With the funding cuts that have gone on over the past few years, demonstrating to young people in your area why they should enrol in your institution is vital to your success. Get the wrong message out, and it could end up affecting not only student recruitment and retention, but also future funding.
However, this is only half the story. The funding cuts have also affected your competitors, and so they too are having to up their game when it comes to marketing their institution as a place to go. And so it isn’t simply a case of persuading people of the benefits of a college education, but also a case of why they should come to your institution, rather than your competitors, be they other FE colleges, Independent Training Providers and even universities.
Yet with every challenge comes an opportunity. If your marketing message and promotion can really hone in on the benefits that your college brings to its potential students, then not only are you more likely to see an increase in recruitment rates, but you are also more likely to see more motivated students, leading to higher retention rates. Which in turn will affect your funding and see you staying ahead of your competition.
Over the next five pieces, we want to suggest ways in which this can be achieved with good use of Labour Market Information. In this piece we’ll look at the ultimate reason that people come to your college, and what this means for your marketing and promotion. Then in Steps 2-5 we’ll show you how this can be achieved and what it means for your overall mission.
Understand Your Core Product
Why do people come to your college? To learn? Because they are interested in a particular course? For the experience? Most, if not all of these answers probably play their part in the minds of those who are wondering what they should do and where they should go. But more often than not they will have a much bigger consideration weighing on their minds than these things: Will this course help me to get a good job at the end of it?
We’ll return to this in a moment, but first let’s just take a step back from Further Education to ask a broader question about why it is that people choose certain products or services and not others. In marketing terms, a helpful distinction that is often made is to separate a product or service into three different categories:
- The Actual Product – This is the actual physical product or basic service that is being offered.
- The Augmented Product – These are basically the add-ons and extras that come with the product or service.
- The Core Product – This is the real need that the customer has in buying the product or service, and the main benefit they get from it.
Let’s take a laptop as an example. What is the Actual Product? It is the laptop itself, including all the technical specifications that it has. As for the Augmented Product, this will be any extra benefits that come with purchasing it, such as the warranty or a discount on other products. But it is the Core Product – the customer’s perception of how the laptop can help them and improve their life – which is the real reason for them buying it. The technical specifications of the laptop may well be very impressive, and the add-ons might provide a great bonus, but at the end of the day, the question the customer wants to know is simply this: will having this product solve the problems/issues/challenges I need it to solve, and so get me where I want to be?
Returning to Further Education, what would you say are your college’s Actual Product is? We would submit that it is basically the courses you offer and the qualifications that they can lead to. How about your Augmented Product? These are the added benefits your college provides to its students, such as the student experience, or maybe the discounts you offer on various products at local shops.
But what about your Core Product? As mentioned above, generally speaking people don’t go to college because of the course, as such, or the additional benefits you provide; they go to college because they
believe that the course they are undertaking will give them greater opportunities to gain good and meaningful employment at the end of it. For instance, those who enrol in plumbing courses do not do so just so they can get a plumbing qualification; they do it because they believe that a plumbing qualification will help them fulfil their goal of becoming a plumber. In other words, your Core Product is not your courses, or even the qualifications they lead to, but rather where those courses and qualifications can take those who do them.
We might therefore expect that colleges would tend to concentrate their marketing on highlighting the link between their courses and the possible career destinations that these courses can offer them. Yet by and large, there is a far greater tendency in the sector for institutions to market themselves on the basis of their courses and qualifications, without much reference to where they could lead the student.
This is not to say that the courses, the qualifications, or even the additional benefits people get from attending your college are not important. They are in fact vital. But it is to make the point that if the basic reason young people go to college is because they perceive that it will enhance their career prospects, why not concentrate your marketing on making this link much more explicit?
In Step 2 we’ll start to take you through how this can be done, but in the meantime, if you’d like to know more about how we can help you promote your Core Product, contact us now.