The arrival of the Internet has already transformed the way in which language schools have been able to promote themselves. Now, the more recent development of social media, such as Skype, Facebook and Twitter, and the evolution of mobile web access, are in the process of creating another marketing revolution.
Social media are already being used to varying degrees by language presence within this arena. For many, the question that remains is how best to use these tools, and how much time and money they should be investing in them.
This will depend substantially on the size of the school in question and the marketing resources at its disposal. For example, while Malta’s English Language Academy has three dedicated marketing staff members, and Inturjoven Spanish Courses in Spain has both dedicated marketing and sales staff themselves supported by an external company in charge of website maintenance staff at many other institutions need to combine a marketing role with other duties.
However, one reason why Internet marketing has been embraced so wholeheartedly is that it may be undertaken without the need for huge levels of financial investment. “I think social media is more about investing time, rather than money,” comments Stephen Shortt, Managing Director of Alpha College of English in Dublin, Ireland. Similarly, Cleve Brown, owner of Worldwide School of English in Auckland, New Zealand, says that his school is investing time, but no money, to maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
“I tweet news and comments… and my tweets automatically update my Facebook status,” he says. “My ‘personal’ Facebook is a way for me to keep in touch with ex-students. The main plan here is to keep them in touch and my school in their mind, so, if they have friends, then they can easily recommend them to come to Worldwide School. We also have a Worldwide School Facebook page, for similar reasons.”
At Inturjoven Spanish Courses in Seville, Spain, “We use Facebook to build relationships, both with potential clients and agencies,” reports Director, Máximo Sepulveda Ramos. “Once they add their information to our profile, they can receive our newsletters and participate in… special offers and promotions we make periodically.” He adds, “This is an area in which we are investing enough money to make it more attractive and versatile, so that it becomes a lively tool.”
In Canada, David Oancia of Niagara College in Welland, ON, is a passionate advocate of social media. “Now that Facebook is creating more hits than Google,” he comments, “especially with the key demographic accessing the page up to 20 times daily, s/he who doesn’t venture into the social media minefield stands a good chance of missing the bus.”
However, he warns, “social media takes a great deal of time to develop intelligently.” Marketers should be careful, he says, to ensure that use of social media does not end up diluting the core marketing message, which must focus on your institution and the benefits it offers. Pointing out that some larger corporations have entire teams dedicated to social media marketing, he exhorts, “Let’s not forget, Facebook is a game-changer, so passion, energy and loads of creativity must be thrown into it.”
Those with deep resources are also able to carry out substantial analysis of their web traffic, which can help them to decide what is working best, and what changes, if any, to make. “We have a team of web specialists that analyse our web traffic, across multiple sites, including visits, where they are from, stay on the site and conversion rates,” comments Max Etingen of the UK’s London School of Business & Finance (LSBF).
Another aspect of Internet marketing that also needs to be taken into account is the way in which the mobile phone is increasingly taking over from the PC for web access (see inset, below). As a result of this, “Young students in Japan do not know their PC email [address], because they use their mobile phones,” observes Derek Keet, Assistant Director at Banff Education Centre in Canmore, AB, Canada. Furthermore, he notes, Internet advertising is being compromised through the fact that many young people have learned how to block advertisements. “These are just examples, but times are changing,” he warns.
While grappling with the possibilities and challenges created by the constant stream of innovative technologies, marketers are able to console themselves that, as Shortt points out, social media and cloud computing are making it easier and easier for people to conduct their marketing efforts online and to work from anywhere in the world. “I think this is a natural progression and the way in which marketing is moving, but,” he is anxious to stress, “it’s always important to remember that these are just tools and the personal interaction is the most important element of marketing.”
The enhanced opportunity for personal interaction is, of course, one of the key strengths of the Internet. Another is the ease of presenting and accessing information and visual material, and it is this that has led to a much diminished role for the traditional school and agent brochure. As Sophie l’Enfant of Spanish language school, Colegio de España, Salamanca, confirms, “Throughout these last years, the publication of a printed brochure is less important than it was before, due to the increase of our presence on the Internet.”
“Most agencies now have websites and digital mailshots,” explains Shortt, “and only really need the brochure for when someone comes into their office to use as a focal point in the discussion at the table.” Indeed, he adds, “Some agencies seem to be sitting in front of computers and showing videos and libraries of photos now.” As a result, the number of brochures his school prints has been decreasing year-on-year.
This means that, whereas, in the past, the brochure used to represent a sizeable chunk of marketing outlay, schools today often report figures of between five per cent and 15 per cent. Indeed, with her school shopping around the world for the best printing prices, according to Eleri Maitland of French language school, French in Normandy, the expenditure is “hardly worth mentioning”.
This is not to say, however, that we are about to say goodbye forever to this erstwhile marketing staple. “We believe [our brochure] is still important,” says Louiseanne Mercieca, Sales & Marketing Manager at English Language Academy (ELA) in Malta, and here it continues to be printed in several languages, as it is at Banff Education Centre.
For Oancia, meanwhile, the brochure has become “even more important than ever”. In carrying out a corporate rebranding exercise for the school last year (see inset, right), he reports that the initial undergraduate/postgraduate brochure was where the school developed the blueprint for its core message.
While a school’s website, social media activity and brochure are vehicles for marketing both to potential students and to b2b partners, a great deal of less visible marketing activity goes on that which addresses b2b partners exclusively. “The vast majority of our business is from agents and partners around the world,” explains Shortt, “so the vast majority of our resources and efforts go into supporting them and their activities locally.” In this sphere, traditional marketing techniques seem to be largely holding their own.
Visits to agents and workshops continue to be highly valued as a means of building and maintaining relationships with partners. Indeed, according to Ramos, savings achieved through lower brochure costs are used to fund attendance at workshops and educational fairs, “where,” he says, “we can meet more agencies to promote our courses”.
“We attend several workshops,” reports Mercieca. “We find this is the best way to meet both new agents and our current partners.” Consequently, the school allocates most of its marketing budget to this area. For Alpha College, meanwhile, the majority of its marketing budget is split between attending workshops and visiting partners in their offices. “It’s important to stay in touch with your partners using whatever tools you have at your disposal,” comments Shortt, “but there are few genuine substitutes [for] actually meeting face-to-face.”
Brown would agree, noting that visiting partners overseas represents “the biggest part of our budget by a long way (not including my salary, which is in the marketing budget).” One reason for the importance of this is that, as Keet highlights, counsellors often change. Moreover, “meetings with directors go wonderfully, but sometimes it is the counsellor that needs to understand the benefits of our area or the quality of what we offer, and our brochure might go on a shelf and collect dust…” he says.
While language schools generally ascribe the largest part of their advisor-marketing budget to the above activities, they may also consider incentives to b2b partners on top of any commission agreement. Incentives and prizes may be offered for meeting performance targets. Examples quoted by Brown at New Zealand’s Worldwide School of English include a 10-week full-time tuition scholarship for 200 paid weeks, or a UK£1,000 (US$1,615) bonus for every 100 weeks booked. Familiarisation (fam) trips are also commonly used as an incentive. “We have invited agencies that we work well with to come as our guests and enjoy the Rocky Mountains with us,” comments Keet, while Niagara College is in the process of launching a fam tour, which will, at present, only be available to “those agencies who clearly support our activities,” Oancia reveals.
And commission levels can be an important consideration in the marketing mix: Brown points out, “In recent years the pressure on commission rates has increased, and the number of agents who are mentioning [this] as a critical decision-making factor are also increasing. Therefore, commission rate is becoming more and more… an issue.”
At the same time, language schools sometimes offer contributions towards their partners’ own marketing efforts. At Malta’s ELA, this decision depends on the destination. According to Mercieca, the school may undertake joint promotions in destinations where it is not already established. In the UK, at LSBF, on the other hand, Etingen notes that the institution “works with a few key strategic partners” in each region to promote its programmes and centres. “We’re fairly selective about which one of our partners we invest in,” he comments, while adding that this “makes things rather difficult, as most partners expect a marketing contribution right off the bat”.
Nevertheless, it seems that many schools share this caution, with Keet commenting, “Usually we offer credit notes that are paid when agencies send students, so agencies must be accountable for what they offer/promise from the marketing. For example, instead of giving CAN$1,000 (US$1,011) for a promotion, we may give a CAN$1,000 (US$1,011) credit note that [the agency] would subtract from the invoice price when…paying for the next student’s enrolment.”
While efforts such as these that are specifically directed at b2b partners are important in building and maintaining long-term relationships, Internet activities can also be as useful in building agent trust and respect as for attracting consumers. “Webinars, Skype, Windows One [are all] great ways to reach out-of-the-way destinations, or maintain training sessions all over the world, without having to leave the comfort of your office,” points out Oancia. Meanwhile, he observes, “We are clearly aware that one of the first devotees of [web-based] materials will be the agencies.”
In the present fast-evolving environment, it is important that schools should never be tempted to rest on their laurels. Frequently re-evaluating strategy is key to a business’s success. It is, therefore, unsurprising to learn that, for many language schools, this is a constant process. “We are continuously re-appraising our marketing strategy,” claims Ramos, “initially, at the end of each sales activity, and, of course, once a year, we re-appraise our strategy according to set targets.”
“If something seems to be working, we keep doing it,” says Shortt. “If we don’t see immediate results from an initiative, we evaluate it over a longer term.” While the current financial climate may suggest it is time to retrench, many would disagree. As Brown observes, “The ‘current’ situation is always a challenge!” And with the tools now at marketers’ disposal, “Opportunities are immense, according to Etingen. “It’s never been better!”
The year of the mobile
According to Jon Aizlewood, former Marketing Manager at Study Group digital sales, who now runs CarbonGraffiti, a web consultancy, 2011 is the year of the mobile. And, if you think that this is unrelated to your marketing agenda, then think again!
Speaking recently at the English UK 2011 marketing conference in London, he pointed out that the number of users of social networking sites is huge and growing with 590 million using Skype, 500 million on Facebook, 126 million on Myspace and 114 million using Twitter. At the same time, by 2011, 85 per cent of mobile handsets were able to access the web. And, what marketers need to take into account is the fact that this is changing the way in which many people are interacting with the web.
According to Aizlewood, quoting figures from a survey undertaken last December by MobiThinking, many mobile web users either never, or only infrequently, use the desktop web. In Egypt, the figure for mobile-only access is as high as 70 per cent, he reveals, while in other markets, including India, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana, it stands above 50 per cent. While Europe currently lags behind with Russia and the UK at just around 20 per cent, the trend is clear to see.
What he believes this demonstrates is how important it is for marketers to make their own site mobile-ready. “Stop focusing on the desktop!” warns Aizlewood, as designing for the desktop may alienate students that are mobile users. Sites need to be adapted to both channels, and, in order to do this, Aizlewood recommends, “Design and build for mobile first, [then] expand to desktop.”
Finally, if this is not enough food for thought, he points out that there are endless opportunities with TV applications, offering convergent experience across web, mobile and TV. Not only is 2011 the year of the mobile; it is also a year for exploring new avenues.
Rebranding for a multimedia world
For David Oancia of Niagara College in Canada, the major project of the last year has been to re-develop the college’s corporate branding. Fresh from an experience that left no stone unturned, he now shares some of his thoughts with readers of Study Travel Magazine. When he began the task, Oancia relates, he carried out a thorough study of the educational marketing landscape, and was less than impressed with what he saw. “The overriding majority were a series of facts presented without any heart.”
Therefore, he set out to inject his own material with creativity and passion. “In essence, in 2010, what I spent the majority of time on was creating a good story, to be told through the marketing material one that took the basic facts, but arranged them in the logical, systematic process a student goes through. What I came to realise, as I did my research, is that the material had to appeal to the senses, as much as to the intellect; be subtle enough to make the student feel as if they were making the right choice, not visiting a trade show.”
He adds that the college’s target market of 18-to-27 year-olds “are completely adept if not outright geniuses at being intrinsically able to understand the differences between hype, lies [and] manipulation [on the one hand] and truth and believability [on the other]. Any whiff of the former will destroy any shard of the latter,” he comments. Therefore it was essential that the material he came up with should be completely credible.
“It was a slow process, that combined a fair amount of trial and error,” he reflects. “Then, as most marketers come to realise, each medium requires a slight re-think and re-tool. Can one tell the same story and/or spread the same message in a brochure as…on the net?” The answer, he says, is “yes”, but the approach, technique and technology make the final product a different experience. Why, for example, use pictures when you can use video? Why use the web page as a glorified brochure and catalogue, when you can incorporate elements of interaction, making the dream, promise and excitement surrounding international education much more tangible?