Educational Services in Service Advertisng09/07/2020
Marketing of education is a subject with very wide coverage if one considers that formal education begins at the school age and depending upon the choice, vocation and circumstance of the persuants, matures into intermediate and higher levels of learning including professional and specialised fields. Apparently, benefits sought from higher and professional or vocational courses are more tangible or measurable in terms of entry qualifications to a chosen profession, certification to enable practicing a profession or relative ease of access to a suitable form of livelihood. Not attempting to cover the marketing of education per se, the scope of this unit is limited to the post school or higher education.
Without making specific commends about any particular discipline, the unit deliberately seeks to keep the treatment of the subject general, as the objective is to develop a basic understanding of the concepts involved in the marketing of education as a special case of marketing of services.
Interestingly, the need to ‘market’ their services has not really been felt by the education sector, as educational institutions, be they colleges or Universities or institutions catering to specific fields like ours, have faced more demand than they could cope with. For specialised fields like management and computer education, where attractive market potential has increasingly caused more and more institutions to be set up, competitive situation is changing. Even the institutions facing heavy demand have been confronted with the question of being able to choose the desired target customers, and therefore face issues like product differentiation, product extention, diversification and service integration. There is a basic concern with building and retaining organizational reputation for creating a ‘pull’ in the market. All this has activated some interest in the hitherto neglected area of marketing of education services. Let us try to understand some of the basic services marketing concepts, relevant to marketing of education. Before going into the subject of education services marketing it is important to understand the concept of education as a service. Going by the AMA definition “services are those separately identifiable, essentially intangible activities, which provide want satisfaction and are not necessarily tied to the sale of a product or another service”1. Providing a service may or may not require the use of tangible goods. However, when such use is required, there is no ownership transfer of these tangible goods in service buying transaction. Education as a service, then, can be said to be fulfilling the need for learning, acquiring knowledge-providing an intangible benefit (increment in knowledge, professional expertise, skills) produced with the help of a set of tangible (infrastructure) and intangible components (faculty expertise and learning), where the buyer of the service does not get any ownership. He may have tangible physical evidence to show for the service exchange transaction but the actual benefit accrued is purely intangible in nature.
Service characteristics and implications for marketing of education
Education like most ‘pure’ services is an intangible dominant service, impossible to touch, see or feel. Evaluation of this service however can be obtained by judging service content (curricula, course material, student workload, constituent faculty) and the service delivery system. The consumer, based on these evaluations, has a number of alternative choices before him and may make selection on the basis of his own evaluation referrals, opinions sought from others and of course a brand or corporate image of the organisation providing education. At the end of the service experience, the consumer gets something tangible to show for his efforts i.e. a certificate or a grade card denoting his level of proficiency at the given course/programme. According to Bateson, finer distinction of intangibility into palpable and mental intangibility, has implications for the marketing of the educational services.6 For reasons of both mental and palpable intangibility:
- Education cannot be seen or touched and is often difficult to evaluate: It is therefore, imperative to build in “service differentaition” in the basic product to enable competitive positioning.
- Precise standardisation is difficult: For educational packages of same levels and bearing similar certification (e.g. B.A., B.Sc., and B.Com. degree programmes, postgraduate commerce and science programmes, management diploma and degree programmes) across universities and colleges, it is often difficult to bring about standardisation of course design as resources/needs/objectives of different institutions may differ. Institutions like Universities, though, try to manage equivalence in standards through Boards of Studies which are generally inter-university bodies. Technical education is sought to be standardised through bodies like the All India Council for Technical Education. Interestingly, the lack of standardization also opens up the marketing opportunity of creating highly differentiated, need based course packages, suited to chosen target groups of customers or serving specialised/localised needs.
- Education as a service cannot be patented: This feature implies that courses designed or developed at one institution can be replicated and offered at other institutions. It also implies that as far as the service product features are concerned, all advantages of a given competitor have an essentially perishable character. Only those discernible strengths which have their basis in the people resource, cannot be easily replicated. Hence, the added importance of faculty selection and motivation for educational institutions.
As these implications of intangibility become apparent to the service product designers and providers in the field of education, the following pointers to marketing planning emerge:
i) Focus on account of intangibility should increasingly be on benefits delivered by the service system and the uniqueness of the package that is being offered. The benefit accruing to the student may emanate from the service product-its depth, width, level or variety or from the uniqueness of the delivery system, the evaluation system or the extremely high goodwill enjoyed by the institution.
ii) Education, like most other pure services, should be tangibalised so that the beneficiary has some physical evidence to show for his achievements. Certifications for various levels of attainment, citations and separate certificates for any special achievements or activities should be duly prepared and delivered in time to be meaningful.
iii) Branding through effective use of Institute/University acronym, to aid instant identification and recognition should be practiced. Concerted efforts at building up organisation’s reputation through performance as well as through skillful use of communication tools would need to be carried out to associate this ‘brand name’ with a desired ‘brand image’.
Services are perishable and cannot be stored. To an extent, education displays this characteristic which results in certain features.
- Production and consumption are simultaneous activities: This is true of most conventional teaching institutions where face to face teaching necessitates simultaneous production and consumption. Open and distance learning systems which make substantial use of technology, however, have made it possible for production and consumption of the service to be carried out at different times-the use of audio-video units and preparation of course materials sent to the students across the consumer population, are designed to meet the challenge posed by the perishability character of services.
- No inventories can be build up: This is true of most services, as well as education, as an unutilised service like a course on offer, or a lecture scheduled to be delivered, cannot be stored, if there are no students enrolling for the course or to attend the lecture. This factor opens up the challenge of managing the service in the face of fluctuating demand. Nearly all universities at one time or the other have faced the problem of overstaffing, when certain disciplines went out of vogue, like pure sciences and post graduate courses in languages. The marketing implications of perishability necessitate that a better match between supply and demand for educational packages would need to be made. Course design and course offers need to be preceded by a need analysis of the target population before the decision to launch them is made. This points towards the use of marketing research techniques for service development (designing the course concept) and planning, but more than that it necessitates a shift from ‘institution orientation’ to a student or ‘customer orientation’. Courses need not be offered because the institutions have available expertise in an area or it is something that the institution has been traditionally doing. In consonance with the marketing concept, the capability of finding a better fit between the needs of the society and the design of the offering, would define the difference between an effective and a non-effective institution.
Services are also characterised by the factor of inseparability in the sense that it is usually impossible to separate a service from the person of the provider. In the context of education, this translates into the need for the presence of the performer (the instructor) when the service is to be performed and consumed. This necessarily limits the scale of operations to the number of instructors available, it also means that the distribution mode is more often than not direct in the sense that no intermediaries are involved; the transfer of knowledge is directly from the provider to the learner. As noted before, open learning systems have overcome the characteristic of inseparability by incorporating the teacher into the material and bringing about a separation between the producer and the service. A direct marketing implication of this inseparability is the need for obtaining/training more service providers as well as the need for more effective scheduling of operations.
Heterogenity in the context of services means that unlike product manufacturing situations where design specifications can be minutely standardised and followed, the standards of services, educational services included, would depend upon who provides the service and how. This heterogenity of performance renders service offers for the same basic “service product” from different institutes vastly different from each other. Even though standardisation of courses according to some prescribed norms may be attained, it is difficult to ‘standardise’ individual performance i.e. that of the faculty resource person. That, perhaps, is not even a desirable goal in education, but maintenance of a certain quality standard across ‘performers’ certainly is. In the absence of accepted quality standardisation mechanisms in this context, it is the market forces alone, which would force quality standards on education. Dwindling registrations in institutions, snatching away of “market shares” by more effective competitors is what is making institutions take a renewed look at quality of service delivery and mechanisms for maintenance of standards. In terms of marketing implications, the hetrogenity characteristic of educational services, necessitates careful personnel selection and planning, constant and careful monitoring of standards which can provide cues to the prospective customers to aid choice of institutions. Examples of these cues could be success rates of the placement programme, the absorption of the institutions product in the job market, or the performance of the pass-outs at other competitive examinations.
Ownership or the lack of it also characterises service. In the context of education, the customer only buys access to education, or derives the learning benefit from the services provided. There is no transfer of the ownership of tangibles and intangibles which have gone into creation of the service product. Payment of fees (price for the service) is just the consideration for access to knowledge and for the use of facilities for a given tenure.