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Renewing Canada’s IES - Proposed pillar: Digital marketing

Published on March 1, 2023

Overview

As part of the current International Education Strategy (IES), Global Affairs Canada (GAC) manages a multi-year global digital marketing and advertising strategy. To date, results and reach to prospective international students have been overwhelmingly positive. That said, the pause on proactively promoting in-person study in Canada through the global advertising campaigns during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic did slow progress in building brand awareness year-over-year in target markets.

Messaging linked to student motivations

GAC’s digital marketing strategy focuses on promoting the benefits of studying in Canada as they relate to the primary drivers influencing international students’ choice of study destinationi:

  • High quality of education: graduate employment rate and rankings of institutions
  • Good employment outcomes: academic reputation and post-study work policies
  • Support for international students: financial, academic, and mental health
  • Work, CO-OP, and internship opportunities: number of hours permitted to work, opportunity to work within their field of study

Current marketing initiatives

Digital advertising campaigns

Since the launch of the 2019-2024 IES, GAC has executed multi-channel digital advertising campaigns in up to 25 target markets and 9 languages on an annual basis. Campaign themes are determined in collaboration with provincial and territorial partners as well as education associations and institutions, and are often aligned with federal government priorities. Main tactics used include Search Engine Marketing and Social Media advertisements. Some campaigns drive prospective students to the EduCanada.ca website for more information or to search a list of institutions that match their interests. Other campaigns are lead generating which allows prospective students to connect directly to participating institutions (or education associations) through EduCanada.ca.

Past campaigns have focused on:

  • General Awareness of Canada as a study destination
  • K-12 programs
  • Studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Technologies in Canada
  • Opportunities at institutions in Francophone minority communities

Results: Since 2019, the digital advertising campaigns promoting Canada as a study destination under the EduCanada brand have generated over 1.6 billion impressions, over 10 million clicks and over 2.5 million visitors to EduCanada.ca.

Target markets for digital advertising campaigns

Target markets for each digital advertising campaign align with IES priority countries, the interests of institutions based on the level of study being promoted (K-12, under-graduate, graduate) and linguistic considerations. To maximize in-market penetration, campaigns are often repeated in the same market over consecutive years. The 2020-21 campaign was limited due to the pandemic. Target countries in 2021-22 and 2022-23 were broadened to include:

  • Americas: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, United States
  • Asia: Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam
  • Africa: Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal
  • Europe: Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, U.K., Türkiye

EduCanada.ca website

GAC is undertaking a refresh of its main website EduCanada.ca to promote Canada as a study destination with an updated design, mobile focus and streamlined information.

Additional country specific sites have launched in third languages (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, Ukraine, Vietnam) with remaining IES priority markets being added soon, including Japan, Philippines, Türkiye, France, and Morocco. The website has seen 77% growth in new visitors since 2019 (4 million visitors in 2022 – 98% of which were new visitors!)

Social media

GAC manages an active presence on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube) under the EduCanada brand. The channels are used to attract and engage with the international student audience, where GAC:

  • Responds to questions and suggests tools and resources
  • Highlights institutions, professors, researchers, career opportunities and accomplishments
  • Provides insights into unique services offered by institutions, including to support student wellness
  • Features student and alumni testimonials

Video

GAC expanded its EduCanada branded video production capacity under the current IES to create more video content focused on:

  • Adapting to social media algorithms favouring video content
  • Following audience media consumption trends
  • Emphasizing storytelling to highlight innovative labour sectors, share compelling student/alumni testimonials, and explain the education systems across Canada

Opportunities

Based on results to date, the most successful EduCanada global advertising campaigns garnered a greater interest from international students looking to first choose their country of study and then consider their specific field of study. After that, students consider their institution of choice and region within Canada to study. EduCanada’s digital marketing campaigns also provide an opportunity to promote in-demand fields of study aligned with labour shortages and fuel Canada’s talent pipeline. Future campaigns could focus on these priorities but will benefit from the views and experiences of those participating in the IES consultations.

GAC is also considering future opportunities to expand its direct connection with prospective international students, and their parents, through other marketing activities beyond paid digital advertising. For example, future opportunities could include blogs, newsletters, digital education fairs and targeted email campaigns.

Challenges

GAC’s digital marketing and advertising under the EduCanada brand must be in compliance with the Government of Canada’s policies and guidelines on advertising requirements and the general management of communications. This does influence budgets, limit permissible advertising tactics, and restrict the timing of advertising campaigns in any given year.

GAC’s paid-advertising budgets are also reliant upon Government of Canada priorities which vary year-to-year and are subject to departmental ceilings on paid-advertisements. While the IES (2019-2024) committed $5.4 million annually to a targeted digital marketing strategy, only approximately $2 million per year (with $1 million in 2020-21) has been approved for global paid-advertising campaigns. These paid campaigns have an exponentially larger reach to prospective students than organic marketing efforts developed by GAC. We these constraints in mind, GAC is looking to new and innovative ways to increase its reach, including through a modernized digital marketing platform for the EduCanada website.

Overall, GAC’s budgets tend to be lower than those of competitor countries with the mandate to attract international students to their markets. GAC continues to look for innovative ways to compete under these fiscal limitations.

Questions for consultation

  • How can we better align our digital marketing efforts with those of the provinces and territories, as well as institutions and education associations? How can we better collaborate to maximize our digital efforts in target markets?
  • What are the anticipated markets of interest for student attraction across each level of study in the coming years? How can we better align our advertising and marketing efforts to labour market gaps across the provinces and territories and priority areas of study in institutions across Canada?
  • What future marketing challenges will the sector/institutions face? What are your recommendations to address those issues?
  • Do you have suggestions for effective and wide-reaching marketing initiatives that do not require paid advertising?
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