With borders blurring and knowledge transcending geographical boundaries, the realm of higher education is undergoing a remarkable transformation. One of the most compelling phenomena in this shift is the rise of international students who bring diversity, innovation, and fresh perspectives to educational institutions. In this landscape, Chinese students have emerged as a driving force, redefining educational marketing strategies.
When it comes to marketing Purpose-Built Student Accommodations (PBSAs) to international students, it’s important to note that each market requires its own approach. This is particularly relevant to the Chinese student market, which is often regarded as a completely separate entity when developing a marketing strategy to attract international students. Not only does this market require a unique level of cultural sensitivity, but a whole different approach when using digital platforms.
This article delves into the art of marketing to international students, with a laser focus on the distinct strategies necessary to captivate Chinese scholars, including the pivotal role of WeChat when marketing to this incredibly nuanced market.
3 Steps to Developing a PBSA Marketing Strategy to Attract International Students
International students are an important target market for PBSAs but require a unique and carefully considered marketing strategy.
Here’s how to market to international students:
Step 1: Market Research and Understanding Target Audience
Crafting effective marketing strategies for PBSAs targeting international students requires thorough market research. This entails gaining insights into global student trends, preferences, and motivations.
Delving into these trends reveals valuable information about students' preferred study destinations, academic fields of interest, and the factors that drive their choices. Particularly noteworthy is the increasing influx of Chinese students into the UK's educational landscape, attracted by its high-quality education and cultural experiences.
To optimise your marketing approach, segmenting the international student audience based on factors such as study preferences, age groups, and cultural backgrounds is essential. This segmentation enables the tailoring of your marketing messages to resonate deeply with these distinct groups. For example, when focusing on Chinese students, it's imperative to understand their motivations when selecting a PBSA – including proximity to educational institutions, safety, and facilities.
It’s also important to incorporate a competitive analysis into your market research. Studying other PBSAs targeting international students in the UK provides insights into successful strategies, strengths to capitalise on, and pitfalls to avoid. This analysis paints a comprehensive picture of the competitive landscape, enabling you to refine your marketing strategy and carve a distinctive niche for your PBSA.
This foundational step lays the groundwork for a strategic marketing plan, aligning your PBSA offerings precisely with the needs and aspirations of international students, particularly the Chinese demographic.
Step 2: Tailoring Marketing Messages and Channels
Once you have a clear understanding of your prospective residents, it's time to communicate with them effectively. This involves localising your marketing messages to resonate with each separate market. For many PBSAs, that involves creating separate marketing strategies for each market. It’s important to both translate and localise your content marketing depending on the target market, incorporating the right messaging, tone, and references.
Choosing the appropriate communication channels and platforms is equally crucial. Social media platforms, international recruitment fairs, educational consultants, and partnerships with universities are all potential channels to explore. When marketing to the broader international student market, you’ll likely be able to use the same channels across the board – for example, social media, content marketing, email campaigns, and search engine optimisation (SEO).
However, when marketing to Chinese students, you’ll need to take a completely different approach. Since platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Google are blocked in China, you need to move your marketing strategy to more appropriate digital channels.
With over 1.3 billion monthly active users, WeChat has become an indispensable part of daily life for Chinese consumers – making it the best platform to use when targeting Chinese students.
Here’s how to use WeChat as a Western business:
WeChat offers Mini Programs, which are like mini websites within the WeChat app. PBSAs first need to create an official WeChat account, from there they can create a Mini Program. Mini Programs allow brands to showcase their student accommodation, including images, 360° videos, interactive maps, and complete accommodation information.
This way, users don’t ever have to leave the WeChat app to get the information they’re looking for, and PBSAs have a direct line of communication with potential Chinese customers.
VIVA CITY provides a platform that helps you quickly and easily navigate the process of setting up your WeChat Mini Program. With a fully English backend, you’re able to set up, manage and monitor your Mini Program.
Step 3: Provide Personalised Support and Services
The process that comes with preparing to study abroad can be incredibly overwhelming for students. Not only are they leaving the familiarities of their country behind, but many are moving to a country with a completely different culture, language and landscape. PBSAs are perfectly positioned to help ease the transition by providing international students a safe, comfortable and nurturing environment.
Use this to your advantage when marketing to international students, personalising your messaging to speak to each international student segment's specific needs, wants and concerns.
Make sure to offer comprehensive information on the type of accommodation, facilities, location, and nearby activities. Provide as much easily accessible and up-to-date information on your website and other platforms as possible. Your website and other communication platforms serve as virtual information hubs, offering a transparent view of what your PBSA entails.
Side note: accessing foreign websites is not always possible from China. That’s why it’s easiest to create a WeChat Mini Program and treat it as you would a “mini Chinese website.” You can even add a QR code to your main website that Chinese users can scan to instantly access your WeChat Mini Program. For example, CRM Students have one on the bottom left corner of their website.
To further bolster this foundation of personal service, you can create a support system tailored to their needs. Multilingual support staff can be like language ambassadors, ensuring effective communication. Services like parcel collection, 24-hour security guards and reception, regular maintenance and well-run management teams are key requirements for Chinese students.
Lastly, make sure to highlight your unique selling points across your marketing channels. Showcase the facets that set your PBSA apart. Emphasise factors like the prime location – providing convenient access to educational institutions and city amenities. Shine a spotlight on additional facilities that enhance their living experience – be it modern study spaces, recreational areas, or fitness centres.
What do Chinese students value most in PBSAs?
Location is the most important element when selecting a PBSA. Chinese students tend to prioritise accommodations that are in close proximity to their educational institutions. The convenience of a short commute not only saves time but also aligns with their dedicated approach to studies.
Additionally, a safe and secure environment ranks high on their list. Given that many Chinese students are studying abroad for the first time, the assurance of a secure living space and neighbourhood offers peace of mind to both students and their families.
Another critical consideration for Chinese students is the quality and availability of PBSA accommodations. These students often value modern amenities and comfortable living spaces that can cater to their study needs and personal comfort. Facilities such as well-equipped study areas, high-speed internet, and communal spaces for socialising are particularly appealing.
Most importantly, Chinese students value service. This includes regular maintenance, parcel collection, security guards and fast turnaround times from management when they have a query.
Marketing to International Students Requires a Tailored Approach
The key to successful PBSA marketing lies in strategic adaptation. Customising your approach to each unique market is crucial, and this rings particularly true for Chinese students. Their preferences for location, safety, facilities, and well-run service teams create a roadmap for your marketing message.
WeChat stands as a vital tool, offering a direct link to the world of Chinese students. Seamlessly integrating VIVA CITY Mini Programs into your strategy adds a distinctive touch that resonates with their aspirations. This journey underscores the power of adaptation, resonance, and strategic engagement.
Remember that every step, tailored message, and thoughtful touch brings you closer to the hearts and minds of the global scholars you aim to welcome into your PBSA.