Redefining the role of the private career college
Partner: Robertson College
Our Role: Brand Strategy and marketing
For over 100 years, Roberston has offered career-focused programs in western Canada. We first partnered with Robertson College in 2018 when the college reached out for help with their marketing capabilities.
In this Case Study, we’ll examine how a private career college (PCC) repositioned their business to shift their focus back to the people who mattered most —students. And by doing so, how Robertson differentiated their college from competitors, gained market share and scaled their growth.
Marketing wasn’t generating leads.
The college initially approached our agency to increase their lead generation which would drive their enrollments and attract new students to their college. Even though they were spending more and more on their marketing efforts, they were generating fewer and fewer leads.
After evaluating the situation, we discovered that the problem was not a simple matter of their budget and marketing spend. In order to effectively reach Robertson College’s goals and target audiences, we needed to understand the post-secondary industry along with the college’s current position and perception.
A Private Career College With Hidden Potential.
Robertson College is a private Canadian career training institution with campus locations in Winnipeg, Brandon, Edmonton, Calgary and online. The college offers diploma programs in health, business, technology and continuing education.
There are over 1,300 private career colleges in Canada with over 170,000 learners enrolled annually.
Our work began with a deep understanding of the people Robertson was trying to connect with, students. This would help Robertson reposition their brand to address their issues with communication and engagement.
Research, Insights & the Audience
We analyzed Canada’s workforce, the post-secondary education industry and students’ expectations through data analysis along with speaking directly with students and working Canadians.
Insight #1: The nature of work is changing.
Canadians are changing careers more often than before.
The most common reasons people change their career paths were discovering a new field they were passionate about (35 percent), becoming bored and disillusioned with their original work (24 percent), and setbacks such as lack of advancement and/or cutbacks, layoffs in a career path (19 percent).
Students are navigating “The Gig Economy”
Graduates are transitioning into a less stable and opportune work environment referred to as “The Gig Economy.” The commodification of skill sets means employers can use a mix of technology and contractors to fill in for projects, offsetting overhead costs and guaranteeing them quality work in a short period of time.
Post-secondary Education Industry
Insight #2: Education becomes a devalued commodity when it’s not relevant.
Students and post-secondary institutions are not aligned. From a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, Canadian educators believed “they are developing high-performing graduates, more than half of employers and the graduates themselves believe they are unprepared for employment” (Reference: McKinsey & Company)
In many cases, youth are entering a labour market where job requirements are becoming more complex and their jobs are increasingly at risk of being impacted by automation.
From a research paper conducted by RBC cited “More than 25% of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the coming decade.” (Reference: RBC)
Employers don’t feel university degrees prepare students for the workforce
A recent poll of 823 business leaders by Modus Research Inc. found that 41 percent believe universities were doing a good job preparing graduates to address the needs of employers, while 31 percent said universities were doing a poor job.
When employers were asked what candidates lack, experience was ranked first at 38 per cent. Employers then said that nuances between the classroom and workforce were lost. Employers are looking for soft skills and attitude requirements above all else. PCCs have focused solely on preparing students for the workforce and often omit theoretical training which leads to the development of soft skills.
Negative perception of private colleges in North America
There is no Canadian standard when it comes to regulating private career colleges and each province is managing different requirements within their region. With less consistency, potential students have a hard time researching colleges across Canada. This is especially true for international students.
With less financial accountability, private colleges can be less transparent. In combination with a few “bad actors” tainting the industry perception, PCCs are struggling to attract potential students who are undecided about choosing between private and public institutions.
For graduates, potential employers may not be aware of the accreditations PCCs offer.
Student expectations are changing the industry
Students want flexibility when pursuing higher education. To students, flexibility is rolling start dates, online courses and accessible entrance policies. But above all, it’s adaptable training that reflects the nuances and realities of the industries students want to work in.
Information is everywhere and available to students on innovative and advanced platforms. In some specific industries, students can gain qualifications through free online courses. For example, Google offers free courses for users to better understand digital marketing. Not only is Google educating users about digital marketing, they’re delivering insight into their own product while providing accreditations to users who complete their courses.
Insight #3: The post-secondary industry is saturated with competitors
Messaging is focused on services
Institutions are focused on listing their services and programs without providing any context to their programming. This doesn’t build value for students because it doesn’t explain how these programs will translate into a career.
No differentiation between competitors
Every institution’s messaging is mimicking their competitors. This approach is not strategic and makes it hard for potential students to differentiate between colleges.
Strong competition online
We defined Robertson College’s audience into two groups: students and international students.
Audience 1: Students
We further split this audience into three categories of learners:
New Learners are underskilled. They have not previously attended a post-secondary institution and have little work experience.
Re-Learners are upskilling. They are building off their existing education in order to advance their careers.
Career Shifters are re-skilling. They are changing their careers due to personal motivations or being laid-off.
Students want to get to work immediately.
When asked their reasons for choosing to attend a private career college rather than public college or university:
• 62% said convenient hours and locations
• 61% said shorter program durations
• 34% said better quality training.
• 56% of PCC students attended programs between 7-12 months long.
Audience 2: International Students
International Students in Canada
The number of international students studying in Canada has jumped 119% from 2010 to 2017. Factors influencing the influx of international students include increased academic competition in their home countries, a desire to work and live in Canada and an opportunity to learn English to further their career advancement back home.
As more students travel West to earn diplomas and degrees, various levels of government are working on legislation to entice a higher percentage of the market share and make it easier to bring students to Canada while encouraging them to stay after graduation. In 2016 international students contributed 12.8 billion dollars to Canada’s GDP.
Key insights about students:
• Students desire value. They want to pursue meaningful work. • Students need flexibility in order to succeed in the classroom. • International students coming to Canada represent a massive growth opportunity for post-secondary institutions. • Students want to work immediately.
From our research, we understood the impact large social and economic changes were having on the post-secondary industry. Within the industry, competitors were treating students as a replenishable commodity. Their approach was stale and offered no value to students.
Robertson College needed to reposition their brand by contextualizing a changing workforce for students and redefining the private career college category. By doing so, Robertson College would position their college as the leader and raise up the industry by prioritizing the student experience. Focusing on the student experience would ultimately solve the problems Robertson initially approached us with, too.
Our brand strategy would need to:
Redefine and raise the profile of the private career college category
Robertson College needed to create a new category that stands for everything that their competitors were not. By doing so, Robertson College would reposition themselves as the industry leader and automatically differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Elevate student experience
Students value a positive and meaningful school experience that works to fit with their lifestyle. By prioritizing students’ needs and expectations, Robertson College can add value to their offerings by creating an experience that matches their audience’s expectations.
Communicate value vs. services
A laundry list of services isn’t helpful. By focusing on communicating the value of their programs, Robertson College will immediately differentiate themselves from their competition and provide much-needed context for students trying to navigate career-focused programming.
Brand Strategy, Identity & Campaign
Brand Strategy: Leading the way
People are placing value on purpose-orientated work and working toward getting to a specific place in their lives. They want the good life — a life that encompasses more than just meeting their basic needs. People want meaningful work that contributes to their purpose and builds value in their lives.
Robertson College provides the knowledge and understanding of how to get people there through education —a specialized education that is adapted to an individual’s needs in order to build towards the career and life they want.
Robertson gives the way towards a better life. Robertson gives you the flexibility for how you get there.
Brand Theme: Guidance
Robertson College offers the clearest path towards a better career and ultimately, a better life. Guidance - Show people where they’re trying to go and help them get there.
A valuable guide:
• Knows the terrain
• Helps you prepare
• Orientates you to your environment
• Instructs you with the skills you’ll need
• Knows where the dangers and pitfalls are
• Tailors the journey for you
Guidance gives students:
• Context and understanding of their options and choices
• A support system in achieving their goals
• Insights that make them better informed and prepared
• Less anxiety and more confidence as they make important life decisions
Old Work vs. New Work
Work was perceived as a means to provide for your basic needs in order to survive. It was labour focused. Workers had no autonomy over their work and they were subservient to their employers.
The way we work now has changed. New Work is where people explore the parameters of the most you can be. It’s an opportunity to add meaning to our lives and express ourselves. And with education, people can be empowered to contribute to a higher goal.
Getting to the New Work isn’t easy. Choosing a career path and finding a fulfilling job is a journey filled with questions and challenges especially when the employment landscape is constantly shifting.
We realized that students need more than just a selection of courses to help make their career decision. They need someone to help show them where they are trying to go. Robertson is their guide.
The School of New Work
The concept of “The School of New Work” redefines the private career college category and elevates Robertson’s perception as distinct and uniquely relevant to contemporary students’ needs. To be valued and valuable; that is New Work.
Statement of Claim:
The School of New Work - Robertson College
Robertson College’s up-to-date analysis of industry trends paired with a flexible approach to education focuses directly on giving students the best way forward through job training education. Robertson College offers the clearest path toward a better career and ultimately a better life.
For everyone to have a good life through a prosperous and fulfilling career.
We empower our students with the most relevant training and up-to-date insights to thrive in a modern work environment.
Target Brand Archetype:
These individuals are eager to move their lives forward in a positive direction. They value practical knowledge and insight and tend to be skeptical of vague over blown promises. What they’re thinking: “I want to know that I’m moving in the right direction as I work towards attaining my life’s goals.”
The Goal Getter
Wants and needs:
To make the right career choice so they don’t feel like they’re wasting their time and money.
A collaborative environment to make sure they don’t feel overwhelmed.
To move forward in life so they feel like they’re on the right path and adding value to their life.
To make a meaningful contribution so they feel that they’re having a positive impact on the world.
Robertson’s new brand identity needed to convey the new brand platform while visually reflecting their new position in the private career college category.
The brand identity could visually solve the challenges we identified.
• Redefine and raise the profile of the PCC category
• Elevate student experience
• Communicate value vs. services
This new brand expression is visually dynamic, makes an impact in public spaces and translates well between digital and print landscapes. It’s a bold iconic expression of Robertson’s brand that can be used immersively. When the logo is used, it can house important information. The brand mark is able to interact with students and surround them, and it can also be used as a container for text.
Robertson’s new identity visually communicates their new position in the industry while also signalling that their college is unlike any of their competitors.
From here, we used the new brand identity to translate Robertson’s programs in an easy to understand and engaging way.
Our strategy focused on connecting Robertson with potential students in a meaningful and valuable way. In order to do so, we needed to understand what potential students look for when choosing a post-secondary institution to attend. We mapped out and defined the potential students’ customer journey
Next, we considered how Robertson could create an impactful experience during each phase of this journey.
Previously, Robertson focused their marketing on targeting potential students in the Awareness Phase. Their marketing was focused on “traditional” channels including print, radio and TV that can’t be accurately tracked or measured.
We knew that potential students were researching their post-secondary education options online. By shifting Robertson’s marketing approach digitally, we could more effectively communicate with our target audience and track our engagements.
Robertson was also missing opportunities to nurture potential students in other phases of the customer journey. By creating touchpoints in each phase of the journey, Robertson would have more opportunities to convert potential students into enrolled students and better understand what students are looking for. And through this analysis, we discovered an opportunity to expand Robertson’s presence nationally by developing their online programs. This would raise Robertson’s profile in areas where campuses didn’t exist and in turn, increase Robertson’s market share beyond western Canada.
Moving from a traditional to a digital approach
The digital world created a new customer --a customer that expects a brand to deliver a consistent experience across all platforms. We needed to create a unified experience for Robertson across all of their communication touchpoints.
We needed to create a unified experience for Robertson across all of their communication touchpoints.
Through our research, we identified there was significant room for growth in online search with data indicating there were high volumes of education related search queries. These were opportunities for Robertson to capture visibility at a local, regional, and national level for both direct and research focused search phrases.
Our digital strategy included:
Organic Search Visibility:
We built out opportunities to connect with Robertson’s audience organically by creating useful and engaging content such as blog posts and video content. This content contributed to the overall visibility of the college while providing resources that Robertson’s audience was already searching for online.
Optimize Paid Digital Ads:
We assessed Robertson’s existing paid digital ads and re-evaluated their approach focusing on best practices for ads. We created brand consistency across platforms and built tools to use for email marketing, automation and personalization more strategically.
Build infrastructure and use data strategically:
With a digital marketing focus, we were able to track engagements more accurately. This allowed us to tailor our marketing strategies and develop content specifically targeting audiences in different phases of the customer journey.
With a new brand strategy and identity coupled with a deep understanding of the customer journey, we built a new website for Robertson.
The website focused on the student experience by highlighting the value of Robertson’s programs rather than a list of their services.
What our work achieved
Robertson transformed into a true customer centric business which built intrinsic value throughout the entire organization, across all departments both internally and externally.
The entire organization is focused on new positioning and the new value proposition. This collective focus has led to better fiscal performance (more YoY revenue), and in turn better positioned the organization to more successfully capitalize on opportunities including the online market. Robertson’s new brand set the college up for success online because it was built with their audience’s needs and motivations at the forefront.
We shifted the marketing environment to focus more on digital and we placed less reliance on traditional advertising. This resulted in stronger and more effective marketing performance.
Quality Lead Generation:
As a result of higher performing marketing, the quality of inbound lead generation —across all channels —has improved substantially, which has in turn improved sales performance metrics resulting in higher enrollment and revenue. This was the initial problem Robertson approached us with, and this is a testament that this particular problem could not be solved without addressing their brand and positioning.
Our partnership with Robertson began in 2018. This timeline marks our work’s major milestones and how we repositioned Robertson within the post-secondary education industry while setting up the college to grow and scale.
Research & Assessment
Robertson College engages Brandish to work with them. We start their brand audit and analysis of their customer journey and brand experience.
Our work on a new Brand begins while the marketing environment is audited to identify challenges and opportunities.
“The School of New Work” brand is approved and readied for market.
“The School of New Work” is launched in the market with a new website and a national multi-channel promotional campaign.
A new marketing strategy is launched, transitioning a majority of marketing investment into digital channels from traditional channels.
Work begins on developing and improving internal capabilities to support the growth of the brand, marketing and experience strategies.
Growth & Scale
After a fiscally successful year, more investment is directed toward performance marketing to expand the brand into new markets across Canada.
Covid-19 Response Strategy is developed to help Robertson navigate the crisis and maximize opportunity in the online education space.
New Sub-brand Launched
Robertson Online sub-brand is developed and launched in market.
Website traffic in new markets increased by 220% from 2019 to 2020.