Last week, we touched briefly on the importance of differentiating your institution in the minds of international students. You may be seeing ever more doom-and-gloom sentiment among your peers on campus and colleagues in the field. The uplifting confidence that comes from a deep understanding of your differentiators is essential to your success.
This approach applies to your institution's success as much as it applies to your personal success. For this blog, we'll stick to your institution's approach and leave the rest to you.
So, your institution is not ranked in the top 50, right? And your access to a major city? How about your brand recognition in your target countries?
The reality is, most schools are in the same boat here. Not all international students are looking for the same things. There is a niche that will find your attributes just right. All international students are not all looking for the same things. But they DO need to become aware of what you have that other's don't. YOU need to help them assess and select.
International marketing is not an easy thing to do. It may seem overwhelming, confusing and, at times, impossible. It's easy for your colleagues on campus to fall into the trap of thinking, "Why would any international student want to come here?"
It's time to flip the question.
Why wouldn't they want to come to your school? You have so much to offer. Your doors wouldn't be open if you didn't. The question is: "What can your institution offer international students that no other institution can?"
Bottom Line: Creatively communicating your differentiators is essential to helping students know about and then grasp the opportunities you offer.
Let's get into this a bit deeper...
Ask any institution: what makes your school unique? I can almost guarantee that you will hear the same things across the board: "We have a world-class faculty, a welcoming campus, etc." How many times do you think your prospective international students have heard that before?
How are you helping them make a wise decision that fits their needs?
Think Big. Dig Down.
Let's dig a little deeper. Picture your campus and the ways that your current international students interact with your academic and social environment. Where do you find them most often? Where do they congregate? What are they excited about? What events do they engage with? If you can't answer those questions: walk the campus and take time to observe, and then ask them!
Pull together a room full of international students and ask them what they love (and hate) about your institution. Get nitty gritty. Ask them if they have a favorite meal. Ask them what kind of transportation they use. Ask them who helped them integrate into campus life. Ask them if their expectations are being met. Ask them about their dreams and how your institution plays a role.
Keep the conversation focused on the positive, but listen carefully to the negative. And then take it back to the positive again. You know how people are, we can all get caught in the complaining mode. Important to gather broad perspective and not get stuck. For this conversation, focus on what makes them smile. Afterwards, work hard to fix the things that don't make them smile.
Embrace the Unexpected
When you have the answers straight from your students, you may find some surprising differentiators. Maybe your students love that your institution provides late night eating options so that they don't have to head to McDonald's at midnight. Maybe they appreciate the 24/7 library hours. Maybe Ms. White in Student Services is changing lives on a daily basis by going above and beyond to help students feel at home and answer obscure questions. Maybe your team is helping uninsured international students find access to healthcare. Maybe those one or two Zipcars on campus are crucial for international student well-being.
The reality is, it's the little things that can make all the difference in the world to international students. And, if you're part of a small institution or an institution located in a rural area, you may have more advantages than you think. In fact, we're sure you do. You just aren't using them to promote your institution.
Find Your Unique
It comes down to creative, engaging, unique content that compels attention in a crowded field.
Tell some personal stories. Let your current students and alumni take the spotlight and share their experiences. Let them talk about things that might mean nothing to you, but mean the world to them.
- Ms. Scarlet in the dining hall can make authentic kung pao chicken.
- Professor Plum occasionally makes brigadeiros for his classes.
- Mrs. Peacock in admissions is learning a little Mandarin to converse with students' parents.
- Mrs. White in the library can find you absolutely anything and sometimes gives students rides to the airport because she loves the conversations.
Side note – ever notice how much culture is shared through food? Use that!
You have all of these beautiful intercultural moments occurring on a small scale around your campus every day. Dig them up. Your administrators, staff and faculty are working hard to make your international students feel "at home" on campus. These moments often go unrecognized, but the reality is that more often than not, those are the moments that make or break the student experience.
Let those stories shine!
Get Your Story On
Define your audience segments clearly (need help? See our blog post from last week) and hit them with great, targeted content. Keep it positive. Share the stories that make your current students and alumni smile. And remember, your institution has a lot more to offer than many around you may think.
Spread that message to your recruitment team, your colleagues across campus, your administrators. Building a positive, proactive culture is part of your job. Of course, when you need a bit of help with that, drop us a line.