Those of us with an entrepreneurial spirit and a global network typically see things others don’t. In the enrollment management field, the entrepreneur mindset is an asset, and yet…and yet, if only those in control of the purse understood what we understand about global markets and student motivations.
The opportunities are there. The need is growing increasingly intense as revenue sources are threatened or declining. The Intead team shares your entrepreneurial enthusiasm and we are here to offer the insights that help you succeed. It’s one reason we connect so well with our university colleagues.
Now, if only there were an easy way to satisfy your global entrepreneurial instinct while demonstrating recruitment success in such a way as to unequivocally justify your funding requests and get the programs you envision started and growing.
Ben and Iliana will be at the NACAC conference presenting alongside our colleagues from AIRC on Sept 22 in Baltimore. Can we schedule a time to chat? Coffee's on us!
The simple truth: the root of successful international student recruitment lies in understanding your target markets, connecting with them, and effectively managing them over time. It has to do with simply doing the work as opposed to finding some magical online tool that suddenly produces all the enrollments you ever wanted. (Note the word magical in that last sentence).
To DO the work, you’ll need to take a deep dive into the macro- and micro-economics of what drives student mobility. Sounds more complicated than it is.
If you’ve been following our blog, then you know we’ve been helping institutions like yours recruit international students for a very long time. Our multi-cultural marketing team, our bandwidth, and the tech systems in place bring focus and produce macro and micro level insights. Oh, and results. See case studies in our resource center here.
Our work takes a load off our university counterparts who, like you, are being asked to over deliver while being chronically underfunded (and understaffed). We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, including three common mistakes that will derail any international student recruitment program. Avoid these at all costs. Read on…
First, a discussion about macro and micro level influencers...because this is central to any successful recruitment push and key to your funding justification.
- Macro Level: What are the economic and demographic realities driving people to make decisions about education and career? Where is the reliable data to help you understand the situation, identify your target markets, and identify those student/family characteristics that are most likely to result in enrollment at your institution?
You can’t market to everyone and hope to find the enrollments. You know the often-hyped marketing approach: throw everyone into the funnel and the best will pop out the bottom. You simply don’t have enough money or processing time to do that kind of work. Many low-quality retail operations follow this approach. It is not right for higher ed. Never has been. We call this burn and churn marketing and there are many marketing agencies out there pitching this stuff.
For higher ed, the necessary focus narrowing comes from the upfront market research. Most institutions skimp on this and end up wasting time (years) and money following the false promises of half-baked (at best) vendor promises. Of course, they will tell you how many millions of visits they have to their platforms and ALL those leads are there for you. (Open secret: they tell every client university the same thing).
Your macro level understanding helps you know which markets to go after and which marketing tools (dissemination channels) will be most effective, among other factors. This up front work helps you evaluate all those vendor promises to see if perhaps they have something of value for you. Some of them do.
- Micro Level: How can you understand the culturally nuanced consumer insights that drive student decisions? How do price, academic program offerings, location, family situations, social justice and environmental concerns, all play into student decisions? A simple example: if your prospective student comes from an urban environment with a lot of violence and safety is a daily concern, they and their parents might look at US gun violence very differently than someone coming from a more placid city. In one case, promoting the safety of your campus will be important. In the other, that message falls flat.
Your micro level understanding helps you develop the messaging, digital user experience (emails, sms, landing pages, downloadable content, webinars), and other engagement efforts that help you convert the students you truly want.
Now about those 3 common mistakes that all too often derail international recruitment plans.
Mistake #1: Blowing Off the Market Research Up Front
Hey, I have an idea! Let’s recruit students from Nigeria. We’ve never done it before, but everyone seems to be talking about it. And they seem to be succeeding based on some of the social posts I’ve noticed! That’s a new market for us, for sure!!!!
Look, you have a long sales cycle as a university. From point of contact to point of conversion can easily be 18 months or more. In rare cases, it can be as short as 3 to 4 months. That’s still a heck of a lot longer than the time it takes you to identify your bare refrigerator shelves, get to the grocery store, and buy what you need. Prospective students need to take time to plan as they research, consider, analyze, figure out the financing, the timing, … so many factors that will change their lives.
You know all of this. Nothing new there. But that long sales cycle means that when you invest in a recruitment initiative that does not pan out, you have lost a year, or more, learning that one method works better than another. It takes time to build relationships with in-country resources. We’d like to save you that time. A 2 to 3-month market research effort will produce the learning and put you on the right path SO much faster. It will bring you those micro and macro level insights you need to be effective.
Successful global entrepreneurs understand that new markets have nuances that must be understood if they are going to tap them effectively and efficiently. Avoid the assumptions that will lead you down time-wasting paths. Be skeptical of the promises made by student recruitment platforms and lead generators that cannot show solid past results (massive lead generation with little to no conversion). International student recruiting, like domestic student recruiting, is all very doable and it simply takes focused effort. Do the work and you will succeed. You will succeed, in part, because others do not do this work.
Mistake #2: Poorly Connected Technology Run by Short-Staffed Teams
You are likely wincing as you read this. Because you know. You know that your lead capture, nurture, and conversion systems are not tied together well. You are spending money on traffic, awareness, and lead generation campaigns and then those high-quality leads are falling through the cracks. How many are being lost? You don’t even know because the systems are not connected well enough to assess. This is painful to acknowledge. You are not alone with your pain. It’s even more common than you think.
What you need is to get your tech working before making the marketing investments in travel, supporting ad campaigns, and other lead generation efforts. Yet, for many institutions, tech investments are slow. Too many internal people need to weigh in and the system decisions will affect many other aspects of the institution. So, the slow pace makes sense, but that doesn’t help you now.
We’re here to tell you that all is not lost.
There are a wide range of work arounds from landing pages on Unbounce and makeshift email nurture campaigns using Mailchimp. All highly cost effective and less than perfect (we know!).
The point: you can capture and nurture the leads regardless of internal hold ups AND IMPORTANTLY, you will have the results data throughout the efforts that allow you to analyze and improve over time. And hopefully, those results will help you justify the need for a more well-connected system.
The reality for enrollment teams: poorly connected technology cannot be an excuse for poor results and the inability to improve over time. A bit of upfront analysis and planning will set you up for far better outcomes that will be better (if not perfect) and give you peace of mind as you present your plans and then the results to your campus leadership.
Mistake #3: Managing Distant Markets Alone
A Harvard Business Review article from 2008, points to the challenges of start-ups with a global focus. A significant struggle for all global entrepreneurs is managing the distance. The solution: alliances with key partners with the right connections and expertise.
Managing from a distance presents challenges regardless of your product, service, or operational needs. The article also points out one of the reasons you are SO sure of the opportunity as a global entrepreneur: smaller, less well-branded institutions can take on more powerful rivals by identifying and converting niche markets farther afield. This strategy is well-established as a successful approach. And yet, the article also points to something else you know well, that funding the distant venture is difficult. Most people are more comfortable closer to home.
The Power to Convince
The upfront work we’ve identified (the well-researched market and systems planning) gives you the power to convince. Leaning into the work with a smart and balanced (read: realistic) approach will give you a competitive edge with your internal audiences holding the purse strings. Over time, you will also have the edge you need in a highly competitive student recruitment market.
Be in touch and we’ll share our perspective on the opportunities you see and likely share a few opportunities that might not be on your radar. We’ll take the time to understand your unique challenges and support a level of global investment that makes sense.
Let’s get your global entrepreneurial spirit the solid grounding it needs and the managerial, creative, and administrative support that will deliver targeted growth.