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Top 5 Mistakes Educational Institutions Make When Marketing to China

No more excuses.

It’s time to get serious about attracting Chinese international students to your school. It’s time that foreign school start to take marketing to Chana serious and justify the energy, money, and time spends on attracting Chinese international students.

But attracting Chinese international students isn’t easy. Many foreign schools simply make too mistakes when it comes to attracting Chinese international students.

In this article, we’ll talk about the top 5 mistakes educational institutions make when marketing to China.

Mistake #1: Advertising to the Wrong People

“My uncle and aunt chose the school from a selection of brochures provided by recruiters from several private American boarding schools.”

This was taken from an article in The Atlantic by Julia Wang, it’s rather a charming article with a lot of personal touches. Julia talked about the burdens of being Asian American on campus, in which she mentions how her uncle and aunt from made the decision to send her cousin to Lake Forest Academy in Lake Michigan simply because they were presented with a bunch of brochures by ZhongJie(中介), which are essentially Chinese International Student Broker in China.

Unfortunately, selecting from a bunch of brochures is usually how most Chinese International Students ends up attending a foreign school. Most importantly, often these decisions are made by their parents and rarely made by the student themselves.

Most foreign Colleges, Universities and even Private high schools want to attract “more Chinese International Students”, but in reality, the people they need to convince is the student’s parents. Often, the students aren’t even aware of the school they’re going to attend until the very last minute.

Mistake #2: Appealing to the Wrong Desires

Above is a documentary by Wall Street Journal that shows cases an international student name Fan Yue in YangZhou a city near Shanghai. Throughout the film, Fan Yue spoke in great length about her dream of exploring America and seeing a world “outside of China” and later the focus shifted towards both her parents and herself worried that she will not be able to succeed in the extremely competitive and rigorous nature of the Chinese College Entrance Exam “Gaokao”.

While Fan Yue’s story is a great example of the desires expressed both by the Chinese student and their parents, it is certainly not the only desires for Chinese international students to want to study abroad.

In fact, we’ve already discussed many of these desires in details in our How to Attract 523,700 Chinese International Students to Your School article, but we will briefly go over it here again.

Other Parents Are Doing It: The only downside to Fan Yue’s story is that it only a small portion of the reason why Chinese international students want to study abroad. Often, the decision to let their son and daughter go and study abroad will be because their friends have decided to send kids to study abroad.

Escaping the Pressure of Gaokao: The Chinese college entrance exam is extremely difficult and highly competitive. If you score on these exams are not exceptional, you’ll have to wait another year and take the exam again. Facing with the reality that their son and daughter not be able to pass the entry exam, many parents will have decided to send their kids to study abroad instead.

Explore the World Outside of China: In the documentary Fan Yue express her dream to see the world outside of China. This is, in fact, true, many Chinese international students do have the dream to explore the world, and studying abroad is certainly a great way to accomplish this dream.

Foreign Degrees Are More Prestigious in China: Many Chinese parents will want their kids to study abroad simple because in China just by having to study abroad or by having a degree will give their kids a better shot and obtaining a better job. This is especially true if the foreign school is located in well-known and English spoken countries such as United States, Canada, and England.

Immigration: To some Chinese parents they simply want their kids to obtain immigration status in countries such as Canada and USA. And sending their kids to study in these countries is a great way to accomplish this dream.

The Desire for Better Education: Of course, there are certain students who simply know what they want and desire a better education from school such as Harvard, MIT, Sandford, Oxford, Cambridge, etc.

Mistake #3: Aiming Too Broad

Most foreign Universities and Colleges want to attract “more Chinese international students” and the problem with this approach is you’re aiming to broad. As we’ve discussed above there are many different reasons and desires for Chinese international students to want to study abroad.

When your marketing is too broad, your messages become unclear, unfocused, and diluted. You end up attracting no one because no one knows what you’re really about, what sets you different than the other 100 other universities and colleges out there.

We often ask our clients “who do you specifically want to attract”? Perhaps you have a great program that emphasis on cultural diversity, then you would want to appear to Chinese international students who want to explore the world.

Maybe you have your school is proven to be able to help Chinese students to not only accel but also establish a long-term career path, then you would want to appear to Chinese international student who is looking to immigrate and work abroad.

Perhaps you’ve a great computer science program and you’re looking for more talent Chinese students who want to innovators. Whatever your strength is, and whatever segment you decided to aim for. It is certainly better to focus your marketing dollar and effort on a segment than aiming to attract all Chinese international students.

Mistake #4: Using the Wrong Contents

Most Weibo and WeChat accounts of foreign Universities, Colleges, and schools that I’ve come across simply use contents in the wrong way.  They love to post contents about themselves, their accomplishment, school activities, events, and what’s happening on campus.

While these contents are great for students that are already attending your school or planning to attend your school. They’re meaningless to the Chinese parents, and students who are actively trying to figure out which foreign institution they should attend in the first place.If you’re looking to attract more Chinese international student, and want to increase your brand exposure and awareness then you content should not be talking about you accomplish, or your school. Chinese parents do not care about what award you’ve won last month. And unless your brand is as well-known as Harvard or Oxford, then you should be talking about what the Chinese parents and students care about.

If you’re looking to attract more Chinese international student, and want to increase your brand exposure and awareness then you content should not be talking about you accomplish, or your school. Chinese parents do not care about what award you’ve won last month. And unless your brand is as well-known as Harvard or Oxford, then you should be talking about what the Chinese parents and students care about.

They want to know “how to know which school is going to be the best for my son or daughter?”, “Which city or country is best for my child?”, “how much money do I need to prepare to send my child abroad?”, and “what’s going to happen once my child arrives at the school?”

These are some of the types of contents that you should be creating if you’re looking to increase your brand awareness. There is a high art to content marketing, which in itself a huge topic. If you’re interested in learning more about the 5 stages of content marketing in China, have a look at our How to Maximizing Your WeChat Marketing with Contents.

Mistake #5: Not Providing Information

One of the biggest roadblock preventing Chinese parents and students from finding the right University, College, or Foreign School is actually a lack of information and guidance. The most foreign educational institution simply doesn’t provide enough information and guidance on how to apply for their school.

If you do a search on Baidu for top school in [country], you’ll find that the top-ranking sites will all belong to ZhongJie(中介) agencies.  And this is why most Chinese parents look for ZhongJie(中介) to help them find the right school for their daughter and sons. In China, ZhongJie is the gatekeeper between most of the Chinese international student and your school.

This is all fine if the ZhongJie would provide accurate information and operate their business in an ethical manner but most ZhongJie in China provide parents with bias and inaccurate information because there are higher profits.

Although recently many foreign Universities, Colleges, and Schools begin to realize that they need to actively market and provide the correct information to Chinese international student looking to attend their school by creating Chinese Websites but the awareness level is just up to part with the ZhongJie agencies.

Unfortunately, very few foreign school actually understand marketing in China, and even fewer knows how to implement the right strategies.

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