FE Marketing is the Cornerstone of a Successful FE Provider
The Pareto Principle, the 80:20 Rule, holds true in FE Marketing. The evidence for this is clear in our provider research. The average provider gets 80% of their success from just 20% of the inputs. That’s true of all providers, even those with exemplary marketing.
This means that the average provider wastes 80% of the time, money and effort they put in to their marketing.
There is obvious room for improvement.
This is an area that can become far more cost-effective. In the digital age most marketing is relatively easy to measure and that is the key to improvement. In many cases large sums of money can be saved. And once the budget is being invested correctly recruitment can be significantly improved … provided the curriculum offered meets local needs.
FE Marketing Cannot Work in Isolation
FE Marketing can never work in isolation. It is totally dependant on taking its lead from the Senior Team and must work very closely with Curriculum. and other departments. This means it must base the provider’s marketing and planning strategies around the provider’s business strategy and business plans.
All marketing planning starts with the senior team’s business plan produced as this provides the headline targets that need to be hit. A business plan that says that apprenticeships will be expanded is of no use to marketing. The plan that says apprenticeships will expand by x% or from x to y numbers and clearly indicates the range and volume of apprenticeships is essential. Without the business plan being SMART marketing cannot be measured.
I’ve been called in to providers where the complaint is that marketing haven’t produced enough apprentices. But on examination the business plan failed to indicate numbers. The result is that marketing have then claimed success based on the fact the numbers have grown by a handful of additional apprentices. The result is a lack of apprentices being enrolled and income targets missed.
In the above case it is clear to me that the fault doesn’t lie with marketing. Unless clear targets ae set and monitored “failure” is certain.
FE Marketing & The Curriculum
The relationship between marketing and curriculum can make or break a provider. Marketing rely on curriculum to deliver courses, without quality delivery by curriculum marketing will quickly encounter PR issues. Today’s student is digital savvy and quick to post details of college life online. Their comments on social media can be as ambassadors or detractors. In both cases marketing needs to handle the outcome and that means they must avidly monitor social media for comment. But it is curriculum, student services and other support services that provide the majority of the student’s experience of that provider.
In many cases marketing will identify through its research the type of courses that should be considered, or the mode of delivery that might be offered. For example, with reduced contact hours many students now prefer to attend less frequently. By working together curriculum has been able to timetable a 3-4 day week that marketing can promote to prospective students. Shorter working weeks for students mean they can undertake private study, undertake subject related work placements or similar. When marketing and curriculum together in this way recruitment and retention can be increased and that means more completions! More completions – more income.
FE Marketing Needs to Promote Taster Courses
Not only does the Four Day Week work really well for most providers, another vital component is the Taster Course. I don’t mean a couple of hours tacked onto an Open Evening. I mean a full day where prospective students experience a day at college. A day where they enjoy a typical day of engaging and challenging sessions .. and that doesn’t men sit in a classroom all day as they did that at school.
Some providers have been running Taster Courses for years. Often they last more than one day, a full weekend is not unheard of. and being run at weekends or during the school holidays is key.
Social Media in FE Marketing
Social media is the shiny new toy of FE marketing. I’m not saying that it is without merit or that all providers use it badly but far too many focus on the wrong metrics. Getting likes on Facebook has its place but it rarely puts bums on seats. Of course many marketers will tell you that young people don’t use Facebook. Wrong they do but it isn’t coll to admit it. They tend to use it to seek information and to lurk and use other apps to communicate between themselves.
The reality is that many providers get most of their applications via their website but that website traffic from social media id often stuck at around 0.5% of all visits. If social media was so important and productive in recruiting students this figure would be 50% or more! Those providers that use social media correctly achieve a lot from it .. but few providers make it into this category. Social media is part of the marketing mix but must never be seen as an end in itself.
Segmenting the FE Market
The width and scope of the FE market is huge. We potentially cater for all ages and backgrounds. From nurseries to courses for retired people we cater for all. But when we come to marketing that presents a problem unless we segment our market very carefully. A blunderbuss approach doesn’t work. So we need to understand everything we can about our target audience and their influencers. Where do they hang out, what social media do they use and do they read book, papers and magazines? Which apps do they use? There is so much to ascertain if we are to be effective.
The we need to apply this information in a meaningful way. So if I want people to attend an animation summer school I might use Facebook to promote it to young people aged 15-19 living in MyTown who have an interest in VFX, gaming, action films or SciFi. By split testing this with a small audience I can check what works and then target very cost effectively. (When I actually ran this promotion I also split tested by gender .. it’s not only lads that love SFX. There are numerous females interested but they have a slightly different profile and need to be marketed to in a different way. When I last ran this campaign we were getting website visits, and a high conversion rate, for as little as 0.3p/visit).
FE Website Marketing
I mentioned earlier that in FE Marketing most providers get about 0.5%of their web traffic from social media. The reason I know this is that most providers use Google Analytics to monitor their site, Analytics provides you with literally millions of pieces of data about your website every year .. it really is a strong on Big Data. And that’s a major problem because most providers rarely check their Analytics on a regular basis. For example can you tell me how much social media traffic you get? Or even how much of any sort of traffic last month. How many people hit one of your goal;s .. things like prospectus downloads or applications completed and sent> I bet few readers will know these figures. And if you don’t you are wasting money on marketing simply because you don’t know what’s working and what isn’t. The thing is over 90% of marketing money is wasted by UK providers.
FE Marketing Waste
Waste is rife. Take for example the provider who paid several £thousand on a large sign complete with incorrect phone number. the sign was there for months before I came along and noticed it was the wrong code and was actually for a taxi company 30 miles away! Or the provider that paid £75k for new website run on servers that was using a php version that was over 2 years out of date. No security patches had been available for 30 months and the chances of both the website and MIS system being hacked was very high. Or the provider that didn’t know that there server was in a damp basement; they thought the developer had put it on secure offsite servers!
And that is not the only thing that goes wrong with websites. Most are poorly specified. My site spec template is 55 pages long; the last provider written spec I inspected was five pages long. That means money will undoubtedly be wasted as the developer is working in the dark with one hand behind their back. Sites that focus on the provider are also a no no. Your site should focus on the provider. It should address them directly and not use terms like “the learner”. What’s wrong with words like “you” when you are trying to communicate with them.
FE Marketing: Website Content and Conversion
Website conversion is another FE Marketing issue. You need to define your Calls to Action and make it really clear to visitors what they need to do. Each CTA needs to be measured as a “goal” in your Analytics or you will not know if it is working in terms of conversions. And you need to simplify the customer journey through your website to make it as easy as possible. If you are getting people asking things like” how to apply for a course”, it is clear the answer isn’t obvious on your website .. however obvious you might THINK it is.
Website content is key to getting good traffic volumes. You might think everyone knows about you and the courses you run .. but they don’t. What they do is Google and if your competitors are on Page One of Google, and you aren’t, you are invisible and will not see that prospective student ever again.
A good social media strategy is important here (not getting likes) but so is having content that people are searching for. For example if people are searching for things like “How much do plumbers earn” then a page on your site that mentions this is possibly going to get in front of them when they search. But if you don’t include content like this you are not in the running.
Writing Good FE Marketing Content
So what questions are people asking online? In August 2017 people were searching for terms like GCSE grade boundaries and GCSE Grading system. If you had a really good page explaining the new GCSE grades you would have attracted a lot of traffic. And traffic costs next to nothing when obtained this way and it converts into application very easily.
And of course not only would you have written a great page of content on this you would have converted it into a video and uploaded it to YouTube and embedded it in to your website.
It would be easy to write 30,000 words on website structure, content and psychology but that’s for another day. Suffice to say now that huge sums of money are wasted in FE marketing generally and on the production of FE websites specifically. Although FE marketing budgets have been cut in many cases marketing is rarely thoroughly and objectively examined to see if it can be restructured to become both more effective or les expensive. Some of the most cost-effective FE marketing i ever see is where the budget is really small. It leads to much better FE marketing.
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