5 International Marketing Lessons for Domestic Recruitment

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After years of focusing exclusively on international marketing and recruitment for universities and higher ed organizations, I’ve started getting involved with more domestic projects. There’s absolutely a mind shift that must happen when you’re focusing on local or national recruitment versus seeing the entire world as your (potential!) market…

After years of focusing exclusively on international marketing and recruitment for universities and higher ed organizations, I’ve started getting involved with more domestic projects.

There's absolutely a mind shift that must happen when you're focusing on local or national recruitment versus seeing the entire world as your (potential!) market. But more and more, I've come to believe that the processes and lessons I've learned working globally are also the best practices for domestic recruitment.

Here are the five most important practices at universities that are successful at recruiting both domestic and international students:

1. Do whatever you can to understand your audiences as well as possible. This is much more obvious when you're looking at entering or improving results in markets where people speak different languages, have different aspirations, and are obviously culturally different from you and your own peers.

Translation to domestic recruitment: Assume nothing. Listening and research can help you understand important nuances in how our university's program "features" become "benefits" to our audiences. Because higher ed websites have to reach such varied stakeholders, creating personas helps you to connect with prospects on their basis of their real needs.

2. Prioritize your potential market segments. When you’re looking at the whole world, it’s fairly obvious that things will fall apart without good prioritization and segmentation. The best international marketers spend a lot of time thinking about this, looking beyond geography and language to include factors like career goals or psychographic needs.

Translation to domestic recruitment: Knowing who your ideal students are and making sure no stone goes unturned with generating or nurturing those leads is just as important domestically. Being selective in focusing on a few segments that are likely to convert and succeed in your program(s) saves you time and money. The ability to do better lead scoring and change your follow-up activities based on how individual prospects fit into your priority target segments – plus their indicators of interest – is just one way this helps improve results.

3. Allay their concerns quickly... The proliferation of English-taught programs means that options now exist where they didn’t before, and prospects need to know immediately if a program is suitable for them in terms of quality, eligibility, cost/funding, application deadline, how to start an application, and career outcomes. International students also need visa info and to make sure that they’ll be able to get a job back home or be able to stay and work in the US for at least an OPT period. Students generally have to work far too hard to find this basic information on many university websites.

Translation to domestic recruitment: Because central marketing or enrollment offices often have little to no control over pages related to individual academic programs, let’s just say that these may offer lots of exciting opportunities for improvement! One way to make progress here is to conduct basic usability testing with prospects or even existing students. You can have them look for basic information, record their click pathways, and ask them what they found difficult to use or find. The results may surprise you.

4. ...and build an emotional connection just as fast. If it seems overwhelming to “have to” market to the whole world, think about how prospective students feel when considering programs across the globe. Assuming that international students have serious concerns about how they’ll fit in culturally, academically, and (possibly) linguistically makes it easy to remember to be kind in responding and otherwise helping them.

Translation to domestic recruitment: Yield would improve dramatically if we could bring every student to campus, but that’s not practical today. But it’s still possible to connect personally by making sure that emails and phone calls are both helpful and friendly; offering Skype or Google Hangout “office hours”; connecting good prospects with students or alumni; and creating content that connects with prospects as people.

5. Focus on content and audiences rather than channels and tactics. Brazilians will dominate your Facebook page, while Facebook is blocked in China. That means that the channels and tactics for each country might differ, and international recruitment folks focus on getting to know market segments well. They’re used to creating great content that can be parsed and used regardless of channel or even language.

Translation to domestic recruitment: Even The BBC appears to be cutting its radio and TV divisions in favor of ones that focus on channels and audiences, implying that this approach is more efficient. Imagine if, instead of social media or events people, you had cross-functional marketing and recruitment teams focused on a particular region or type of student. And then imagine those teams developing deep expertise in communicating with their target groups. Now imagine how much better leads and conversions would be. Much better than asking yourself what to do with a particular channel or tactic.

Preaching to the choir?

Rigorous marketing processes demand that we define our audiences and our value propositions to them, create amazing content and processes that help them connect with us and move them along the sales process, and optimize all these efforts with data and research.

Few institutions are doing all of these things rigorously across all programs, which means that small movements in the right directions can yield big results. Your prospects – and your sanity – will thank you!

Megan Brenn-White has nearly two decades of experience in international education and content development, most of which has been helping higher education institutions communicate more effectively online with international audiences. She founded The Brenn-White Group in 2010.

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