We returned recently to the UNICA report, entitled New strategies of marketing and recruitment of international students, for a second look. There are often things we miss, or gloss over, on the first readings of these reports, and we are glad that we revisited this one.
There is a piece by Aswin Lutchanah, Social Media Manager at the University of Luxembourg, which caught our eye, because we loved the simplicity of it. The topic was Empathy Marketing; something we have seen a lot more attention being paid to as new generations arrive at our institutions, accentuated by the drivers of the post-pandemic educational landscape.
Empathy is complex, but fundamentally it is the glue to social cohesion and often overlooked as a unique force in the way we communicate with and engage new students.
Empathy marketing is a technique that can help universities better connect with these generations of students. It is about understanding the needs and desires of your audience, and using that understanding to create messaging that resonates with them on a deeper level. It involves putting yourself in their shoes, understanding their pain points, and using this understanding building a relationship of trust and understanding. Focus groups, social listening exercises and open channels of communication can help you understand this better.
Empathy marketing differs from traditional sales-based marketing in a number of ways. Traditional marketing focuses on promoting the benefits of a product or service, with the goal of persuading the student to enrol. Empathy marketing, on the other hand, is focused on building a relationship with the student, based on trust and understanding. The goal is not just to enrol a student, but to create a positive experience for the student that will keep them engaged throughout their academic journey.
So why is empathy marketing so important for reaching the new generation of students? For one, these generations are known for valuing authenticity and transparency. They want to know that the universities they are considering are not just focused on their bottom line, but are truly invested in the student's success. Empathy marketing allows universities to demonstrate this commitment by showing that they understand and care about the unique challenges and opportunities that students face. That is particularly important in the post-pandemic world, where students' lives were turned upside down and anxiety rates went through the roof.
The UNICA report outlines Aswin's empathy-based approach on social media. He has created a presence that people note when he is not posting, and that means there is a personal connection there.
His goal is not only to just communicate information but to build relationships with students past, present and future, but also to provide a space where they can do so with each other. The social media account publishes, in their words, "Informative stories about news and events taking place on campus; “listening” stories to get feedback, promotional stories to promote study programmes, sharing stories composed by user-generated content, and motivational stories about exams or to fight loneliness”.
They emphasise the very important point that social media is supposed to be social. It is not a place where institutions speak and students listen, but rather a space to build community and connection.
Research has shown that empathy marketing can have a significant impact on student enrolment and retention. According to a study by marketing agency FutureBrand, 81% of students surveyed said they would be more likely to attend a university that was perceived as empathetic, and 73% said they would be more likely to stay at a university if they felt the institution cared about their success.
So, how can universities incorporate empathy marketing into their marketing strategies? Here are a few practical starting points:
geNEOus has long been pushing a circular way of thinking about student recruitment. The community that connects past, present and prospective students is one of the most important assets an institution can have, and it must begin in online spaces.
The siloed way of thinking about recruitment as a "funnel" does students a disservice. Education M&R teams should maintain that connection and communication with them all the way through and beyond. How else will we really understand what they need, and what drives them?