Whether you’re selling shoes or running a university, one golden rule applies across the board and that is to listen to your customer’s needs. For institutions, this means taking a close look at what prospective students value. Time and again we have seen that conversion rates are linked to a few core principles. Luckily for institutions these principles can easily be implemented or improved with sound strategic planning.
One of the most powerful ways in which institutions can create awareness and build interest is through word of mouth. Institutions can elevate word of mouth messaging by utilising current students and alumni from specific markets to share positive experiences across communication channels. When targeting prospective students from India, for example, institutions should be leveraging messaging across a range of platforms generated by current students and alumni from India.
Charlotte Cripps, Head of Video at IDP Connect, says: “'Having students from specific markets talk about their university experiences can be an extremely powerful tool. Not only can other students from relevant markets relate to their experiences, but they are also able to easily gather insightful information.”
The University of Westminster’s Content Hub is a fantastic example of how video content utilises voices and faces from around the world to convey messages to prospective international students that they are welcome. View their Content Hub here.
Current students and alumni can share positive experiences about an institution through video content, testimonials, student-led digital campus/ city tours and social media engagement. Students and alumni can also be engaged throughout the application process by connecting them to prospective students through telephone or email.
In a recent survey we conducted with IDP counsellors from 22 markets around the world, institution ranking came out as the most important aspect considered when prospective students research universities. It’s vital for institutions to centre their messaging around the quality of education on offer. A Russell Group institution will do well to leverage their high-ranking status across all student-centric messaging.
After institution ranking, the following aspects came out on top for prospective students choosing an institution: availability of preferred course/ programme, affordability of tuition fees, course/ programme ranking and access to scholarships. Institutions should tailor messaging campaigns to reflect these points of interest.
Institutions should take a deep dive into what different markets value and tailor content and marketing drives accordingly. As an example, our research shows that students from South East Asia are particularly interested in post-study job opportunities. Institutions can thus appeal to this market by highlighting their links with industry and showcasing courses that may include placement years within industry. Institutions can also look at demand from specific markets for subjects at a national or institutional level. If for instance there is high demand for Engineering, institutions can tailor their content to showcase the merits of their engineering programmes (ideally via an engineering student from the target region who has had a positive experience at the institution).
UWE Bristol smartly launched a ‘Work in the UK’ section on their careers page to advise international students on the UK’s new 2021 graduate immigration route that will enable them to stay and work in the UK for up to two years at any level. Within two weeks of launch, it had reached 1 million views. Included are case studies of UWE Bristol students who have successfully found jobs in the UK after their studies. The success of this addition to their site is testament to how highly international students value job opportunities.
Prospective students look at the holistic offering when considering studying at an institution. This includes facilities, the campus, accommodation and the wider city or town in which the institution is located. Not only should institutions showcase the key drawcards of their destination, but they should focus on elements which are of particular interest to students in each region. Financial concerns are often a key issue for students in many source countries, making the availability of part-time work and information on the cost of living particularly important. For students coming from South East Asia where post-study work is a strong appeal, information on local industry and possible future employment can be a big draw, while factors such as the safety of a location should be highlighted in markets where it is prioritised.
Collaborative initiatives between tourism boards, councils and institutions can also be very powerful in showcasing inclusivity and diversity. Northumbria University for example works with their local council to welcome international students every September by hanging international flags all around the city. New arrivals get a warm welcome and it gives the university a fantastic opportunity to promote inclusivity across their communication channels to prospective students (read more about it here).
Scholarships are not only a major drawcard for international students because of the financial assistance they offer, but they are also viewed as important achievements by recipients. Institutions can thus use scholarships to promote themselves and show commitment to international markets. During recent interviews with a range of IDP counsellors and branch managers, they agreed that scholarships can go a long way in boosting conversion rates and are excellent tools with which to promote specific courses.
In an IDP Connect international student survey (Crossroads) ran in June this year, participants cited university fees and cost of living as key factors that prevent them from pursuing their studies in certain destinations. Scholarship thus play an important part in showing support to prospective students.
In the Crossroads student survey referenced above, agents/ counsellors were cited as the most trusted source of information for updates on study destinations across all markets, followed closely institutions themselves.
Institutions can raise their conversion levels within markets by forming relationships and actively engaging with in-country counsellors and agents. Effective ways in which institutions can connect is through sharing video content and market-specific communications; and hosting fun activities such as counsellor quizzes. Institutions are also advised to increase the frequency of engagement by hosting institution and subject-specific seminars, campus visits, events and pre-departure briefings. Webinars, social media (particularly focused on in-country events) and WhatsApp groups are also effective ways of keeping in touch with counsellors and building those relationships.
IDP counsellors are student-first, working to match prospective students to the institutions right for them. The more informed counsellors are about the key selling points of an institution, the better equipped they are to match the right students to that institution.
To find out more about our IQ services, designed to help your institution improve performance against key competitors, optimise recruitment strategies and accelerate conversion rates, visit our IQ.