Rescoping Higher Education Marketing

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By Natalie Hensby, Principal: Education & Professional Services

Reflecting on the first half of 2016, some significant trends and changes to the higher education marketing landscape emerge. Increased competition and funding pressure has highlighted the very immediate and compelling need to strengthen acquisition, lead generation and market segmentation capabilities across higher education institutions.

The growth of digital marketing has highlighted the importance of customer (student) centricity with many universities and private providers restructuring their business models to be customer-driven. The EdX joint venture between Harvard and MIT is a key example of the impact of digital on the international student market.

Traditionally university marketing departments have been decentralised into faculties (or by brand for private providers), however a greater awareness of commerciality has seen a trend towards marketing functions becoming centralised with cost efficiency and master brand leverage being driving forces.

The most innovative higher education marketers are differentiating in an increasingly saturated market through compelling content strategies, which transcend organisational structure and processes to engage stakeholders across the institution. These marketers are generating stakeholder buy-in through crafting a brand story that engages current and prospective students, staff, alumni, industry and wider society. When done well, the benefits are undeniable. A compelling purpose-led content strategy engages target audiences on an emotional level, leveraging the transformational power of education and promoting the benefits of the entire higher education provider.

This streamlining of the marketing function highlights the priority being given to development of digital capability across an institution. The most progressive higher education institutions have positioned digital teams at an appropriate level within an organisation, with sufficient scope and influence to affect change. New roles equivalent to a Chief Digital Officer are emerging, being supported by Data, Content Strategy, and Analytics Officer positions. Similarly Business Development Manager roles have been created to drive corporate development, industry partnerships, research investment and enrolments as organisations seek new and sustainable revenue streams.

Equally, we have seen a growing appetite for marketing talent from a non-education background to drive innovation and organisation-wide digital transformation. Senior leaders coming from mass-consumer industries, have had mixed success disrupting traditional thinking and legacy business models as the higher education “path to purchase” is characterised by unique market nuances. As a result, many providers have engaged external marketing consultants and change specialists to develop and implement data-driven organisational strategies to drive future growth.

It is clear that the providers best positioned to succeed in the new digital economy are agile disruptors, with a culture that values data-driven decision making and a commitment to hiring the right people to drive change.


Natalie Hensby

Principal: Education & Professional Services

T.  +61 2 8014 5574  |  E.


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