Speaking to Your Target Market or Just Speaking Chinese?

Localize Your Marketing for More Effective Recruitment in China

The Chinese Study Abroad Market as It is

The number of Chinese students studying abroad is still on the rise and the trend is expected to continue. Even if ten test prep centers or study abroad agencies fail due to involvement in scandals or simply going out of business, twenty new ones open in their place. Despite the effort put in by the Chinese government to regulate it, the chaotic study abroad market can make it difficult for colleges and universities outside China to understand their role in optimizing student recruitment. 

A critical flaw most often seen in recruitment is underestimating the role of parents. Traditionally, parents still hold the veto power of every life choice their kids make, so naturally they are the final decision makers when it comes to which school their kids ultimately apply. Given this fact, it is essential for recruiters to understand what Chinese parents care about the most and subsequently ensure that marketing efforts are tailored to their preferences.

First of all, parents in China praise authority. The current market is flooded with commercials and claims with no validation, and there are too few reliable sources of information. Consequently, parents often feel helpless and confused when they are trying to decide what is the best for their kids. The “Great Firewall of China” makes it hard to get official information directly from schools via their official website and social media accounts. The firewall not only slows down a good amount of websites hosted on foreign domains, but completely blocks the most commonly used social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, and even the entire Google family. 

As a result, to learn about a school students and parents often just Baidu (the “Chinese Google”) school's name and read about the most basic information provided by Baidu’s “Wikipedia”(Pictures below is an example of UW-Milwaukee on Baidu “Wikipedia”.) Try search your school name in Baidu for a glimpse of a Chinese parent’s first impression of your institution.

Loud but not Heard?

Even if your university websites can be successfully accessed in China and all the important information is listed there, there is still a series of obstacles to overcome before your marketing strategy can be maximally impactful.

  • Language Barrier

There is no doubt that you want potential applicants to know about your great academic programs with reasonable enrollment requirements, state of the art facilities, generous scholarships and/or on-campus ESL programs. Nevertheless, if your marketing materials (digital or physical, website or flyer) are all in English, it is unrealistic to expect parents and students to fully understand what makes your school stand out. They simply cannot understand English. (Below is the infographic demonstrating English Proficiency around the world by EF)

“At least the students should be able to understand” is what most universities and colleges believe when they come to China. The truth is, unless your target students are those who have a 90+ TOEFL or 6.5+ IELTS score, bear in mind that the struggle will be real. Students and their parents who you meet at fairs or smaller scale events are most likely going to smile and nod politely, even if they only understood part of your message. Having an in-depth conversation where you can actually present all your school’s highlights will be difficult (as most of international recruiters have experienced). It is much more effective to meet your audience where they are comfortable; in their native language.

  • Cultural Differences: Give Chinese Audiences What They Want

(Above is an example of the Chinese site of Monmouth College)

A good amount of universities and colleges have decided that to overcome the language barrier, they would translate their websites and promotional materials into Chinese. This is a monumental task mostly being done by Chinese students interning at admission offices. As long as information isn’t inaccurate, schools might not see this strategy as suboptimal. However, often little attention is paid as to whether the writing sounds native, reads well, and conveys professionalism. In addition, very few schools have their whole website in Chinese, instead opting for one page crammed with a variety of information. These are flaws which can be hurting a school’s image abroad, a problem of which they may be unaware.

Truly effective marketing that helps a school build brand awareness and trust among Chinese students and parents requires much more; as the things they value are very different from the things which American applicants do. School/program rankings, tuition, campus safety, post-graduate employment, and internship opportunities are way more valued by the Chinese than athletics, research and school history. It is necessary then to not simply translate, but instead paint a picture of your institution which highlights aspects that are important to people on this side of the globe.

To maintain a professional and appealing brand image in China, you should:

  1. Make one official translation for your school's name and make it visible on Baidu.
  2. Have a comprehensive Chinese website easily accessed in China.
  3. Get sociable on WeChat (click and learn more about WeChat), Weibo, QQ etc.
  4. Reorganize your Chinese website and materials to appeal to Chinese audience. 

All of the Chinese websites and social media accounts examples shown here are created and managed by Sunrise (click and learn more about us). We tailor our services according to each school and their strengths, and maximize each school’s marketing strategy based on what we see and hear at our events involving thousands of students and parents.

Want to learn more and see how we can help your institution? Contact Summer Tan (Partnership Director) by email: zhongxia.tan@syieducation.com

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