21 / 03 / 2019

Creating more effective education marketing


Chris Hodgen




Marketing in the education sector is very competitive, and includes some unique challenges that must be overcome. The most challenging demographic to reach is young prospective students who are just leaving secondary education.

There is usually only a short window of opportunity to reach these students and get your message into their minds. You need to show what attributes would make it appealing for the student to consider enrolling with you.

Another challenge is that attitudes toward education are changing. There is more of an emphasis on lifelong learning, and much less focus on the idea of education as a pathway to employment. Indeed employment is no longer a particularly desirable goal for young people, and marketing that focuses too much on employment opportunities could be detrimental.

Today’s students are more aware of the world of opportunity. They know the stories of successful entrepreneurs, and they know that a majority of those entrepreneurs who have reached the highest levels of achievement either never went to university, or dropped out before completing their studies.

Reaching these students requires understanding what motivates them in the context of the changing world. We can’t rely on what worked in the past, because it has been rendered largely irrelevant by improvements in technology and a growing awareness of personal empowerment. The idea that success comes from without is a dead idea, and consequently you can’t really sell it.

What you can sell is the points that will make higher education pay off in terms of personal development, lifestyle, experience, and opportunity. The game plan hasn’t really changed. As ever, it is “go with your strengths”. What has changed is the perception of what makes an academic offering strong.

Education Marketing in a Changing World

The demand for higher education is strong, even though attitudes about education are changing. Throughout the developed world, and even in many developing nations, there are more people completing their secondary education and going on to achieve higher learning in academic institutions and vocational colleges.

Data collected by the Pew Research Centre in the United States showed that among those aged between 18 and 33 in that country, the percentage of bachelor degree attainment has risen considerably for each successive generation, particularly with regard to the number of females completing higher education[i].

This doesn't take into account those who pursue associate degrees and vocational certifications through local community colleges and vocational colleges, or those undertaking short informal courses by distance education.

Young people are not the only market that is hungry for education in the modern world, either. In the UK, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), reports that there have been increases in the numbers of students over the age of 25 seeking higher education places[ii]. There are also increasing numbers of senior citizens returning to education, either to make up for what they have missed, or as an alternative to simply being "retired".

Education providers need to be ready for the expected increase in senior citizens seeking higher education places. This will occur naturally as the elderly population increases[iii], and may provide interesting opportunities which can be beneficial for education providers and students alike.

The market response to increased demand

In order to cope with the sudden and massive increase in demand for education, the number of education providers has also increased dramatically.

While this has eased the burden on administrators to some extent, for consumers the increased size of the marketplace has led to a confusing minefield of choice, with so many different education providers competing for attention.

It matters because for each individual there is potentially a lot at stake. The pressure on prospective students is high, because they're led to believe throughout their secondary education that making a wrong choice can profoundly affect their fate.

The high achievers who have a lot of self-confidence will be generally more likely to have an obsession with getting into "the right colleges", while individuals with less impressive academic results or with less confidence will be more concerned with finding courses that they believe can help them advance.

This opens up opportunities by:

  • Allowing you to promote your college as an esteemed place of learning, and/or
  • Allowing you to promote the courses in terms of personal empowerment

In all cases it is best to keep the focus on the individual. Their personal development, social advancement, and access to the best facilities are all much more important than concepts such as employment prospects or academic prestige.

Key factors affecting student decision-making

Every individual has their own goals they wish to accomplish, and there is no single marketing approach that will be universally appealing to every candidate.

Lessons learned in recent years reflect that:

  • Those who wish to study medicine or some of the more advanced scientific courses are more likely to be influenced by academic reputation and career prospects. They also are likely to be attracted to institutions that can provide access to the latest technologies, have a strong reputation for research excellence, and that have a good international standing.
  • Those who wish to study law are more likely to be influenced by the reputations of the individual faculty members responsible for their field of education. Academic standing is somewhat important to these students, but they are more acutely aware than the average student that who you know can be just as important as what you know.
  • Those who wish to study engineering subjects are more likely to be influenced by technology.
  • Almost all the other students are much less concerned with the above matters. They will be more attracted if courses are undemanding and flexible. These students value low workloads and a reasonable amount of social time. Courses that don’t require examinations are also much more attractive to these students.

For best results, align with a professional marketing agency

Professional educators design and deliver effective education courses for the benefit of their students. Professional marketers design and deliver effective marketing messages for the benefit of their clients.

The two roles are equally important, and they're not really interchangeable. Marketers spend the majority of their time devising creative content that will motivate people to undertake a desired action. They are the lever that provides the mechanical advantage to the task of selling.

Marketing agencies are also competitive. They all want to be the best. When choosing which marketing agency will handle your marketing campaign, you will undoubtedly have many companies to select from. You can narrow down the field a bit by choosing agencies that specialise in education marketing.

For example, Absolute is an education marketing specialist trusted by some of the leading names in UK education. This depth of experience means you can expect greater things than if you put your fate in the hands of a more generic agency that does not necessarily know the ins and outs of the education market.

A specialist understands the motivations of the target demographic, and this puts the specialist in the box seat to actually do the motivating. It's a powerful advantage, because this way you will see measurable results.

[i] Millennials On Track to Be the Most Educated Generation to Date
March 17, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2018.

[ii] Record Numbers of Mature Students Accepted into Higher Education, UCAS
June 17, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2018.

[iii] Yax, Laura K. "SIXTY-FIVE PLUS IN THE UNITED STATES." U.S. Census Bureau
May 1995. Accessed October 22, 2018.