How to target Chinese students who want to study in the West?

There are already hundreds of thousands of Chinese students studying in the West, and academic institutions in the UK, USA and Canada receive more international students from China than any other country in the world. With this trend set to grow, how can your higher education (HE) establishment position itself to welcome these highly-motivated, sophisticated young people, who almost invariably have a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed?

Preparatory steps

Do your research

It’s important to research the Chinese student market to identify key demographics and market segments which are likely to be a good fit for your institution. For example, in the UK, most Chinese students choose business-related subjects and the largest numbers are found at London universities. Most will typically be doing undergraduate degrees, although a significant proportion will be studying at post-graduate level.

Know what matters

Chinese students choose Western universities because they have connotations of value and prestige. A university degree from a reputable Western institution will be a valuable asset to a Chinese graduate’s CV and position them well for employment in any part of the world. Remember that younger Chinese are increasingly outward-looking and keen to experience the world.

Think about naming

Chinese students and parents alike value names greatly. For this reason, they will look at Ivy League universities in the USA, Oxbridge in the UK most obviously. But other links are also important. Manchester University appeals because of its links with the world’s most famous football teams. The University of Toronto is associated with successful immigrant families, for example. So consider the name and associations with your university. If it has accreditations, awards and other status symbols, be sure to promote them. If it is in a city with a claim to fame, then make the most of it!

Market to parents

Chinese parents see a quality Western education as an investment in their children’s future, so the question of ROI is key for their decision making. Perceptions of value are based on the physical qualification on offer, as well as the prestige and status of the institution itself. Chinese parents will want to see attractive buildings, heritage symbols, quality accommodation and excellent facilities. Ensure your marketing imagery really sells the quality of your physical offering, with strong ‘hero’ images and photographic quality which gives an editorial feel and a strongly aspirational edge.

Practical steps to creating your Chinese student targeted marketing campaign

Digital channels are your obvious best bet here, with your target market in China inevitably active online. Many institutions will also do in-country visits, talks and events, but these are expensive, resource-intensive and will only engage with a tiny proportion of the target audience.

Create your Chinese language website

Website localisation is vital and the best approach is to create a bespoke Chinese language website for your HE institution that is hosted in Mainland China or Hong Kong, which has a .cn domain and which has been built, written and tested specifically for a Chinese audience. Some universities will choose to translate existing content, but it is usually better to re-create content specifically for the needs of this distinct market. Remember that translation is more than simple word replacement; concepts and idioms must be perfectly conveyed for your university to be credible in this market. Consider the practicalities too. Chinese characters tend to take up 25% less space on a screen than Western characters, so the overall screen graphic presentation and UX may need re-working. Ideally, create a bespoke website with the help of an expert Chinese marketing agency, create content that really resonates with your target market (students and parents alike) and integrate all necessary elements such as your Chinese social media accounts, online advertising and other integrated features such as online chat.

Go mobile

Remember that over 98% of Chinese internet users choose mobile devices, so your academic institution also has the opportunity to create targeted campaigns and dedicated apps, featuring valuable information such as study programmes, chat facilities, key facts and success case studies. And of course, your HE institution’s website must be optimised for mobile as an absolute basic!

Use social media

Social media is your friend within this hyper-linked audience. WeChat is the most obvious platform, but others may be appropriate too for your HE brand, including Weibo and YouKu. Your content must be optimised for mobile and be planned strategically. For example, you will want to promote hard facts such has rankings, exam results and employment outcomes. Use learner-generated content that talks about learner experience and pastoral care. Interview successful graduates to explain what support is available for onward careers. A Chinese digital marketing agency can help you to build your brand on Chinese social media and to engage in the right way with your target audience. Remember that WeChat and other Chinese social media platforms also allow you to advertise, using a blend of in-app advertising (such as WeChat moments or banner ads) and KOL partnerships for ‘softer’ promotions, referral marketing and brand building.

Use Baidu PPC and SEO

With 70% of China’s search market, Baidu cannot be ignored. Set up the right Baidu PPC campaigns and you can drive qualified potential students – and parents – to your Chinese language website. It’s worth knowing that Baidu PPC usually offers better returns than Google PPC in the West, and it can accelerate the volume of incoming traffic to your landing pages rapidly, so that you can begin to engage your target audience. Similarly, invest in Baidu SEO for the longer-term, to drive your organic search volumes and accuracy.

Invest in online PR

A sound online PR strategy will amplify the effects of your digital marketing by placing your HE institution in the right publications for your target student and parent audience. Remember that Chinese people respect authority and seek out voices of trust, so your institution needs to be implicitly endorsed by appearing in the right media channels and outlets. A solid strategy will build your reputation across national media, educational publications, sector and vertical portals. It will need to include a rich mix of content, including thought leadership, reputation, case studies and so forth to brand build successfully and to stimulate enquiries.

Find out more

Market Me China works with Higher Education providers in the UK, USA, Europe and beyond to help them to attract Chinese students successfully to their institutions. To find out how our team of expert digital marketers can help you, please contact us today for a no-obligation chat about your needs.