When I arrived at the British Council offices in a South-East Asian capital for my first meeting with the team that would be helping me with a client project to understand the market there, my interpreter, the brilliant Yu Yu Wu, asked me this question: ‘So if these are the questions you want the answers to, why didn’t you just send them to a research house over here and get the answers sent back to you? Surely that would have been cheaper?’
Was she right? What was the answer? A jet lag enhanced waffle of an answer escaped my lips which said something about there being no substitute for being here and looking them in the eye. Yu Yu didn’t seem convinced and neither was I.
Fast forward to the end of day two with eight interviews under our belt and Yu Yu said, ‘I get it now, you couldn’t have got this sort of insight without being here could you?’. ‘No’ I said. ‘That’s why I’m here, and I’ve already started to work out the recommendations that need to go to the client – tomorrow we’ll test some of them’. I’d like to say that she then said ‘Ooo you are clever’ but she didn’t; instead she asked another question: ‘But couldn’t you just have talked to students from here that are already in theUK?’ I had the answer to that one: ‘We’ve done that but it doesn’t provide anywhere near the full picture. The students we are talking to here are culturally and technologically unatuned to the UK. By the time they have been at college in the UK for a month or two, they won’t think that the UK is always cold, they will know where Manchester is, they’ll be using Facebook, and they will understand where the reputation of their university sits in the UK landscape. They will be native.’
After another day of potential undergrad and postgrad interviews and a series of meetings with agents representing the client in the country, I had a tangible set of recommendations that I knew would be capable of enhancing the client’s reputation and increasing their recruitment potential in the country. All very specific, all achievable, and enough to push them ahead of the competition in the UK in the minds of their target market.
In our most recent report into communications within the education sector, we discuss the idea of HEIs being ‘lobal’.
We challenge the oldmantra of ‘think global, act local’ by asking UK HEIs to consider switching it to, ‘think local, act global’. It encourages UK HEIs to make an authentic effort to understand the ideas, influences, concerns and expectations of international students, or the region in which they live, and use those insights to shape their offer and portfolio accordingly.
Yu Yu and I are now firmly in agreement that the best way to get the required understanding of a target market is to get out there and talk to them – to get ‘lobal’.
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