The number of students participating in Further Education fell by 11.4% between 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. We spoke to Antoinette Beekye, Head of Marketing, Communications and Enrichment at Waltham Forest College. She shared some cost-effective strategies to market colleges on a budget, promoting growth within the college. This post follows on from a previous Antoinette shared on Improving Prospective Student Engagement.
The current FE economic climate sees many, if not all, Further Education (FE) institution leaders focused on three key things: to be future-proofed, financially viable and able to invest for growth and sustainability. This has resulted in:
- Budget cuts
A department most commonly affected by the third on the list is Marketing.
As a result, FE marketing leaders are faced with the task of effectively managing available resources against corporate expectations; all at the same time keeping their teams motivated to achieve recruitment goals and targets year on year.
Other direct challenges besides funding and budget cuts, includes but are not limited to:
- School Sixth Form growth in varied boroughs
- Increased recruitment targets for school leavers
- COVID-19 catch-up
- Marketing staff recruitment
For Waltham Forest College, intense competition is attributed to three key factors:
- Sixth Form Growth and FE colleges – There are currently (17) secondary schools in Waltham Forest, of which 9 (53%) are Sixth Form provisions. Intense competition is also faced by surrounding FE colleges, including merged college groups.
- Market Share – School Sixth Forms and Sixth Form Colleges collectively hold 66% of the market share in Waltham Forest according to the 2021/22 Vector Data for 16-19 year olds ESFA funded learners.
- Academic preference within the target demographic – Waltham Forest College currently offers vocational courses only.
In this article, I will be sharing a few tips deployed within our small but effective Marketing Team that have helped our college to not only exceed our target recruitment allocation but most importantly, improve and enhance the College’s reputation locally and beyond.
Tip 1: Build your ‘reputation’ and ‘brand’
A good reputation and a strong brand are what I like to describe as the most useful assets and resources. Assets and resources are anything that can be used by the marketing function. Both take time to build and develop but are considered invaluable assets once achieved and can become your most cost-effective resources.
Positive word of mouth marketing is still by far one of the most cost-effective and credible marketing strategies, and costs nothing! Offer great service or product and gain customer loyalty and reviews verbally or online via Google rating. Waltham Forest College currently has the highest Google rating when compared to other FE institutions within the borough and surrounding regions and has been voted by learners’ number one in London for Learner Satisfact
ion two years running in the last two previous FE Week NICDEX league table for colleges.
Maintaining a strong and unique brand image can create higher advertising effectiveness on your target audience, meaning the likeliness that your target audience will choose your college after seeing your advertisement. The higher your advertising effectiveness is, the more likely your audience is to engage with your service or product.
Any advertisements that originate from you – the college with a ‘strong brand’ – will be met with curiosity and/or reliance. Think about the strongest brands you know and how you feel when a new product comes out. For me, that brand is none other than McDonalds and its use of the golden ark over the years
Tip 2: Deploy the BACE Strategy
What do you with a requirement to deploy the whole FE Marketing functions with a small team without feeling overwhelmed and stretched? My answer is to boost the teams’ motivation through leadership and accountability. The BACE strategy was formed by assigning specific Marketing functions to members of the team, to ensure everyone had a chance to lead in an area that embodied a variety of tasks intending to cover all the functions. The areas were:
a. B – Branding (publications, print & digital promo merchandise, etc.)
b. A – Administration (filing, bookings, research, orders, inventory, etc)
c. C – Communication (PR, reporting, media, case studies, testimonials, etc.)
d. E – Events (internal & external, school liaisons, awards, open events, etc.)
This strategy proved to be extremely beneficial in helping us to fulfil all the roles of marketing with limited staffing and resources.
Tip 3: Invest in team upskilling
Upskilling ensures skillsets within your team won’t become obsolete and shows genuine care about their careers and futures. Most of all, it helps to keep you ahead of the competition and can be accomplished cost-effectively. As well as attending sector conferences, webinars and networking events, the most effective upskilling method with a quick turn-around can be done with two valuable tools – Google & YouTube. I always say to my team, let’s stay positive and maintain a can-do attitude, and if in doubt utilise Google and YouTube. Yes, I know it sounds simple, but it would be unwise to ignore the fact that we are living in a digital era where information which was currently undisclosed and revealed for a hefty fee, is now readily available and easily accessible online. Along with online free training, review and recommendation content are also available to help you learn from others’ wins and mistakes, giving you the ‘know-how’ to move forward.
Tip 4: Measure, Analyse and Optimise your data
Simon Connor, FE Marketing Ltd, says it best in his newly released book entitled – Measure, Analyse, Optimise, How to optimise your college’s online applications, event registrations and course enquiries without increasing your marketing spend – a book that I would highly recommend to FE marketing leaders. Here are some of the key takeaways that would be useful when deploying cost-effective strategies:
a. Always ensure to have the right message, delivered to the right audience at the right time – focus on targeted spending and less more generic
b. If you don’t measure, you can’t improve
c. Stop allocating budget to campaigns (online & offline) that don’t deliver results
d. Focus on strategies that deliver applications, registrations and enquiries
e. Digital measurement is about using numbers to help us make better decisions than when we rely simply on just gut feelings.
Be precise and focus on measurements that are useful and relevant for helping you understand your audience and better plan your campaigns.
Finally, remember – Data is king, and the king is not dead!
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