The Chinese overseas education market is the largest in the world. According to data from the Chinese Ministry of Education, 459,800 Chinese students went abroad in 2015, an increase of 11.1% from the previous year. Among them, 423,000 (92%) were self-funded. And currently 712,157 Chinese students are studying abroad, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. The vast majority of them study either in the Sixth Form Colleges network, or (mainly) at university …
Higher education business in China
Education abroad is obviously an expensive option in case of “self-financing”. This reflects the emerging willingness of middle and upper class Chinese families to send their children abroad for better education, even if the costs are high.
It also reflects the growing demand for international experiences, ideas and culture, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. The country is less withdrawn and more receptive to foreign influence, and learning abroad benefits greatly.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia are the most popular destinations for Chinese students. The UK, for example, is experiencing tremendous growth in this area with its highly reputable and internationally recognized academic sector. In 2015, the number of Chinese students exceeded that of EU first-year students from British universities (58,810 Chinese students compared to 57,190 Europeans).
In addition, China is a predominantly digital environment. High schools and universities need to communicate more effectively online, and with channels suitable for potential students and their families. University marketing must be tailor-made for the Chinese market.
The Chinese are unlikely to be looking for a particular establishment. Rather, they will make decisions based on the information they can find online. You have to understand that the Chinese Internet is unique. It is controlled, regulated and operates more like an “Intranet” than like the open source network we know.
The reputation you have in England does not necessarily reflect the way your establishment is perceived abroad, especially since the Chinese student has a particular set of expectations, priorities and needs which must be adapted and taken into account.
4 important ways to build your Branding for your establishment in China
1) Search engines (SEO / SEA)
The first step for the majority of Chinese is to search for information on “Baidu”, the largest search engine in China. If your courses and your university cannot be found this way, you are simply invisible in China, regardless of your reputation in England or outside of China in general.
There are two ways to develop your marketing on Baidu: natural referencing (SEO – Search Engine Optimization) and paid referencing (SEA – Search Engine Advertising). Both can help potential students and their parents find your website when searching for keywords and phrases.
SEA is a solution that allows your website to appear on the first page of results by paying for Baidu advertising. This is useful for generating traffic quickly and with less effort. But in the end, this solution turns out to be more expensive, short-term and unsustainable and where the quality of traffic suffers. Finally, are there really serious potential candidates who base their decision on an advertisement or sponsored link?
SEO is a much more effective solution by which, over time, your site ends up “organically” on the first pages of Baidu. Key SEO strategies include keyword optimization, backlinks, and content sharing. This is how you generate quality traffic. Compared to SEA, SEO does take longer, but it is a long-term solution when it comes to e-reputation, and is ultimately more viable. You don’t disappear when the marketing campaign stops. On the contrary, you stay better referenced and you continue to generate traffic, and that is a good part of the work of Marketing Agencies in China.
Whichever solution you choose, studying the keywords is the first step. Keep in mind that this is the most important part of your campaign. You will also need to improve the pages that appear in the results to ensure that the information is keyword optimized and clear to the Chinese reader.
2) The “Product Market Fit” or Adapt your content and your Offer to the Chinese market
You should make sure you have a Chinese version of the website you are looking to optimize on Chinese search engines. Content must be translated into Simplified Mandarin Chinese.
It is wise to focus on English, business, management, international relations and math courses for your Chinese site, as these are the most popular and widely sought after on Baidu.
The Chinese know little about the reputation of establishments outside of China, so it’s up to you to create that reputation. Students will not necessarily choose a school based on its academic level, but rather based on the courses and the environment that is most conducive to meet their needs. An existing Chinese community, exchange programs, cultural activities, student services (including Chinese catering) and multilingual facilities are essential.
The above aspects can be highlighted in your specific Chinese content, this personalized approach sets you apart and increases your attractiveness to potential students. You can also highlight the integration capabilities of your institution by including images of Chinese students in your promotional images.
3) Chinese social networks mainly!
Social media has become an integral part of the lives of Chinese people, especially the younger generation. With regard to education, this is also a particularly important point.
Using platforms such as WeChat or Weibo to sell products and services is a key part of any digital marketing strategy in China. The education sector must also take advantage of these communication channels.
First you need to create an official account on WeChat and use your page to present information on key courses tailored to the Chinese market. It’s the perfect app to stream content, start conversations, and answer questions from potential students.
Starting and facilitating group chats about your high school, university or lessons can be effective. Direct communication with students on social media is important. It’s also a good opportunity to distribute interesting content and articles in Chinese that can be shared among users to generate increased interest in your business.
Take the time to understand how these social networks work, they operate in a very different digital landscape and are not just copied platforms. WeChat has become one of the most integrated and efficient social platforms in the world. There are a variety of features that few people can claim to correspond to (electronic wallet, games, messenger, social network, e-commerce, taxis, etc.) (Read previous publication on Wechat).
The social media strategies that you use in England simply cannot be transferred, and Chinese social media involves adopting different, more localized and specialized marketing strategies.
4) Manage your e-reputation
Managing the reputation of your high school or university on forums and on social networks is vital. The Chinese still use forums much more than in England and are particularly influenced by outside opinions, especially in their immediate social circle. Positive comments on Chinese forums and social networks are therefore the condition sine qua non to a good e-reputation. The Chinese student will want to study where other Chinese students study and in institutions with very good ratings, and as mentioned before, your reputation in England does not necessarily reflect your reputation abroad. See this Youtube video that sums it up.
As you can see, the education sector in China is buoyant, especially for studies abroad (450 billion dollars). Today, Chinese parents love to send their child to study abroad and invest part of their savings to make this dream come true.