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How education marketers can understand their target audience in China

August 23, 2021 |   Ada Wang

With a population of over 1.4 billion people, rapidly growing income levels and a culture that places a high value on education, there’s no doubt that China is a large and important market for universities and education providers. Yet, that doesn’t mean you should aim to reach every Chinese person within your target demographic with your digital initiatives. It would not only be an impossible feat to pull off even with a very large budget, the ethnic and cultural diversities that exist within China would also make it very difficult to develop effective messaging. For example, the needs and study interests are likely to be very different if you’re looking to attract top students from 1st tier cities versus a broader audience in 2nd and 3rd tier cities.

How to narrow down your target audience

To maximise results and return from digital marketing investments in China, we recommend that universities and education providers do some research to understand exactly who they are looking to attract. Some factors to consider when defining your target audience include: 

Insights about your existing Chinese students

Any data you have on your current Chinese students or alumni can be a great starting point to help you narrow down your ideal target audience in China. Where do they come from? How did they first learn about your institution? What are they studying? If you don’t keep this level of information in your CRM, it may be worthwhile to run an incentivised survey to better guide your targeting approach going forward.

Existing academic partnerships with Chinese universities and high schools

No matter whether you are still in the early stages of your Chinese student recruitment journey or if you have been working in the market for decades, it’s likely that you will be able to gain some useful insights about your target audience in China by investigating more closely any existing academic partnerships your institution already has with Chinese universities and high schools. Focusing your geographic targeting on the provinces where you already have academic relationships may help you gain traction quicker since there’s already awareness for your brand at the local level.

Existing partnerships with your region/city and provinces/cities in China 

Even if you don’t have any academic partnerships in China (yet), your region or city may have partnerships or affiliations with provinces in China to facilitate trade, investment and cultural exchange. If there’s some awareness about your region in certain pockets of China, you may be able to leverage this to your institution’s advantage since the overall attractiveness and safety of a study destination are a key decision-making factor for Chinese international students and their parents.

Existing study agent relationships

Rather than thinking of your digital marketing activity in China as standing in competition with the work of your recruitment agents, consider them as complementary to each other. Focusing your digital marketing activity on regions where you already have activity on the ground will help you to achieve maximum reach and impact. What’s more, your study agents will be able to share their insights about the type of information student’s are looking for during the decision-making process which will improve the relevance and quality of your website and WeChat content.

Ranking of your university

Your university ranking will impact your target audience in China, not just in terms of the academic potential you’re looking to attract but also your geographic targeting. For instance, a lower ranking institution may find it difficult to gain the attention of students in the hyper-competitive environment of China’s first tier cities. However, for students in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, the affordability of the study destination and the overall benefits and international education can bring are likely to be more important decision-making factors than the institution’s ranking. 

Do you want to learn more about reaching Chinese international students online? Download our China digital strategy guide for education marketers.  

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