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June 07, 2007

Hello again,

I was discussing marketing recently and the topic was whether ELT marketing was different from that in other kinds of business. I don’t feel qualified to answer that...

... but I thought it would be interesting to look at what seem to me to be key issues for marketing English language courses.

Providing a language course means that we demand a high level of trust from our clients. Unlike consumer products suppliers we can’t easily provide samples for prospects to try. So what can we do to build up trust? First we can invite agents, sponsors and prospective students to visit our schools and see them in action. There are some caveats here, though. If teachers and students are subject to a constant stream of visitors, they may well complain. This means excellent preparation is required in advance of visits. Open days might be feasible for some schools but however you organise visits, ensure that everybody is involved in the planning and committed to the idea.

Next we need to establish relationships as relationships create trust. This means networking and patience. Some cultures take time to establish relationships so you need to understand the norms for the region you are targeting.

The market for ELT is very volatile and highly influenced by political change, business trends, economics, demography. This means we need to constantly update our knowledge of trends. This could involve taking some risks and making long-term plans. Think of the potential market in China. Joint ventures might be a way of easing into that market to give a school a good foothold for the future even if the short-term effort seems daunting.

Changing student profiles mean that what we offer has to be constantly revised and updated. Take the UK summer market, for example. Ten years ago teenagers on summer courses had much lower language levels than today’s students. Teaching in their home countries has improved enormously so to keep afloat in that market, schools need to think of innovative approaches to really challenge the students.

Agents play an important role especially in answering all the questions that parents, sponsors and students may have in their native tongue. Make sure that you choose agents who represent your school accurately, however. False expectations lead to disappointment and can harm your school’s reputation.

Make sure you promotional materials are appropriate for the market you are targeting. If you want business clients, the material should show adults working in a training environment rather than a group of teenagers having a good time.

If you are planning marketing trips make sure you the timing right: when does this market plan its study tours? Have you avoided public holidays? Tailor the product to the market too. Can you compete on price with other operators in the market?

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  1. ESL Jobs Says:

    I recently found your blog and enjoyed it. I have a MBA with a major in Marketing, and have also been active in the ESL market for a number of years, so I have a particular affinity for the topics!

    I see a great deal of potential for the marketing of ELT programs to move online, and it is with this in mind that I feel programs have a lot more options to explore than they might consider at first glance.

    As a case in point, to address the difficulty of "sampling" a program prior to enrollment, there are many video options, whether it be via YouTube or Camtasia or others, which would enable a motivated school to show the best of their faculty online. It would even be possible to put up entire single class snapshots of different programs at little expense.

    Food for thought...

    David Rogers

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