There is an increasing demand for continuing education and lifelong learning in business and labour environments of Hong Kong. The word more appropriate than demand is “stir”; stir is for the educational institutions of higher learning that have been market-oriented for quite a while now. Educational institutions battle like business-oriented organisations with their promotional gimmicks such as billboards, signs, propaganda materials and commercials everywhere, and on the Internet with their various artistic websites, portraying an atmosphere of a boom in the knowledge-based economy.
Market-oriented educational institutions are competing for customers’ attention and applying every available marketing tool to gain supremacy in this new but growing economy.
This paper will examine the marketing strategies and marketing tools educational institutions apply to lure prospective students to acquire further learning or use their programmes to take up further studies and training.
More specifically, this will attempt to answer the following questions:
- Are marketing strategies applied, and if they are, are they appropriate in this setting?
- What effective marketing mix component should educational institutions apply in the Hong Kong situation?
- Are prospective students lured to this kind of advertising and promotion? Are the marketing tools effective? In there an impact on the students?
- Are marketing strategies on the right track for educational institutions acting like business firms?
- Is business-customer relation acquired and enhanced by the strategies being implemented?
- Are educational institutions employing the necessary measures and preconditions to be firms and institutions of learning with the responsibility to deliver the necessary and appropriate education to the students?
The answers to the above questions and the ensuing issues will be followed with a detailed discussion along with theories of marketing.
Before this paper will delve on more pressing issues such as marketing strategy and marketing tools, a more appropriate start is on a brief introduction of lifelong learning.
Educational institutions have been providing lifelong learning, distance learning, and the virtual classroom, for the new knowledge-based economy of Hong Kong for quite a while now. Members of the labour force and those attempting to enter the labour force are continuously acquiring knowledge and expertise in many fields because if they don’t so, they may lag behind, or they may not find jobs they wish to have.
Lifelong learning is a process of individual learning and development that is ongoing from across the life-span, from cradle to grave – from learning in early childhood to learning in retirement (OECD, 1996, cited in Tuijnman, 2002, p. 7).
The OECD paper states further that the setting for this kind of learning does not only include learning in formal settings, such as schools, universities, and adult education institutions, but also to the so-called ‘life-wide learning in informal settings. And this includes the home, the work area, or the place including the community. This is explicit experience.
Lifelong learning is broad and encompasses such areas as education policy, learning theory, human resource management, information technology etc. This can also foster the personal development of the individual, counter risks to social cohesion, develop civil society and promote democratic traditions, and enhance labour market flexibility.
Amidst the pressure for management efficiency in the face of widened access and reduced resources, the use of market or economic principles is seen as a disciplinary mechanism to make the education sector and its people work harder, more efficiently, and effectively. (Currie and Newson 1998, cited in Mok and Tan, 2004, p. 15).
There is the necessity and the driving force to acquire lifelong learning. By the word alone, one can understand how this is necessary to life and to one’s job. Additionally, one can think how long it is.
Educational institutions have found this an opportunity for expansion. Prospective clients or students of continuing education are the new applicants for jobs and the labour members who have to improve their knowledge in the face of globalization; they are quite a big population in Hong Kong. Almost all institutions of higher learning promote their institutional facilities for continuing education in line with their mission and goals, for which they have aligned their marketing and corporate strategies.
The environmental setting allows everyone, working and those still applying for work, to study and acquire knowledge as they go along with their daily activities and daily jobs. Those who do not wish to acquire new knowledge will remain tied to dormant economic sectors offering dead end jobs with low pay, poor benefits, and few opportunities for acquiring new skills or qualifications. Because skills and educational qualifications are powerful factors in determining access to economic opportunity and wealth, adult education is a necessary component in any coherent strategy for improving employment, productivity, and quality of life.
Formal education or schooling, and constant training enhance an individual’s chances of acquiring a job; firms demand from employees a good literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, and the ability to continuously apply new ideas, or be creative in their jobs. The risk of unemployment is high for young school leavers or drop-outs.
Educational institutions offer adjustable schedules; meaning students can study full-time or part-time. Education is focused on the improvement of the economy and the economy depends largely on education. Educational institutions adopt market principles, practices, and strategies to lure students to take up skills and courses which are in line with their kind of job.
The traditional firms and organizations only relied on their experience and basic education which was earned during college or masteral and doctoral dissertations, and were not updated. In the new setting, employees and managers have to continuously update their learning.
All over Hong Kong are propaganda materials, promotion and advertisements from educational institutions attracting prospective students who are members of the knowledge-based economy.
These are challenges of the new and emerging economy. Corporations and organizations which have turned global have to exert some pressure but in the form of encouragement on their employees to acquire continuing education and lifelong learning as they go along in their jobs, because with this, they can help improve the organization and themselves. As a result of the digital revolution and globalization, skill requirements for many professional, technical and administrative jobs have risen. Some jobs have become obsolete, whilst many have been created. The new jobs require more and more skilled people. Firms which feel the demand of continuing education on their employees offer short-term courses, trainings, seminars and workshops.
One of the marketing strategy components is the 4Ps, but some authors make it 5Ps or 7Ps, to make an effective marketing strategy. These are Product, Price, Place, Promotion, and added is People, which refers to Process, Physical evidence or environment.
All marketing mix variables could be categorized into just two groups:
- The Offering (product, packaging, service, brand and price),
- The Methods/Tools (distribution channels, personal selling, advertising and sales promotion. (Albert Frey, 1961, cited in Smith and Taylor, 2004, p. 7)
The fifth P is for people, which refers to customers and competition. These are the building blocks of a marketing programme.
The marketing mix variables are usually considered as internal variables over which a manager has control and makes decisions (albeit influenced by customers, competition and other external uncontrollable factors).
Marketing Strategy indicates the specific markets towards which activities are to be targeted and the types of competitive advantages that are to be developed and exploited.
The strategy requires clear objectives and a focus in line with an organisation’s corporate goals; the “right” customers must be targeted more effectively than they are by its competitors, and associated marketing mixes must be developed into marketing programmes that successfully implement the marketing strategy.
In this case, the “right” customer and demographic are appropriately addressed, but to some extent, there is an over-emphasis on the matter. Indeed, it is true that everyone can be a prospective student in the lifelong learning environment, but the ‘rush’ and the overwhelming process of advertising and promotion seems not right. In any case, the marketing tool is not in question.
Accordingly, marketing strategy can be likened to a recipe.
Lancaster and Reynolds (2002) state that ‘The ingredients are the marketing functions. Just as recipes vary according to the dish, so different marketing strategies require differing blends of functional ingredients. If a minor ingredient is miscalculated or forgotten, a recipe may not be successful. The same is true of marketing strategy where all functional ingredients depend on each other for success’ (p. 14).
As part of the recipe, advertising and promotion, therefore as marketing tools to lure prospective students to study or acquire lifelong learning or continuing education, is not enough. There has to be added ingredients to the recipe.
A marketing opportunity arises when the right combination of circumstances occurs at the right time to allow an organization to take action towards reaching a target market. An opportunity provides a favourable chance or opening for the firm to generate sales from identifiable markets. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 656)
In reaction to the overwhelming growth in the knowledge-based economy in Hong Kong, most educational institutions are joining the band wagon of instituting reforms in their educational programmes to accommodate life-long learning and continuing education. They have set their goals to attract worthwhile students, at the same time accommodate population growth, and reach a wider student population.
The attractiveness of marketing opportunities is determined by market factors, such as size and growth rate, as well as competitive, financial, economic, technological, social, ecological, legal, and political factors. (Jobber and Lancaster, 203, p. 658)
These factors affect the market but are stimulating too; educational institutions are urging and enticing prospective students to act and enroll in the courses available. Moreover, the size and growth have reached such a proportion; the strong competition can be felt in the environment. The growth and ongoing competition are also affected by other factors like financial, economic, technological, social, ecological, legal and political factors.
Educational institutions are now like firms, that’s why they are doing everything to get the ‘sympathy’ of the students who are mostly working. Their mission statement and organisational goals are set to the demands of the market. The atmosphere is that competing institutions are luring prospective students to take their facilities, get hold of the opportunity to acquire knowledge, and enroll any time.
In our marketing mix, the product is service: education or skill training to employees of firms who are already members of the labour force, and the new members who have just graduated from basic bachelor degrees, are to be provided or serviced.
Teaching or imparting knowledge is service. And the new service is some form of specializing skills: for the “old” employees to improve their knowledge in their respective offices or work area, and for the “new” employees to enhance their basic knowledge. This is what the knowledge-based economy needs: employees with continuing education, or who are continuously acquiring skill to be applied to their jobs.
Jobber and Lancaster (2003, p. 256) state that ‘Marketing must aim to satisfy customers. In the context of products, this goal demands an understanding of the core product requirement. However, it depends on marketers identifying and providing the actual product features expected and – with ever-increasing importance – aspects of the augmented product such as customer service, warranty, delivery and credit, personnel installation and after-sales support.’
The core product is education and training. The offers could be in the form of discounts, scholarship, study-now-pay-later plans, and so forth. There are many schemes that can be offered to entice prospective students, and they are applying it now.
Educational institutions are concentrating on two broad areas of concern for the substantial upgrading and broadening of literacy skills and qualities:
- The need to improve the articulation of education, training and employment policies in a framework of lifelong learning, and to devise more effective implementation strategies as part of a coherent approach to a range of policy areas that include labour market and social insurance policies.
- The need to achieve higher standards of learner attainment and greater efficiency and effectiveness in the organization of educational production in a framework of lifelong learning. (Tuijnman, 2002, p.6)
Improving the product is focusing on the need for major educational challenges in the wake of these shifting perspectives, both for schools and for adult education.
Dixon (1996, p. 15) says that ‘Newfangled digital bells and whistles have certainly contributed to virtual colleges’ climbing popularity. But so have trends such as an older student population with large educational demands, economic belt-tightening, increased workplace demands, and the globalization of our marketplace. These trends have converged to create a dynamic need for flexible, high-quality, lifelong education.’
The increased demand by business and industry for workers who have a global outlook and, ideally, some kind of global training also fans the fire of distance education.
Advertising and Promotion
Advertising and promotion are parts of the marketing mix to lure prospective students to take up further education or training from educational institutions. In fact, these are one of the primary tools in the marketing mix being employed in the situational aspect in Hong Kong.
Jobber and Lancaster (2003, p. 467) states that ‘When an organization combines specific ingredients to promote a particular product, that combination constitutes the promotional mix for that product. The four traditional ingredients of a promotional mix are advertising, personal selling, public relations and sales promotion.’
Advertising is a paid form of non-personal communication about an organization and its products that is transmitted to a target audience through a mass medium such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines, direct mail, public transport, outdoor displays, or catalogues. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 468)
Repeatedly said here is the popularity of this form of marketing mix being done all over Hong Kong. Added to this is the popularity of the Internet where websites of the various educational institutions, and even firms, are ‘artistically’ enticing prospective students to take the opportunity of enhancing and enriching their knowledge and skill in order to improve their job performance. The spread of the Internet or the so-called cyberworld is such that it looks like a new world in itself. All over the Net are commercials, propagandas, and advertorials targeting prospective students. The use of the Internet can also enhance lifelong learning through virtual learning, distance education, or the virtual classroom.
Can advertising on all areas, the virtual and the real worlds, make it effective, or a waste of time and money, and resources on the part of the educational institutions?
Advertising on all areas make it questionable. But there are two sides of a coin.
Jobber and Lancaster (2003) state that ‘Because it is highly flexible, advertising offers the options of reaching an extremely large target audience of focusing on a small, precisely defined segment of the population (p. 468).
They add that ‘Advertising can be extremely cost-efficient promotional method because it reaches a vast number of people at a low cost per person (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 468).
What are the other advantages of advertising?
- Advertising lets the user repeat the message a number of times.
- Advertising a product in a certain way can add to its value.
- The visibility that an organization gains from advertising enhances the firm’s public image. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 468)
- Even though the cost per person reached may be low, the absolute monetary outlay can be extremely high, especially for advertisements shown during popular television programmes. These high costs can limit, and sometimes prevent, the use of advertising in a promotional mix.
Moreover, advertising rarely provides rapid feedback. Measuring its effect on sales is difficult, and it ordinarily has a less persuasive impact on customers than, for example, personal selling. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 468)
The effects of advertising can be great for the educational institutions targeting prospective students. First, mass media like the television, radio, newspapers, are effective means of media for advertising. They reach a wider audience, even to the farthest corner of Hong Kong. The population can be fed with such commercials and advertisements in English and in the vernacular. This can be very effective.
Then, we have the Internet, a new, revolutionary means of communication which can also reach a wider audience, a global audience, but more specifically, the young demographic who have made known the Internet craze. All over the Net, businesses and organisations can post whatever they want to advertise and inform their own segments, at a very low cost, sometimes free. Educational institutions, firms, and training centers offering services are now doing this: advertising to prospective clients by maintaining websites, and advertising in the different sites in the so-called cyberworld.
Examples of educational institutions promoting or advertising by maintaining websites are The University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
The University of Hong Kong’s Continuing Education Program provides studies or mastery on almost all areas of discipline. Their programmes cover Masters’ degrees and PhDs for any kind of students, whether working or full-time. They also have the HKU Elder Academy, a one-of-a-kind educational program, which provides educational opportunities to elders aged 60 years and above. This program offers different schemes for mature students, visiting students, undergraduate courses, and special schemes and activities.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University is another institution of higher learning whose main focus and agenda is on economy and the fulfillment of individuals economically, socially, and professionally. It also has a main thrust of lifelong learning experience. One of its educational programs is known as SPEED, or School of Professional Education and Executive Development, which aims to provide lifelong educational opportunities. Its diverse programs include sub-degree to postgraduate level in full-time and part-time. This has some opportunities for employees who wish to take courses during their off-office periods. Another program is the Credit Accumulation Mechanism (CAM) which gives opportunity to working students or students working in firms to study at their own pace.
On the other hand, the role of promotion in a company is to communicate with individuals, groups, or organizations with the aim of directly or indirectly facilitating exchanges by informing and persuading one or more of the audiences to accept the firm’s products. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 457)
Marketers indirectly facilitate exchanges by focusing information about company activities and products on interest groups (such as environmental and consumer groups), current and potential investors, regulatory agencies and society in general.
Some marketers use cause related marketing, which links the purchase of their products to philanthropic efforts for a particular cause. Cause related marketing often helps a marketer boost sales and generate goodwill through contributions to causes that members of its target markets want to support. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 457)
Since there is more supply in the market, there seems to be less demand. However, this statement needs more proof or empirical study. What is focused here is the price. The price is negotiable because the suppliers of the product or service are competing to get customers’ attention. Educational institutions can offer discounts, scholarships, etc., to students who are working full time.
To a buyer, price is the value placed on what is exchanged. Something of value = usually buying power – is exchanged for satisfaction or utility. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 560)
Money is not always used or paid for the price of a certain product. When barter was used in the early days, they exchanged product for product. Can this be applicable in the computer age? A student can always work for his studies; he can exchange service for service.
The price customers are prepared to pay determines the level of demand for a product or service which affects the prosperity of the marketing company and the company’s competitive position in the market place. Price levels have far reaching implications for the national economy. They influence wages, interest rates and government policy. (Lancaster and Reynolds, 2002, p. 28)
Price is not the only factor that affects demand, although in some situations, companies have achieved similar levels of service, product quality, and promotional support, and it has become the major element of product differentiation. However, such companies have usually made major marketing efforts to reach such a state of similarity.
Price is a key element in the marketing mix and thus relates directly to the generation of total revenue. The following equation is an important one for the entire organization:
Profits = Total Revenues – Total Costs
Profits = (Price x Quantities Sold) – Total Costs
What about personal selling?
Some of the types of selling that we can mention regarding Hong Kong’s marketing climate, on its continuing regard for continuing education and lifelong learning, can be stated here.
We have the different types of selling, and capitalising on this particular aspect of marketing, there are inside order-takers, delivery salespeople, and outside order-takers, among others.
The inside order-takers – the typical inside order-taker is the retail sales assistant wherein the customer has full freedom to choose products without the presence of a salesperson. The sales assistant’s task is purely transactional – receiving payment and passing over the goods. Another form of inside order-taker is the telemarketing, sales team who support field sales by taking customers’ orders over the telephone. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 5)
Another form of order-taker type is the taking of order through online sources, or from websites. Products and services can be purchased through online or websites. Online courses, training, and seminars, are services which can be sourced through the internet or websites of educational institutions and independent firms providing knowledge, or whose products are knowledge-based.
The Philosophy of Marketing
For a firm to be marketing orientated requires that a number of changes take place in the organisation, in practices and in attitudes.
Subscribing to a philosophy of marketing, even though an important first step, is not the same as putting that philosophy into practice. Implementing the marketing concept requires more than paying lip service to the ideas inherent in the concept.
As stated in the marketing strategy portion of this paper, firms or educational institutions have to apply the marketing tools in their strategy to entice or lure prospective students to enroll in their facilities. To become operational and of real value to a company requires that the discipline of marketing contributes what might be termed a technology of marketing. By this, we mean that management requires the development of a set of tools (techniques and concepts) in order to implement the marketing concept.
Behavioural sciences can lead to an understanding of buyer behaviour; another example is the development of quantitative and qualitative techniques of marketing research for analyzing and appraising markets. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 13)
There have been numerous studies on the phenomena of lifelong learning and continuing education in Hong Kong. Linking these studies to techniques of marketing is not that at all difficult or absurd. Educational institutions which are acting like business enterprise may have made such studies; hence the euphoria and the competition in advertising and promotion all over the real and the virtual worlds.
The principle of marketing states that the primary aim of an organisation is to satisfy the customer’s needs by serving or providing them products that suit to their needs, at the same time, the organisation achieve its goals.
Customer satisfaction is the major aim of the marketing concept. First, an organization must find out what will satisfy customers. With this information, it then attempts to create satisfying products. But the process does not end there. The organization must continue to alter, adapt and develop products to keep pace with customers’ changing desires and preferences. The marketing concept stresses the importance of customers and emphasises that marketing activities begin and end with them. (Jobber and Lancaster, 2003, p. 15)
Place can refer to warehousing, transportation, service, stockholding. We can add here the place of educational institutions. Major educational institutions have improved their facilities for this purpose of providing education to full time and part time students.
Our fifth P is always for People, which refers to the people who are in the fields, but which can also mean the competitors, the educational institutions ‘battling’ against each other for supremacy, or for leadership.
We have focused on marketing strategy in this paper. From the question if advertising and promotion have an impact on students’ choice, the answer is it does have to some extent. There are prospective students who are not well informed of the courses offered or the ones that they should take up which are in line with their kind of jobs or expertise. And they do get the initial information from the advertising and promotion provided in the different media.
The decision of course depends on their own perceptions. The discussion provided the importance of advertising and promotion. They are marketing tools that the educational institutions employed in introducing to the public the kind of product or service that they are offering.
As state in the Literature Review, there have been numerous studies on the phenomena in Hong Kong, and this could be linked to the marketing strategies that are discussed here. To conclude, all these advertising and promotion and other marketing tools being applied by educational institutions are the results of studies. Their application by educational firms are gaining ground.
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