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New Market Entry: Key Benchmarks for Student Recruitment Initiatives

Key Benchmarks for Student Recruitment

"Where else should we be?"

This question comes up consistently in our workshops, webinars, and client conversations,

The reality: you’ve been wanting to diversify your recruitment efforts for years. Until the pandemic and the latest global political wrangling made recruiting from China problematic, your leadership wouldn’t listen. Now they will and they’re wondering why you hadn’t diversified earlier. 🙄

China and India have always been safe bets for international student recruitment. Of the nearly 1 million international students in the US, 34.7% are from #1 student sender China and 18.3% from #2 India, per the latest Open Doors data. #3 South Korea claims a distant 4.3%.

Despite Covid, these sources of international students in the US remain front and center.

If the majority of your recruitment efforts are focused on China and India, well, we get it. Your leadership team is comfortable investing where they feel safe and is typically fearful of starting something new. These markets are proven and for the most part steady, pandemics notwithstanding. But should all your eggs be in these two baskets?

Of course not.

Relying on only one or two markets for the majority of your international student intake leaves your institution vulnerable to market fluctuations. For most institutions, that strategy does not align with the overarching mission of diversifying your student body. It only aligns with the revenue side of the equation.

Here’s the thing: you relied heavily on those two markets because of the significant challenges of identifying and succeeding in a new market. How do you even do that?

[Side Note: maybe you’ll want to start with our country comparison cheat sheet]

So, let’s suppose you’ve done the market research analysis and you’ve found a new market (or two). How do you know if you’ve selected the right one(s)? How do you evaluate your investments in these new markets since they don’t behave like the markets where you already have experience?

You know it will take patience, too, as most institutions won’t yield real results until 2+ years of targeted recruiting and nurturing. Will your institutional leadership give you enough time to prove the effort? Or will they see the lack of traction after year one and pull the plug? (You’ve seen that before, we know).

This is where identifying effective benchmarks can help you set expectations and make the case for sustained investment.

We’ll be talking about this and so much more at #NAFSA2022 in Denver this month. Be in touch to set up a meeting with us. And please join us for one of our four interactive NAFSA presentations where we are honored to share the dais with our colleagues from Benedict College, San Diego State University, Clark University, Northeastern University, CIEE, ICEF, and GNET.

Read on to learn how you can tell which new markets are a good idea to enter and how to know if early recruitment efforts are likely to create the traction you need over time. Use these benchmarks to create your plan and set leadership expectations.

Entering a New Market

“Foremost, as you consider entering a new market, you have to have a deep understanding of who you are and to whom you provide value.” Wise words from Hillary Dostal, global marketing advisor at Pegasystems and Intead research advisory board member. Hillary is a great mind to tap when thinking about new markets. She led many global recruitment initiatives in her past roles at Northeastern University.

Her advice is surprisingly more complicated than it sounds, though. So many institutions set their eyes on either the bottom line or a big idea, totally forgetting to focus on and clarify who they are and what they’re promoting. Knowing what you offer in comparison to other student options is critical – it’s how you differentiate.

You learn this through market analysis and voice of the customer research.

Armed with this self-knowledge and competitor perspective, train your eyes on finding a market that has an appetite for what it is you offer. And trust us, it’s about more than your ranking. Your purpose-driven market research will identify those new countries that best fit your campus, program portfolio, or overall mission.

Gaining this intimate level of knowledge will help you identify your best opportunity country and help you communicate to the new audience in a way that resonates with them. It’s how you build an authentic audience and how you create a recruitment plan that is less push and more pull for your admissions team.

As Hillary tells it: “When you uncover audiences to whom you are authentically delivering value, that’s when you should enter that market.”

Benchmarking: Monitor Your Progress in a New Market

This is where patience and good benchmarking come in. Because developing a new recruitment pipeline in a new country won’t happen overnight. So, determine your KPIs to know where and when to pull the recruitment lever left or right. You’ll also have the language (read: stats) you will need to back your decision when defending your budget with leadership.

It’s standard to measure new market KPIs in 3-, 6-, 12- and 18-month increments before turning to year-over-year metrics. You’ll want to look at:

  • New relationships with in-country companies and agencies
  • Tone and frequency of regional social media buzz (Social listening.)
  • Changes in website traffic from the country, looking at your home- and admissions pages
  • Email open rates (Note: the average email open rate for our industry is 25%, per HubSpot.)
  • Email click rates (Note: the average CTR for our industry is 7.49%, per HubSpot.)
  • Number of downloads (You’re offering attractive downloadable content specifically targeted to your audience(s), right?)
  • Attendance at events, in-person and virtual (Yes, but also evaluate the quality of engagement with attendees.)
  • Prospective leads (Ground your forecasts using market research and Google Analytics.)
  • Application starts (Compare to regionally comparable countries if you have them)
  • Applications completed (Compare to regionally comparable countries if you have them)
  • Admitted students (Compare to regionally comparable countries if you have them)
  • Enrolled students (The ultimate metric that should tie directly to your overarching campaign goal -- based on the bottom line, diversified enrollment, program cohort targets, etc.)

In short, measure everything you can capture reliable data on. Keeping a close eye on engagement (and tone) will reveal how people are moving through your pipeline. And no singular tactic will work in a vacuum. Create a system of tactics interdependent on one another.

You’ll find, too, that what appears to be working in one country may not work in another. So don’t assume that the marketing plan or messaging you use for your top source countries will be what works for your new market. In all likelihood, it won’t. That’s why you measure. Everything. And often.

You change what’s not working, lean in on what is, and call a good idea quits if the metrics just aren’t there.

This is the type of in-depth work we do all the time. From front-end market research through campaign analysis. Be in touch if you need a trusted partner to help guide you through your next new market entry.

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