How a major research project helped shape an international student recruitment strategy on behalf of
the Canadian Government.
Net Natives were recently challenged by the higher education sector in Atlantic Canada (which includes
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island) to conduct a major
international research project.
The insights and recommendations from the project, backed by empirical data gathered from multiple sources,
will be used by universities and colleges to shape policy and programs around international student
recruitment for the region.
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), which serves as the government of Canada’s economic
development agency in the region, and its industry sector group, Education and Training Formation
Atlantique, came together to collaborate on an international market research project to understand
the global market and how Canada’s east coast should present itself.
With an ageing population and a lack of diversity, Atlantic Canada identified a need to increase the
number of new students to the area. Particularly international students who would not only increase
the diversity of the region but would also bring about a long-term positive economic impact to the
provinces. In an ever increasingly competitive global student recruitment market, Atlantic Canada
and its universities and colleges needed to stand out. But first, they had to understand how.
Net Natives were initially approached because of their global reputation as leading experts in student
recruitment, marketing strategy, and market research. Following a tender process, they were awarded
An in-depth brief and consultancy session followed, and the immediate requirements of Atlantic Canada
were soon understood. Armed with this information, governments and the region’s higher education
sector will be equipped with an informed strategy and a coherent message that will resonate with
international student prospects in select markets.
Atlantic Canada's universities and colleges need to:
- Understand the most relevant potential market
- Understand student requirements and preferred communications
- Understand what messages will inspire and convert
- Foster a spirit of collaboration among institutions to better promote the region and its universities
and colleges as an education destination in the world
- Understand which platforms to use and the recruitment cycle of different countries
How we did it
Net Natives used a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methods, through a mixture
of desk-based, primary and digital research, to build a picture as to how the region is perceived
as an international study destination. Net Natives also developed our understanding of what it
is that the providers and the location can offer students.
They did this by conducting:
Staff Stakeholder Surveys – To better understand the USP’s of the region at an institutional
level, what is the current marketing activity and the stakeholder opinions on international students.
Government Statistics Research – Looking into the current landscape in Canada compared
to key international competitor markets.
Digital Landscape Analysis – Net Natives mapped out the digital landscape using
their enterprise tool for social listening; who is speaking about what, where are the students, what
messages would resonate and the key times for communications, along with analysis of search data
from Google and Baidu, which all helped to build the marketing schedule.
Website Analysis – Conducted by Net Natives’ education specialised web analysts,
understanding the audience and their needs through reviews of website traffic and mapping the user
Market Analysis – Net Natives identified the institutions top markets through website
and digital analysis, which allowed them to focus on the nuances of each market, looking at popular
platforms and creating tailored messaging.
Advertising Review – Net Natives looked at the marketing promotions, communications
and international messaging that was currently being used and its effectiveness.
Social Media Review – What platforms were they using, what was the content like and
what content engaged international students.
Competitor Analysis – Net Natives looked at all the relevant metrics, such as brand
awareness, reach, social media and advertising, to build perceptual maps so that it was easy to clearly
identify the variables, what was and wasn’t working, and help the institutions focus their
resources and work more efficiently.
SEO Audits – Net Natives completed technical SEO audits for each of the 18 institutions
so that they could make recommendations to improve the organic visibility and improve the user experience.
This in-depth international research project took just over 6 months to complete and was a real cross-Atlantic
collaboration between Net Natives, the region’s universities and colleges, and the ACOA.
Vast amounts of data were collated, the numbers crunched and amalgamated by the experts at Net Natives,
and we provided advice, guidance and a marketing strategy plan with specific tactics for identifying
target audiences and content that would inspire and converts, as well as when and where to engage.