The prospective student buying cycle for a higher education degree, an expensive and highly-emotionally involved decision, resembles that of a car or house purchase. It is no surprise, therefore, that it takes on average 12 months from the initial contact by the university for a student to accept, with awareness commencing years before.
As HECG details in its new digital marketing guide – How empathy + digital marketing wins over international students – it is during this time that the students’ decision-making process undergoes at least three distinct stages:
Enquiry through to Application
Application through to Offer
Offer through to Acceptance
Each stage represents a shift in the needs and nature of the relationship between the Higher Education Institution and the prospective student.
All three of these stages are dependent on and related to each other as marketing objectives – yet in almost all Australian universities they are held to independent performance metrics.
This is a serious disjuncture, but one that is entirely remediable.
Most commonly, international recruitment efforts prioritise and maximise investment in the first two stages, which involve sophisticated and complex programs whose efficacy is judged on and rewarded by enquiry and application success criteria.
And so a critical gap emerges in the relationship with the prospective student. For by the time the offer goes out recruitment staff, through no fault of their own, but rather because of the system they work to, have peaked in their performance and feel they have completed their job. Many are burnt out.
Consequently, and crucially, the relationship with the student goes quiet during the Offer through to Acceptance, or post-offer, stage of the campaign.
In this digital era it is never a good idea to go off-line, especially when acceptance can take up to three months following an offer. Given that today’s students weigh up multiple offers, often, as we have seen, from competitive institutions in multiple countries, the post-offer stage must not be regarded as downtime.
Rather it should be seen for what it is – an important high-stakes marketing battleground.
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