Introduction to Online Brand MarketingThe following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Monica Padillo, this chapter is titled “Building Brand Identity Through Online Marketing.” In it, Sherwin O, a member of The Board of Directors of CIIT Philippines, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in building identity of the brand through online means.
Google’s first page is the online Taft or España
More often than not, people look at the prestige or reputation of an academic institution than the quality of education that it provides. In the Philippines, parents choose to enroll their children in top universities which have been around not only for decades but centuries because of their perceived excellence. With so many players in the education sector today, how exactly do new entrants stand out?
It’s all about online marketing, according to Sherwin O, President of CIIT Philippines (formerly Cosmopoint International Institute of Technology), which was founded in 2007. As the head of a young academic institution that offers courses on multimedia arts and information technology, it’s only right that they keep up with the times by marketing CIIT online.
Sherwin recalled that in the early years of CIIT, he and their marketing team found it difficult to market the school to students who could be interested in the programs they were offering. When CIIT opened, they only had 21 students enrolled in multimedia arts, computer science, and animation. Knowing that people often look at a school’s reputation before anything else, the CIIT heads found themselves in a difficult battlefield.
Much like other schools, CIIT first marketed themselves by visiting different high schools and participating in career orientations for graduating students. As Sherwin put it, it can become a roadshow where students possibly listen to 10 or more schools in a one day. It reached a point where the event became too sales-oriented rather than helping students choose their preferred course when they reach college.
While the effort was effective in some way, it didn’t help CIIT gain the reach that they wanted to achieve. It became harder and harder to compete with schools with big alumni networks and massive campuses.
It wasn’t until some time in 2012 where they realized after much market research that they could take advantage of digital channels to advertise CIIT to their target market. Much like how people go to España to enroll in the University of Santo Tomas or Taft to enroll in De La Salle University Manila, Sherwin and his colleagues found that they could easily put themselves on the map by making themselves highly visible on Google—and reach a much wider audience.
“The current market rate now looks at Google’s first page as a source of who’s reputable and credible. No one ever thought back then that the first page in Google is almost equivalent to being along España or Taft. So that’s how the whole idea started. Within a span of one year, the marketing budget of CIIT completely shifted towards digital,” Sherwin said.
From then on, CIIT invested in more online marketing strategies. They poured a lot of resources and tapped both their students and designers into making audio video presentations, which they would then post on their social media channels. Since many Filipinos were now looking at content and insights online, CIIT was able to gain the traction that they’ve been working hard to reach by simply making it much easier for their applicants to find them.
Their online marketing strategies have been so successful that CIIT was able to quickly grow by an average of 25%, which increased to 27% the succeeding year then 32% the following year. CIIT’s online marketing campaigns were also highly effective in that they didn’t even feel the heavy consequences of the education sector’s implementation of the K-12 system in 2016. While some colleges and universities struggled financially due to the lack of freshmen enrollees, CIIT was seen building its own campus. They also received accreditation from the Department of Education to offer senior high school programs in animation and computer science.
“Our online marketing campaign, as a whole, proved to be very strong, not only for our college courses but all of our programs for that matter. The rise was really fast,” Sherwin said.
Suddenly, CIIT appeared in everyone’s bubble whenever they searched online for programs in digital arts or technology. Sherwin recalled that they mostly received inquiries from parents who were Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) looking to enroll their children in their programs.
“Parents who are OFWs are very tech-savvy. They’re dependent on the internet for affordable means of communication. So some of them talked to the school via chat, asked us about our programs, and then paid us online. It’s really all just done online. The more that we invest in our digital channels, the more that things become better,” he said.
However, CIIT is not immune to negative comments. Being present on social media as well opens them up to public shaming. But instead of ignoring negative feedback from their stakeholders, the institution handles everything with grace.
According to Sherwin, they make it a point to listen to the concerns of their market and be transparent. When the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Philippines, many students petitioned to have an academic freeze as they argued that remote learning is not completely effective. CIIT was not spared from their students’ anger, what with their student council starting their own petition as well to postpone classes and issue refunds while the pandemic continues to economically affect the country.
To resolve the matter, CIIT quickly issued refunds and even showed their student council how they computed the fees. Sherwin shared that the school management is so transparent that they even include their rank and file employees to join their town hall meetings where they discuss their profits and expenses.
“Even the janitor of the school is part of the town hall meetings where net income profits and expenses are being discussed by me. It’s really all about transparency. Even when employees or even faculty members have concerns, everyone is always just one email away,” Sherwin said.
While CIIT has definitely achieved so much since its establishment almost 13 years ago, Sherwin admitted that they still have a long way to go compared to other higher institutions.
“If you’re a young school trying to enter this kind of a market, I would say that that’s a big challenge. College and universities have had decades and a century’s worth of building a brand and you’re going to have to compete with that within a few years,” Sherwin said. “Of course, we’re definitely nowhere near, but just to have that recognition, of CIIT being one of the top schools for digital arts or technology, I think that would be quite an achievement within a very short span of time.”
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