Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A Guide to Conversion: Engaging and Maintaining Student Prospects through Relationship Marketing (Part One)

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin. 

Getting to the point
Well actually, maybe I won’t start quite yet because I thought I should précis my first blog with a bit of an apology. Despite the fact that, when it comes to advertising copy, I strongly advise to keep it short, otherwise no one will read it, I guess this is a case of not practicing what I preach! Therefore, in order to try and keep you engaged, I’ve decided to do this blog in two parts.  No cliff hanger I’m afraid, unless of course my first blog leaves you keen to find out more!  I should probably also apologise for my blog being more like a marketing tutorial, but I thought this might be a good starting point to help you understand what Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions (MRA) do to recruit students.

OK, now I’ll begin.


In a tougher market, it is more important than ever to engage with prospects and applicants in the right way. Tuition fees have increased and the competition is becoming fiercer year on year.  More than ever, prospective students are looking at what they will get in return for their investment: how will this course add value to my life; what does this course offer me that others don’t; will it make me more employable; is it worth it?

With the introduction of Key Information Sets (KIS) only serving to make the market place more transparent to the consumer, any form of a communications plan must give careful consideration as to how to effectively communicate the benefits of a degree from Chester to its intended audience.

In terms of ensuring that the rate of retention is good, not only do we need to provide good customer service to our current batch of students, we also need to ensure we are getting the right students on the right courses. Although this seems obvious, in terms of recruitment and development of our relationship marketing strategy, I think this is an important point.  An effective relationship marketing approach means identifying and serving your most profitable customers well in order to encourage loyalty to the organisation.  In the case of universities, this would mean identifying those students who are most suited to the courses offered and implementing a plan to convert them.

Bodger’s HERM Theory

So, what is relationship marketing?  What is the point of it and what does it mean in the context of student recruitment in higher education?

Well, the definition I have put together looks at what relationship marketing is trying to achieve (namely customer loyalty) and is broadly based on one I remember by Christopher et al. (1991) from when I was studying marketing theory at university some years back.  I have jigged this definition about a bit to create something that works in the context of marketing in higher education and created a nice visual to go with it (based upon a typical customer loyalty chain) which demonstrates how good relationship marketing can increase loyalty to a university.  The HERM (Higher Education Relationship Marketing) Theory!  And it goes like this:

The major objective of relationship marketing in student recruitment is to turn prospects into new applicants and then to progressively move them through to being strong supporters of the university and its courses, to finally being active and vocal advocates for the university.

The HERM Loyalty Chain
The emphasis here is on: 
• retaining as well as attracting customers
• building long-term relationships with prospects and applicants
• conversion - turning prospects into applicants, then into students and also advocates for the University.

How does this work in practice?

So, how exactly do we do this?  A look at our engagement with prospective undergraduate students at various points during their decision making process should help us to begin to understand how this can be achieved.

The Decision Making Process

In order to maximise your chances of conversion, it is critical to keep engaged with prospects throughout the decision making and application process.  This model demonstrates an integrated approach to your marketing communications ensuring that your message is absorbed on several levels.  The compounded effects of using an integrated approach for marketing your courses are far more effective than campaigns which use just one form of media in total isolation.  However, in order to reinforce the values of your brand, it is also important that these communications are clear and consistent throughout and remain true to the brand.

That’s all for now folks…

This is probably a suitable place to finish part one of my blog.  In part two, we’ll be looking at this decision making process in more detail and how we interact with our prospects and applicants at various stages of this process.

Until the next communication…


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