For nearly eighteen months, we have all been experiencing events unlike anything many of us could have ever imagined we would witness in our lifetimes.
As nations across the world were hit with the cold-hard reality of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, this unprecedented global health crisis was accompanied by lockdowns, border closures and widespread economic turmoil.
This turmoil impacted most industrial sectors negatively, with some hit much harder than others. Travel is the most obvious of these, although it has rebounded somewhat as domestic activity picked up thanks to government policy, the rollout of vaccinations and other practical measures enacted to restore some sense of normality to the sector.
International education is not far behind travel in terms of sectors still severely impacted by COVID-19. As students found themselves unable to travel to their study abroad destinations, education marketers and recruiters were presented with a unique problem. While digital was already part of the marketing equation alongside more traditional face-to-face marketing and recruitment activity, COVID-19 forced universities to pivot quickly to a digital-first approach around their international student marketing and recruitment strategy.
Adapting to this transition virtually overnight challenged many institutions, particularly those with key international student interests in China where local internet regulation and a digital ecosystem distinct from the rest of the world have for some time presented significant barriers to entry and ongoing successful management of marketing activity.
And yet this same set of challenges also opened up opportunities about how to approach marketing both during the pandemic and in a post-COVID environment.
While the many stop-gap measures adopted in 2020 were sufficient at the time to navigate the height of the crisis, institutions have now identified the need to develop a long-term, more permanent digital strategy for China that drives measurable results and addresses the changing demands of Chinese students.
Why have a specific China digital strategy?
Notwithstanding COVID-19 and the specific challenges it presented, understanding the market nuances of a particular country and targeting a digital marketing strategy around such is imperative for commercial success in a global economy.
China is no exception.
As one of the largest markets in the world, China has a massive, engaged community of netizens. However, its unique digital ecosystem means that channels customarily integrated into a Western digital marketing strategy are unavailable or limited in capacity to deliver in the way they do in the West. This has major implications for organisations looking to build out a digital footprint in China.
When we speak specifically about international education, in the past, on-the-ground brand-building through traditional face-to-face marketing activity and via Chinese agencies were both key aspects of a China marketing strategy, and, to some degree, will remain so into the foreseeable future.
However, even as international mobility slowly improves, a challenging global political and economic environment (particularly between China and the West) looks likely to remain. This global friction and the ongoing digitisation of Chinese life mean focussing on a China digital strategy has never been more important.
And understanding China’s digital ecosystem is crucial to the effective formulation of such a strategy.
Why Sinorbis launched our China digital strategy guide
It was this uncertainty and the need to understand the digital ecosystem that prompted Sinorbis to share our invaluable industry insight and launch a guide to developing a digital strategy in China.
Based on our experience of working with hundreds of universities and education service providers around the globe, we saw it was within our power to provide comprehensive information that could enable organisations to develop their own China digital strategy in-house.
A key challenge we observed when working with our education clients was that the sheer number of hurdles they had to overcome when marketing into China quite often quickly became overwhelming. As a result, many digital marketing and recruitment tactics are implemented without investigating - or accommodating for - the nuances of the Chinese digital ecosystem, which means they lack the capacity to be a more targeted, value-yielding overarching marketing plan. Approaching marketing into China without this critical information makes it extremely difficult to demonstrate a return on investment, meaning activities are all-too-often marked down as unsuccessful without clearly understanding why.
Our digital strategy guide for China has been designed to bring transparency and clarity to the process, and also comes from the questions we most commonly hear in our conversations with education clients, namely, ‘How much budget do we need?’ and ‘How long does it take to see a return?’
These are both reasonable questions to ask at a time when many education institutions have had budgets slashed and faced significant staff reductions while still having no clear idea about when the flow of international students will return to normal. So, we have tried to answer those questions as directly as possible to ensure institutions are entering the market with realistic expectations.
What exactly the strategy will look like depends on any number of variables and how established an institution already is in China. To address this, we have included as much context as possible for the elements that need to be factored into the planning process.
We hope you find this a valuable resource and encourage you to reach out to us if we can be of further assistance.
Download the China Digital Strategy Guide now