East Asian educational marketing poses some unique challenges. Much of this is not only due to the language and culture, but the preferred channels and devices used for marketing. Marketing techniques and channels often have to be radically adapted, and the approach changed to better attract prospective students. With international students from East Asia coming in greater numbers, and students (especially from China) becoming common, it is important for educational institutions to gain a competitive edge.
It is not uncommon for countries in East Asia to have populations that speak more than one language. In Malaysia, three languages are spoken: Malaysian, Chinese, and English. In China alone other than Mandarin Chinese,, there are multiple dialects in use, such as Cantonese, Min-Nan, or Shanghainese. It is absolutely essential that the right language is selected to the demographic.
It is important than to know the dominant language in the region, as well as the proper language format. An advertisement in simplified Chinese characters directed at a Chinese demographic, would not be as effective in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore. People from these areas would think that the ads are targeting Mainland Chinese, since it was not written in traditional characters, and might not pay attention. Likewise, a video advertisement in Mandarin Chinese would not be as effective as an advertisement in Cantonese in Hong Kong or Guangzhou.
Regional localization can make or break an advertising campaign in Asia. The closer you are to the language of the demographic, the more likely it is to build greater credibility for your educational marketing.
Financial stability, relationships, and familial prosperity play a key role in East Asian culture.
Education is seen as a way to ensure not individual achievement, but as a way to increase one’s social status, financial prosperity, and take care of one’s family or improve their social standing. For educational marketing this means several things:
Emphasize the group. In this case, educational marketing must be focused not on individual achievement, but rather on collective achievement. This means marketing must be focused how it affects the targeted individuals’ relationships, with their family or their work group. For example, an ad with graphic showing an individual at graduation shaking hands with the university president, with their parents by their side is very compelling. It emphasizes the benefit to their family, and emphasizes the relationship with a individual with status, the university president. In short, it displays the group relationship between the applicant, their family, and the status of the university.
Emphasize prosperity and status. Show the benefit of what the education will achieve, and emphasize the potential money or status they will gain from the degree. Ad copy should emphasize the future benefits of jobs, promotion, or salary increases. Ad copy should also emphasize the networking/relationship building opportunities from possessing the degree. Graphics in ads should also reflect this, by showing, for example, an individual in a new job as a boss with subordinates. The more direct the emphasis on status and prosperity, the greater the effectiveness.
Emphasize relationships. Does your university or college have connections to well known individuals, or have alumni that graduated from your school? Does the East Asian demographic you are targeting know them? If you can answer yes, then emphasize this connection in your advertising. Even if the alumni only graduated with a certificate from your institution or received an honorary degree, this relationship should be emphasized within ad copy and images.
In addition, emphasize community and group culture in ads. Show students from the targeted East Asian demographic in a group with other students from the same demographic. If diversity is emphasized, make sure that the majority of the students in a graphic are from the targeted demographic. East Asians are from a group culture, and like to find individuals from their own culture or country first before they find individuals from outside of their group.
Much of Asia is mobile focused. When building campaigns and assets for Asia, always consider a mobile-first experience. Landing Pages and Thank You Pages must be optimized for a mobile experience. Much of advertising and websites by companies or educational institutions are focused on connecting with the customer through mobile first. This is usually done through messenger apps such as Line (Japan), Kakao Talk (Korea), and WeChat (China and Chinese Speaking Communities).
These apps often have profiles that function in much the same way as websites, and contain similar information. Unlike websites however, it allows an instant experience letting the user chat with a representative in real time. Many of the major educational institutions in China maintain profile accounts on apps such as WeChat to communicate blog articles, information on the institution, or important dates. Updates, reminders to register, and application deadlines appear as chat messages within the app. Similarly, many major Japanese institutions utilize their Twitter accounts in marketing, as well as familiar platforms such as GoogleAds, due to the mobile friendly format of the platform.
Marketing doesn’t end at just the digital campaigns towards East Asian students. It is important to keep them committed, and spread the word about the value your institution to their family and friends. Work on building a relationship to them, their family, and their group. Even later in life, family, parents, and social group play a major influence in buying decisions. Word of mouth is the strongest means of advertisement, if you can build a relationship or provide to them what they need. The stronger the attempt at relationship building, the more an educational institution is likely to be recommended. There are multiple ways of doing this.
One example is gift giving. Gift giving is an important part of East Asian culture. It’s a means by which to build, strength, or facilitate relationships When we go on trips, we often buy souvenirs for our family, friends, and coworkers back home. It is not uncommon to go on a trip with large luggages so we can fit all the items we need to carry back.
One educational institution in California (one of the UC schools) utilized this to build rapport with the students. During campus visits and during move in days, they bussed both students and parents to shopping areas in the Bay Area. This helped build not only a connection the applicant, but also the parents, who were key to making the decision to go to the school. This method solidified the decision of parents to go to the school, but also the students’ as well. It built social rapport to friends and relations back in their home country. By doing so, the university was associated with the gifts that were given. It also served as an opportunity for the parents and the students to tell people how the university went out of its way to build a relationship.
Many of these insights I learned through sheer trial and error, experience, and listening to conversations between my managers or seniors in late night informal meetings in karaoke rooms. Yes, karaoke is important to doing business out there. These lessons are few of the many lessons I learned about marketing while interning in China and Japan. They are, by no means, an exhaustive or complete list of educational marketing techniques for the East Asian market. My actual list of lessons from Asia is endless, but hopefully these tips can save you some wasted effort and misspent budgets.