As the coronavirus continues to grip many industries around the world, the time to revisit strategies in China has never been more crucial. The education industry, one of the most severely impacted sectors, has seen many Chinese students unable to travel due to travel restrictions and policy changes, with some cancelling their study plans all together. Over 700,000 thousand Chinese students study abroad each year and this number is only expected to grow.
Although service export growth is expected to quickly rebound following the outbreak, this is on the provision that the virus is quickly contained, and travel restrictions are lifted. Despite this, it is vital that organisations revisit their China strategy and enlist the expertise of professional agencies.
United Media Solution (UMS), an independent marketing-to-China agency, works closely with a number of international education providers and bodies. This has allowed UMS to closely follow impacts to the education industry and provide expert strategic advice based on ongoing research. We strongly encourage organisations to utilise our expert consulting services to assist in addressing the below points.
Responding to the crisis
Communicating information to current and prospective students during the outbreak in a timely manner is crucial in managing impact on your organisation. This includes having official platforms ready to release frequent updates on travel restrictions, policy changes, regulations and respond to the volume of questions you are likely to receive. It is suggested that education institutions focus on running a 24/7 monitoring and response system, as well as engaging a specialist or professional agency for social monitoring, market confidence and emotional sentiment. This will allow you to maintain a cohesive understanding of the market environment and quickly prepare/respond to negative media or public opinion.
As with any crisis, it is imperative that your organisation not only updates your audience on the situation, but also communicate the steps you are taking to combat the issue. For example, many Chinese students are unable to travel to their education destinations due to travel restrictions. It is important they are contacted as soon as possible with a resolution such as online courses, curriculum adjustment, credit transfer or a refund. In addition, it is also a good idea to show support for Chinese students unable to travel through public messages of concern and encouragement.
Who is your new audience?
Through regular target user monitoring and client user profile research, almost all Chinese target audiences have changed radically. This must be addressed by re-profiling users during and after the outbreak and focus on the target audience’s decision-making process, satisfaction and user expectations. In addition, family members are known to heavily influence students when deciding on an education provider, so it is equally important to investigate and observe the factors influencing their decision making too.
Engaging your audience
An estimated 50 million people are now on lock down in China, leaving many residents with more spare time than ever before. This is a perfect time to share any educational pieces that directly relate to your organisation such as information on academic research and professors and their contributions to society. The minds of the Chinese will also be perfectly primed and interested in information directly related to the outbreak, so share material about what medical classes you offer and how your organisation’s learning facilities are contributing to research.
In line with this, prospective students are more likely to engage with online courses during this period of isolation. For education providers who provide online resources, offering a portion of these discounted or free is a great way to boost brand awareness and capture new audiences.
UMS has published general strategic advice which is applicable for all industries during the outbreak. This can be accessed HERE.
Content and distribution is key
To reach your new audience, UMS research has found that “participatory” topics and activities such as games, voting and questionnaires are currently receiving a lot more attention and are being shared further across online networks. Through this type of content, organisations can “plant seeds” in the minds of Chinese for future education options. If executed correctly, a well-designed mechanism can also predict user behaviour when overseas tourism recovers.
In order to maintain/increase a positive public opinion, UMS suggests that organisations consider how they might target (through promotions or discounts) China’s front line personnel, or humanitarian workers after the outbreak. Attention should be given to the “gift-ability” or “shareability” of the promotion in order to increase awareness within regions and acquire new potential customers. It is also important to publicise positive promotional activities to further boost public sentiment.
Get ready for recovery – Operationally & Digitally
Although the next semester will have a lower number of international students, the overall demand for studying abroad is still growing. It is important that organisations pay close attention to the recovery of the education industry and have a plan in place to address the volume of students who wish to begin overseas study. This includes preparing education facilities and diverting students to off peak study times or other campuses.
In addition, organisations should create and focus on developing a strategy for when the outbreak subsides, and customers wish to access information on education or enrol. This strategy should also include how you will address and reacquire customers who have cancelled their education plans. There may be uncertainties with future education and organisations should be ready to address these concerns and restore user confidence in using you as an education provider. Have this highly relevant content ready in your platforms and pay close attention to the recovery of the outbreak.
Who are we?
United Media Solution (UMS) is an award-winning marketing to Chinese agency. We are a full-service independent agency which specialises in digital and social marketing.
This article was created by Richard Zhu who leads UMS Establish team that provides China consultancy and advisory services. You can contact Richard via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.