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Recruiting Intelligence

Selling What Sells: Implementing Responsive Recruiting Strategies

Are you selling what your customers want? And pardon us for using the word "selling" when talking about academic marketing. We realize this word makes folks bristle, to say the least. However, the schools you find yourself marveling at, the ones advancing on the US News and World Report ranking, are the ones with the capacity to grit their teeth and apply hard business criteria to their marketing and sales activities. The school names you often hear bandied about as the market leaders, the ones your leadership reference in meetings saying things like, "Well, X university tripled their international student population in the past 4 years. Why can't we do that?" -- these are the schools that segment their markets and tailor their messages to the customers most likely to buy what they have to sell. Ooooph! Did we just say that?

WES recently published a report, WES International Student Mobility Trends 2013: Towards Responsive Recruitment Strategies developed by Rahul Choudaha. Rahul's research team points to some interesting trends for those of us who work with international students. Of particular interest is the finding that the rise of international students in the U.S. is primarily “driven by undergraduates, those who pursue business‐related disciplines, and those who elect the Intensive English Program pathway.” Realizing that these are the fastest growing segments of international students seeking an American education, we want to consider how our clients are competitive in these specific areas.

It can be a challenge for your marketing and enrollment folks to prioritize one academic program over another. The internal pressure from many departments will try to require a balanced marketing portfolio of ALL academic programs. If one program gets a brochure or landing page, they ALL get the same treatment. In business, a portfolio of high-end products and services rarely gets an across the board marketing approach. In academic terms, a humanities-focused student is not going to respond to the same pitch as a finance-focused student.

And from a revenue point of view, a view academic leadership and faculty often have difficulty adopting together, different products and services deserve different marketing approaches. Again, in academic terms, if the business school is turning a profit and the music program is not, do they both get the same marketing budget? We are not making an argument for or against humanities or any other academic programming. We are simply making the point that schools need to evaluate where the revenue drivers are and recognize that these internal conversations need to happen. When one service line sells well, really well, and brings in revenue, those funds can underwrite less profitable, but entirely necessary activities.

So, back to the WES report: Graph 1 highlights that of all international students, the U.S. undergraduate population has increased to 40% in 2012 from 34% in 2004. Interestingly, in Australia international undergraduate students have accounted for 60% of all international students during the past decade.

Graph 1

Sources: WES International Student Mobility: Trends 2013

Methods of recruitment and institutional expectations, priorities and goals should take into consideration the WES research. Historically, international students largely came to the U.S. as graduate students. With shifting priorities, shifting demographics, a rising middle-class in specific countries, diminishing space at universities in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada, and a host of other factors, we are seeing a rise in international undergraduates arriving in the U.S. to study. How international undergraduate students are recruited and how they are managed once they arrive on campus varies in many ways from the graduate student population. Graduate students tend to be much more proactive about their school choices and have a very different range of housing and student service needs than the typical undergraduate. Do you see an opportunity to promote your market differentiators here?

The fact that more students are arriving in the US to participate in the intensive English programs further points to the need for changing recruitment strategies. We also know that at the high school level, boarding and day schools have recorded a rising number of international students which is not reflected in the IIE data for the U.S. We expect that many of these international students will transfer to U.S. undergraduate higher education institutions offering a new pool of well prepared international students. Are your marketing activities focused on tapping this growing pool of international students already located in the U.S.? Or does your marketing approach them as if they are domestic students since they are already in the U.S.? Again, we point to the need for market segmentation and targeted messaging to get the most return on investment.

The WES report suggests higher education institutions interested in recruiting international students need to focus on three main areas: research, partnership and technology. It is through the intersection of these three areas that institutions will find the most success in their efforts. WES shows a nice graphical representation of that thinking (Graph 2) .

We agree with WES' weight and emphasis (right lower box) on aligning prospective student segments to the institution's profile and recruitment channels. We believe that many institutions have room for improvement in that area. Marketing approaches that segment international students by academic interest area and other consumer behavior patterns will find greater success. This kind of market research in advance of launching your marketing initiatives will inform your decisions regarding partnerships and technology purchases.

This stuff is not rocket science. It simply takes a willingness to conduct a bit more market research, and the effort to create, disseminate and track a variety of marketing content by market segment. Take the extra time and you will reap the benefits.

Ultimately recognizing and acting on what really sells and turns a profit will increase the efficiency of your recruitment process and your return on investment. Selling that concept internally may be your biggest challenge.

Graph 2


Topics: Insights