards personalized marketing – where messages are tailored to what the students care about and which are differentiated from competitors – such as: “the best program for students interested in tropical reefs with one complete semester spent living at our reef based campus”.
If it is the case that you don’t have a stand-out flagship program, that for whatever reason your courses are not making an impression, then see this as a valuable opportunity to devise one, or to make changes and improvements that will elevate existing courses. We have not seen an Australian University that does not have existing opportunities to create new stand-out offerings.
It is possible through judicious use of publicity and marketing to turn a negative into a positive. For example, if you teach a program that is not particularly popular with students but it is the only one of its kind in the country, and if you feel there is potential for developing increased student recruitment, use that rarity as its unique selling point.
Information from rankings and existing success in student recruitment for particular programs is vital for the next step – developing key messages.
Workshop these with Faculty colleagues and professionals from Marketing, PR and Recruitment. Ensure they match what your community says about you – check appropriate student and education-related blogs, Facebook and other social networking sites as well as mainstream media.
Ensure, too, that your messages and are different from your competitors: eg, “Our Bachelor of Pharmacy has 100% employment outcomes for our students”, “Come and study in the worlds biggest classroom – Maritime College”, “Study with us and spend a semester working on real architecture projects in Chicago”.
Next: How individual Faculties can build supportive communities essential for effective marketing and student recruitment.