Marketing Strategy China: How to succeed in Higher Education Marketing to Chinese Students

Higher education marketing to Chinese studies requires an increasingly expert strategy and careful execution, but the potential gains are tremendous. The country is already a vast market and growing fast, with nearly half a million Chinese students now taking courses at Western universities and with the UK, USA and Canada the biggest markets. But when creating a higher education marketing strategy China must be approached as a standalone market with distinct channels and targeted approaches rather than a subset of an existing domestic strategy. In this blog, we take a look at some key routes to success.

The fundamentals of Chinese higher education marketing

As with higher education marketing in the UK, the Chinese market requires a strategy for attraction, engagement and conversion that appeals to both prospective students and their parents. HE marketers must engage with both audiences in a way that meets their local cultural needs. This encompasses everything from speaking in the local language, respecting and observing local cultural norms and understanding Chinese values. The help of a specialist Chinese marketing agency can be extremely useful at this market research and strategic development stage in order to get the fundamentals right and to gain a vital insight into each key area, before attempting to craft campaigns and tactics that deliver meaningful ROI.

Select your channels

Once HE institutions are convinced that they truly understand the attributes, needs, wants and desires of their Chinese market, there are a number of channels which should be employed to begin engagement and tactical delivery. Naturally, a key focus will be on digital communication and engagement channels, which are heavily used in China. As in Western markets, prospective Chinese students carry out a high degree of research online.

1. A Chinese version of your HE website

It’s vital to have a Chinese language version of your institution’s existing website in order to direct Chinese traffic appropriately. Via this channel, you can provide key information, capture queries and track analytics for the success of digital campaigns. The Chinese website will also need to be complemented by digital marketing campaigns which drive targeted traffic to it. However, it’s vital not to simply offer a direct translation of your English site into a Mandarin alternative. Look at the content, naming strategy and social media integration of your Chinese-version site to ensure it truly appeals to your Chinese audience.

2. Baidu PPC and SEO

As China’s primary search engine with almost 80% of the market, it is vital to invest in Baidu PPC and SEO. Baidu PPC offers potential quick wins via paid for advertising and Baidu SEO is a longer-term strategy that offers ranking benefits via keyword optimisation and other techniques. The PPC model can be quickly effective but it requires know-how and experience for the best results, with businesses required to follow complex administration requirements in order to advertise on the platform. Baidu also offers rich advertising products, such as its BrandZone which operates on a CPT auction model with a 50-80% conversion rate, and again, which requires expert knowledge to navigate successfully. Market Me China offers expert online marketing services to help businesses to get the most from Baidu.

3. Social media marketing in China

Two vital platforms to focus on are Weibo and WeChat for engaging with prospective Chinese students. China is the most active nation on earth on social media, so invest in great content, two-way communications and video. Youku & Tudou are two video sharing channels like YouTube which offer HE institutions the chance to promote their branded content and give an insight into the educational, pastoral and cultural life of their university. Western marketers will rapidly notice that these channels are particularly advanced when it comes to targeted marketing opportunities. For example, WeChat offers group conversion opportunities to HE institutions, where prospective Chinese students can communicate with a panel of your existing Chinese students within a group of up to 500 users. This can be particularly effective as an enrolment tactic, through trusted peer-to-peer interaction.

4. Mobile apps and targeting

Figures from CNNIC suggest that there are 695 million mobile phone users in China, representing 95.1% of the country’s total number of internet users – 731 million internet users in China (Source: CNNIC Statistical Survey on Internet Development in China, December 2016). HE marketers can create dedicated apps and target campaigns based on segmented demographic data. Again, these need to be built with specific thought to the functions and content that potential students want to see; such as course programmes, key stats and facts, success stories, chat facilities and so forth.

5. Online PR

An online PR strategy will support your digital efforts by placing your institution in the right publications that prospective students and their parents read and engage with. The Chinese market respects authoritative voices, so a PR strategy that makes your university visible and implicitly endorsed by the right media outlets and channels will reap rewards. A good strategy will seek to build your reputation on Chinese outlets, spanning educational and national media, alongside verticals and sector portals. Of course, content is king and the right strategy will include a mix of case studies and successes, statistics, reputation pieces, thought leadership pieces and other carefully conceived content types designed to appeal to the key criteria and values of your prospective students and their parents.

6. Events

Don’t forget the power of face-to-face events in the modern world of digital! Universities need to be represented at key recruitment events in China and be prepared to speak to groups of soon-to-be students and their parents at careers sessions. This is also where the power of your Chinese student alumni comes in, and the right speakers will be able to answer all of the pressing questions that your target audience has; from accommodation and local culture through to food and networking opportunities. A specialist China marketing agency can assist you with targeted consultancy that directs your efforts to the activities which will yield results.

Find out more

Successful HE marketing to Chinese students and their parents requires expert knowledge, local insight and a high degree of skill in order to get right. The support and assistance of a specialist Chinese marketing services provider can offer HE marketing teams a valuable means of gaining these advantages, in order to craft successful marketing campaigns that deliver meaningful ROI and the desired level of student conversions. To find out more, contact us here.