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Why abandoning “selling” for “marketing” is the future.

In terms of marketing there are two concepts, or two schools of thought if you will. The selling concept focuses on selling an existing product through promotion, and the marketing concept shifts the focus onto customer needs.

Traditional institutions of higher learning seldom stray from the selling concept. They develop curriculums, offer various degrees or learning products which they advertise through a variety of channels, and that’s that. People enroll, the institution profits by increasing the volume of enrollments and the world keeps turning. This product-centric take on how higher learning should be developed and marketed has served its purpose, but there is another way.

The reality is our modern society has evolved into a consumer-centric space. Marketers have adapted the dated mentality of just selling more of the same and instead moved on to integrating marketing logic from the start, ultimately having success that is tied directly to customer satisfaction.

What does the marketing concept look like for higher ed?

Instead of focusing on how to peddle existing degrees, institutions could look towards their target market, and in trying to accommodate their needs, develop or modify products. These products would be marketed, not in a silo, but through integrated omnichannel campaigns. When institutions anticipate their prospective students’ needs and cater learning products to those need, both the institution and the students find success and satisfaction.

There are disruptors in the higher ed space that have aligned their strategies with the marketing concept, such as Outlier, where students can enroll in online, for-credit, masterclass-style courses. Not only do they offer college content that is more akin to a cinematic experience, but they also offer them for a fraction of the cost of traditional colleges and universities. They knew exactly who their target audience was, then created learning solutions that catered to their schedules, interests, and even budget. The long-term results of this marketing strategy has yet to be proven by the startup on a large scale, but VC funds are betting big on this idea.

As student needs evolve, so should the higher education industry and the way that they try to communicate their relevance and value. Simply selling the old is not good enough anymore and as students are provided with more options that better suit their needs, institutions need to be able to compete. The only way forward in the future landscape of education is to treat marketing as an integrated solution instead of just an avenue for promotion.