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Marketing Models for Early Childhood Education

1.      Introduction

1.1.2 The perception of early childhood education’s important position in the world

Early childhood education is seen as a significant industry all over the world. Because history tells that educated population is more productive population. This fact can be seen clearly in various cases, Hill and Hult (2017) take a comparison of two countries as instance, Pakistan and South Korean were at the same economic situation in 1960, while the South Korea’s GNP per person was three times that of Pakistan in mid-1980s. The data revealed that only 30% of Pakistan children was sent to school, while 94% of South Korean children were enrolled at contrast (Hill & Hult, 2017). The underlying cause for the economic soar of South Korea is that education improved efficiency and productivity. In addition, the quality of education takes the dominant role corresponding to the economic improvement. There is substantial evidence to support this view. For instance, researchers such as Glewwe, Maiga and Zheng (2014) argue that the low education quality in Sub-Saharan African countries is assumingly resulted in the generous negative effect on the economic growth. Governments aware that the investing on education can reward positive impact on economic growth. Consequently, many countries invest more and more to encourage the education industry. Early childhood education accounts weighted investment accordingly. For example, in America, since the speech of “Pre-K for All” launched by ex-president Obama in 2013, the state data shows that the children’s services industry is one of the fastest growing sectors (Goethe, 2015). The huge investment on education rewards the USA a long-lasting economic dominant place in the world. Similarly, the countries which have solid economic power emphasis on their education development as well. Early childhood education and care (ECEC) policies and program is a dominant model operating in OECD countries, with a trend of universal pre-schools (Kamerman, 2000). All the facts indicate that if countries want to develop their economic power, they should improve their education in advance.

1.1.3 Current status of early childhood education in China

  Chinese government also implemented related policies to promote early childhood education industry. National Training Programs for kindergarten teachers were launched in 2011, with an annual capital investment on both public and non-public teachers of early childhood education organizations (Sun, Rao & Pearson, 2015). Although Chinese government embraced related policies to facilitate the early childhood development, there is a long way to go towards a universal early childhood education in China. The fundamental reason for this is the early childhood education resource is not distributed evenly and the teaching quality is not uniformed. A research performed by Zhou, Li, and Hu and Li (2017) presents data which is relevant to this point, as the majority of early childhood education providers were privately operated and of variable quality. In fact, the investment is not sufficient as China has a large number of populations. Thus, the per-pupil investment is not enough. In addition, China has fewer funding systems as compared to developed countries (Zhou, et al, 2017). A new national policy of allowing a second child has commenced at January 1, 2016, this policy ended the one-child policy which lasted 35 years in China (Qin & Wang, 2017). Due to this national policy, a new baby boom may occur in China in future. Consequently, consumer demand on early childhood education may be increased. While, the public early childhood education organizations are far from enough to satisfy the customer demand as well as the high-quality private ones are extremely expensive to access into (Qi & Melhuish, 2017). The situation shows that private early childhood education organizations have a large potential market to develop. However, they should market and operate properly as the high price is hard to attract consumers.

1.2 Objectives of this study

This research aims to identify marketing strategy models for operators of private early childhood education organizations to help them create a competitive advantage to survive in the market. Operators in early childhood education industry face a potentially huge market, meanwhile, they are challenged to explore in an early development stage of the current marketing environment. The organizers need to find a feasible marketing strategy to survive in the fiercely competitive market. However, China has not developed independent and mature marketing strategies or theories, most of which were introduced from the western countries. Furthermore, there is few articles related marketing strategy for early childhood marketing strategy. The findings pointed by those previous researchers tell that organizations were benefited by applying the relevant marketing strategies to some extent. Hence, it is worth considering to apply those theories in private early childhood education industry. This paper will review literatures of the last decade around the world in higher education industry, attempting to form the common marketing models for private early childhood education in Beijing.  

2.      Background of relevant concepts

2.1 Special features of early childhood education industry

As early childhood education is subordinating to the service industry, it has shared the characteristics of service industry, such as intangibility, lack of patent protection, dependent on organizational quality and non-replicability. Vastani and Straub (2015) argue that service is a process which is doing something for somebody else. Many organizations provide same services, for example, hair salons help people with hairs, however, different barbers have different cutting skills and the hair style is verified even if the consumer has the same claim of their hair design. Similarly, the early childhood education is provided by different organizations, it is not surprisingly that children may have totally different education even based on the same curriculum. It is true that different children have different cognitive ability. Meanwhile, the quality of teachers and the delivery of courses are unequal. Huang, Wu, Wen, Hsin-Fei and Hairui (2017) claim that innovations on service cannot be protected by patent and can be imitated by competitors very soon. This raises a key issue, which is homogeneous competition in early childhood industry. For example, in Beijing, it is common to see that the organizations promote themselves as expert training centers on English, music, or dance, etc. On one hand, it makes the parents confuse on choosing them. On the other hand, the organizations compete only depending on cutting down the price. Additionally, if one organization advertises they teach the children with Oxford Reading Tree through scenario cosplay. Then, others will promote similar products like that. Davin (2017) points that the boom of early childhood education organizations in China is due to the massive demand, but there are few organizations have created the core competitiveness. This may work well at present, but the organizations may face to crisis when the market shrinks.

2.2 Competition environment of the early childhood education industry

The competitive environment is the most significant element to be considered by the organizations. Michael Porter pointed his famous five forces model for scholars and managers to analysis the competition environment and profitability of all industries (Magretta, 2012). The five forces are rivalry competitors of the industry, potential new entrants into the market, threats of substitute products, buyers’ and suppliers’ bargaining power (Porter, 1980). Although this model has defects to some extent, it restricts the scale of the industry (E. Dobbs, 2014). He thought this model is a theory model for analyzing rather than a practical strategy tool. This paper will utilize Porter’s framework to analysis and integrate the competition environment of early childhood education industry in depth.

2.2.1 Assessment of competitive rivalries

Competition is inevitable in most of industries including the early childhood education industry. Therefore, each organization will consider all kinds of factors to frame their strategy to construct and keep their competitive advantage. According to the statistics of Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (2017), the number of non-government kindergartens is 154,203 and the number of classes in pre-primary education is 872,273. Among the non-government early childhood organizations, franchising brands from developed countries, large-scale local voluntary chains and small and micro private community organizations are the three main styles.

2.2.2 Assessment of potential new entrants

According to the statistics of Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (2017), the early childhood education organizations are running by education department, non-education department, local enterprises, public institutions, armies, communities and non-government. Actually, except the last one, all the above ones belong to the public organizations. Such public organizations have sufficient students. In fact, the supply is not adequate to the demand. In addition, some students are excluded because of the residential registration system. After the mid-1990s, the composition of migrants from other provinces to Beijing were changed from only main forces of the family to whole family members altogether (Postiglione, 2015). However, the entrance to the public early childhood education organizations is limited by Hukou system (residence registration), which restricts the children without Beijing Hukou (residence registration in Beijing) to be enrolled into the public early childhood education organizations.

2.2.3 Assessment of substitutions’ threats

Due to the high price charged by early childhood education organizations. Parents, especially low income families are looking towards other channels to get their children have pre-school education. Some families decide to scarify the mother’s jobs and educate the children at home by using some online courses. However, this sudden inspiration or the fragmentation knowledge gained from websites usually cannot lead to a satisfied result. Scholars’ research has supported this view. For instance, Grindal, Bowne, Yoshikawa, Schindler, Duncan, Magnuson and Shonkoff (2016) claim that few gains contribute to three and four years old children’s perceptive and pre-school skills whose parents educated them temporarily. However, those scholars state that if the parents provide intensive interventions, their children will have greater positive impact on the aspect of perceptive performance. This research is useful, because it tells a possibility that the parents are the potential competitor of early childhood education organizations. This raises a key issue, which is if the salary of a parent is less than the tuition fee of the early childhood education centers, such kind of family may take the self-teach method to their children instead of sending them into the early childhood educational organizations.

2.2.4 Assessment of buyers’ bargaining power

The purchase of child education is a kind of investment, and the decision is made by the parents who are not the users of the service. Penn (2011) argue that the childcare market will ensure plenty supply to the consumers with all kinds of demands. This is a valid point, as all industries are focus on consumer demands. Parents have a range of choices, such as music, dance, English, etc. Additionally, the advanced network allows the parents complain or comment on the service provided by the early childhood organizations. Therefore, the buyers have a relatively strong bargaining power.

2.2.5 Assessment of suppliers’ bargaining power

The suppliers in early childhood industry mainly refer to the teachers, curriculums and the venues. Chen (2018) claims that there is a shortage of 700,000 early childhood teachers and 760, 000 nurses in China according to the international requirement of 1:15 teachers and 1:30 nurses. Obviously, the teachers take the dominant role of bargaining, as it is valued in proportion to its rarity. According to the official statistics of the industrial leading brand Gymboree (2018), the usable area of the center should be 600-800 ㎡. Based on the data provided by Anjuke (2018), which is one of the top real estate agents in China, the daily rental in Beijing is RMB 6 /㎡on average for such kind of business usage. In addition, if the organizations are not franchised ones, they should buy others’ curriculum, which is another huge cost. All the suppliers are at a strong position of bargaining power.

3. Methodology: Systematic Literature Review

The feasible marketing strategy ontology for private early childhood education in Beijing is based on extremely approaching maximum of previous literature reviews and describes success and/or benefits of applying marketing models in higher education industry. As early childhood education and higher education belong to a same industry catalog and share the same service industry characteristics, this paper assumes that theories are commonly functional in between these two close industries. Therefore, this paper adopts a philosophy of deductive reasoning epistemology to attempt to generate the common knowledge in similar industries and apply the mutual theories into this paper’s object private early childhood education industry. For the sake of answering the two research questions, this paper is going to source peer-viewed articles of marketing strategies for education industries as the secondary data to make a qualitative analysis. Relying on the findings of the previous researches, this qualitative study will explore marketing strategies, relationships between customers and organizations and discover a feasible operation process of private early childhood education organizations in Beijing. The selected articles are analysed in a subjective and interpretative way. Because Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2016) argue that interpretive study means to create new or provide richer understandings of organizational realities. Private early childhood education marketers can indeed learn or inspired from their peers in higher education industries. According to Chalmers and Altman (1995) systematic literature review will get to utmost usage of existing literatures and decrease replication of research effort. Based on the requirements of studying rigorously and exhaustively of previous researches, a balance of choosing peer-viewed papers considering sensitivity and specificity is pronged (Boland, Cherry & Dickson, 2014). The rationale for concerning these two factors is that it will pick up the relevant and reliable articles from a large quantity of education and marketing papers, then analysis and synthesis the information to generalize previous findings. The process of selection is employed the inclusive and exclusive criterion, with creating keywords to search from relevant databases. In order to guarantee the academic rigor and replicability as well as avoid bias, a detailed searching approaches proposed by Tranfield, Denyer and Smart (2003) are followed below.

3.1 Research design and reviewing process

The articles will be selected commencing from 2006 till now, as the year 2006 is the beginning point of the eleventh “Five Year Plan”[1] and China is now in the thirteenth Five Year Plan. This period of searching criterion may witness a trend of marketing strategies and tools utilized for early childhood education industry. As this study concerns the sources of marketing and education, relevant database such as ABI, EBSCO, Emerald, ERIC and BEI will be employed in this paper. In order to observe the thoroughly references, resources will also be searched from peer-viewed journals like International Journal of Education Management, Journal of Service Marketing, etc.  Besides, the Chinese official website like Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, China.com, Xinhua net and official websites of top early childhood education organizations will also be searched. The keywords of this study are identified comprehensively through variety of researchers’ list of key words of related papers as well as the author’s previous working experience. A flow chart which shows the process of reviewing can be found in appendix namely Figure 1. The exclusion process is based on the title and/or abstract at the initial stage and other articles are excluded based on the full text at the final stage. Only directly related and peer reviewed articles will be included in this study. The process firstly goes to a full text search using education and marketing key words and their synonyms in the two management databases ABI & Emerald. Secondly, a full text search using marketing and education key words and their synonyms is conducted in the broader database EBSCO, which including the education databases ERIC & BEI. At last, for the purpose of maximum searching, a full text search by using specific key words of education and marketing is conducted in Google Scholar. The search was performed separately in the three different databases and Google scholar which achieved a possible 2,729 hits of articles related marketing strategy for early childhood education in China as well as 2,759 hits of articles related social media as a useful marketing tool for early childhood education in China. The first round of screening was conducted by browsing the titles and/or abstracts and export the relevant articles to a citation software namely Mendeley. The number of potential articles were reduced to 208 for the first research question and 317 for the second one. Then, the second round of sifting was progressing by screening the content and reading the conclusions besides assessing the quality of the works. The number of works were reduced to 59 and 53. The last stage of eligibility was performed through reading the full text of the selected articles and finally identified 15 journal articles to answer the proposed research questions.

3.2 Research method

Thematic analysis has been chosen among a series of alternative methods, as it is a reliable method to yield useful and rigorous results. According to Clarke and Braun (2017), “thematic analysis provides accessible and systematic procedures for generating codes and themes from qualitative data” (p. 297). They argue that thematic analysis is flexible in the aspects of research question, sample size, data collection and meaning generation approaches (Clarke & Braun, 2017). Therefore, this method allows a deeper insight into each included full-text paper so as to evaluate and result in a feasible marketing strategy as well as interpret the reason why social media is used as an important marketing tool for early childhood education industry in Beijing.

3.3 Reporting and analyzing

All the 15 selected papers will be comprehensively reviewed and analyzed in the following section. As this paper is aiming at determine a feasible marketing strategy for early childhood education in Beijing and evaluate the effectiveness of social media as a significant marketing tool, all possible marketing theories and tools reviewed from the previous literature will be analyzed. However, few articles can be found as the study of marketing strategy for early childhood industry is at a pioneer stage in China. Hence, the following content aggregates the marketing models mainly based on the study in developed countries and follows a critically evaluation on those common used theories and strategies. Table 1 contains the summaries of marketing strategies claimed by the chosen authors, which can be found in the appendix. At last, the limitations of the empirical literature review will be listed and conclusions with the possible areas of future research will be drawn.

4. Findings and discussion of the literature review

 

4.1 Segmentation, targeting & positioning (STP) strategies

The market segmentation will help companies, particularly significant to small businesses, find the direction of business decisions towards opportunities (Sutanti, Syah, Darmansyah & Pusaka, 2018). This fact has been examined by many managers. Because the children in different ages has different needs, the marketing should focus tightly on the different demands. Education for children below 3-year-old is mainly referring to nursery, while the children from three to six will enter into junior, middle and senior level of early childhood education (Saracho & Spodek, 2005). Based on this segmentation, relevant product or service is expected to be created to satisfy the customers. In another word, after the targeting of the market, organizers should take the full use of opportunities to position their products and services according to the children’s development demand. Many scholars concern the importance of market segmentation and claim their perspectives. If marketing segmentation strategy can be performed effectively, the organization will reach its maximum return on investment (Martin, 2011; Rogers, Finley & Patterson, 2006). Zahedan (2018) claim that educational institutions’ market position will conduct the cluster of student-consumers a vivid image among other competitors. After the positioning of the market, organizers should take the full use of opportunities to sell the products to the target consumers who share similar preferences. On October 18, 2017, at the Nineteenth Party Congress, General Secretary Xi Jinping spoke that “We should make steady progress in ensuring people’s access to childcare, education, employment, medical services, elderly care, housing, and social assistance.” (Xinhua net, 2017). The speech of chairman Xi shows China was emphasized on early childhood education industry. Today, China is also an ideal international investment market as the policy and environment is friendly and tolerant. Many early childhood education groups settled its business in China. Thus, parents can mainly find three types of early childhood education organizations: foreign brands from American, European countries and Japan, large-scale domestic brands and small private community centers. According to Armstrong and Kotler (2014) the definition of segmentation is to classify a group of consumers with related needs and behave towards related purchasing habit. There are few academic journal articles related early childhood education segmentation. However, many scholars explored the market segmentation for higher education segment, such as Angulo, Pergelova and Rialp (2010) designed an empirical research based on rational and emotional elements considered by potential student-consumers when they make the purchasing decisions. Through integration of both rational and emotional elements, some common points applied widespread within education industry are picked up as follows: teaching quality, reputation of the school, facilities and equipment, the cost, distance from home and social context influence (Angulo, et el., 2010). The data of this research is drawn from private organizations located in Peru for the purpose of guiding the higher education marketing managers segment the markets. The marketing managers can understand the needs of the customers from rational and emotional perspectives accurately. Thus, they can provide the products suit correspondingly to their consumers’ needs. As mentioned in the second part of this paper, several characteristics of service industry should be considered by the marketers. Perishability and inseparability means the service cannot be retained and reused in future (Hoffman, Bateson & Bateson, 2017). Researchers found the relationship between marketing segmentation and pricing strategy. A qualitative research performed by Guo, Ling, Yang, Li and Liang (2013) point that both consumers and service providers can benefit from booking in advance. Due to marketing segmentation, marketers in hotel industry can utilize room management software like online reservation systems to monitor different demand seasons and promote accordingly. Marketing segmentation allows dynamic pricing strategy. This principle can be applied in many fields of service industry, especially on selling airline routes and hotel rooms. This can also be theoretically and practically applied in early childhood education industry. Parents can book the place in advance for their babies with a good price. In fact, in Beijing, the well-known centers apply this method for the reason of short supply rather than promotion. However, it is a feasible strategy in the perspective of a long-term development.

4.2 Branding strategies

Kotler and Keller (2009) claim that a brand is a symbol which guarantees quality of product or service provided by producers to serve the customers. It has been observed that prospective students and their parents make the decisions heavily towards brand of the university. Lee, Park & Cameron (2018) who have filled the gap to test the relationship between the identity and image of universities through a web-based experiment. They found that “participants’ perceptions of the reputation of a university would be more favorable when the university has a strong identity perception (Lee, Park & Cameron, 2018). They believe the university’s reputation can be managed through enhancing its identity. Similarly, Schlesinger, Carver & Iniesta (2015) also point that the loyalty of customers is affected not only by identification but also by satisfaction, university image and interaction quality between tutors and students. In light of childcare center in Malaysia, scholars like Omar, Nazir, Abu & Omar (2009) share a close viewpoint that service quality has positive affect to customer satisfaction which is related closely to trust and loyalty. Additionally, a UK scholar Chapleo (2010) pointed that certain commonalities: location, support from leadership and internal staff, clear vision and use of public relations may positively associated with a successful branding strategy for universities. While, the author also claim that few empirical literatures underpin a mature branding model. Chinese people like “big brands”. This fact can be seen clearly in various cases including education industries. Celebrities and the rich send their children to expensive international organizations, such as AIDI School, Harrow School, Eton Kids, which cost around 150,000 RMB in average. Those organizations indeed provide a higher quality service, while it is also a representative of the identity and social status of the family. It is an identity circle to some extent that once an early childhood education center set a unique identity perception, it will be recognized as a reputable organization by the prospective parents. Then, the access to those organizations will in turn represent the families’ identity. The principle behind this circle is the high quality meet the customer both service and identity needs. The discussion of the last theme illustrated the advantages and disadvantage of the three types of brands separately. In terms of the franchising western brands, there may be a contrast between standardization and customization, as the selling point is the originally imported curriculum. However, that may be result in blocking some customers who cannot speak English. Marketers should better consider a balance between standardization and customization when design the marketing activities. In terms of large-scale domestic brands, the common issue is lack of competitive curriculum and standardized pedagogy. In another word, the domestic brand is weak to compete with the international brands. Organizers are expected to enhance the core competitiveness to attract more customers. In terms of the private organizations, if the organizers can understand the word differentiation and foster its unique product or service, they can reach a good sales figure.

4.3 7Ps strategies

As one of the earliest marketing strategies brought into China, 4Ps has been proliferated in the markets for a long time. Booms and Bitner (1981) claim that three factors: “participants, physical evidence and process” should be considered when applying the traditional marketing mix strategy in service marketing area. The arguments presented here are significant, since these three elements affect very much on the quality perception of the service. Constantinides (2006) also state that people are the key parameter distinguish service marketing from physical marketing. Based on a number of 783 students, Rodic-Lukic and Lukic (2016) used factor analysis to classify the influential variables (people, physical evidence, promotion, image, resources and extra services, location and price) and reached a conclusion that the decision-making factors are infinitely approaching to 7Ps theory. Similarly, Iranian scholars also discovered “product, promotion, price, parent teacher communication, professor and privilege” will facilitate the recruitment (Alipour, Aghamohammadi, Ahmadi, & Hoseini, 2012). As early childhood education can only learn some variables from the studies, only common points will be scrutinized here. The authors point out that “people/product” is the first core elements, which composed by accessing to professors, friendly staff, advanced pedagogy, professors’ expertise and relevant educational service. In fact, the “people” here is the product itself to some extent. Rodic-Lukic and Lukic (2016) also argue that the physical evidence includes both tangible factors like the environment of the buildings and the intangible feelings students experienced during their stay. This may have a long-term effect to students, as they will spend most of their times in the place, hence, comfortable feelings can lead to a pleasant purchasing experience. Quality is the super priority when parents choose the early childhood educational institutions. “People” is the bearer of service provider, which is also the representative of quality of the organization. Therefore, the quality of people is the key strategy to compete in the market for high recruitment rate and profits. The quality of teachers and daycare staff contribute to the children’s further development. While, the pre-school teachers and nursing workforce is in a severe shortage in China (You, Ke, Zheng & Wan, 2015). On the other hand, since 1980, both teachers and organizers in China face the challenges under the curriculum reform. In addition, there is none unified national standard for the practitioners in early childhood education industry. This is the worst era and this is the best era as well, because the institution which can create a “standard” will succeed the competitors and set the example for others to imitate. Qualified staff is always the key to marketing mix strategy in this area. “People” is also the significant component to the factor “physical evidence”, as children and parents’ perception of the place are set up from communicating with the people there. Unfortunately, it is often reported that low qualified or even unqualified teachers are cruelty to children. Recently, this is a social issue caused by large demand of childcare services. Besides the lack of standard for teachers, there is neither unified curriculum in China. Research shows that organizers often focus more on the external environment, such as the facilities, equipment and decoration and easily ignore the “soft power” like the practicality of the curriculum and the process of delivering. Each center decides their own curriculum and teaching schedule. Actually, this situation is also a status filled with both chance and challenge. Rao, Zhou and Sun (2017) suggest that it is helpful for early childhood participators to adapt rather than adopt. The early childhood education in China can learn from both east and west with an adaptive perspective; to look back to activate the wisdom of Confucianism and look forward to enhance the quality and improve the universal access to Chinese children (Rao, Zhou & Sun 2017). It is worth thinking that those centers which adopt the curriculum directly from the west are not standing out in the market until now. Therefore, as the capital city, the early childhood education participators in Beijing should create a feasible syllables and pedagogy for the Chinese children and lead the whole industry. Ivy (2008) conducted a quantitative survey to explore the 7Ps strategy applied in MBA program in South Africa. He argued that besides the traditional elements, program is a significant influential factor to students and parents. He also points premiums which refers to special benefits provided by the universities like accommodation inside the campus, exchange opportunities, various racial students are charming factors as well. These two points has been a great success in South Africa, it is worth considering in the Chinese early childhood education as well. Since 1980, a deep curriculum reform was carried on advocating play-based rather than subject-centered framework (Qi & Melhuish, 2017). However, as a Chinese characteristic phenomenon “the Entrance Examination for university” put a potential pressure to all families, organizations always tend to provide knowledge-feeding programs even in the early years. While, early childhood education is a significant process to guarantee children prepared with physical, social, emotional and intellectual competences to start their school life (Brewer, 2004). This is a reasonable point, but in China where students compete to access to further education, it is always ignored intentionally or unintentionally. Fortunately, many scholars concern that it would be a risk if early childhood education is a preparation for school. Hayes and Filipović (2017) argue that pre-school institutions should not emphasis only on the outcome of the product, instead, they should focus the intangible day to day children’s development. This is a valid point, because such capability cultivation is much more beneficial to children and gradually recognized by most of the parents. Therefore, a program based on competence cultivation will earn more attention. Additionally, many organizations are aware that “premiums” like various vocal or dance competition opportunities, theme summer campus and other extra value service will facilitate recruitment.

4.4 Social media as a significant marketing tool

There is an interesting finding acknowledged by many scholars shows that the website is connected with image and reputation of the organization. Ivy (2008); Rodic-Lukic and Lukic (2016) eliminate the promotion from website but only contain traditional media. The authors believe that the websites embody the image of the organization. Similarly, scholars like Sataøen and Wæraas (2016) argue that strategic communication should be promoted by the country to build the brand of its national higher education sector. Through studying the “one-stop portals” of 21 countries which ranked top 150 hosted by THE in the year 2015, the researchers found that the portals are the key intermedium on building the brand of the country’s higher education sector. They described and set examples on countries handling differentiation and similarity of strategic communication of higher education sectors and illustrate how countries present the higher education sector to stand out in the global competition environment. The effective use of website may lead to a successful marketing strategy. However, the website is just a display platform, a demand of communication aroused here. Under this context, more and more marketers integrate social media as a tool for strategic communication. Based on a national survey in Netherlands, Constantinides & Stagno (2011) claim that students keen on interacting and searching information through social media. Although social media takes a secondary position to traditional communication methods, it is indispensable among the potential customers. This finding suits perfectly in today’s early childhood education industry in China, because the potential consumers are 1980s and 1990s. Social media is very popular in these generations. If the organization plants a good image through websites, social media will follow to play as a perfect platform to enlarge its market share. It can reach the maximum strength of word of mouth. The world’s leading marketing scholars Kotler, Kartajaya and Setiawan (2016) claim that Today’s customers are busy and surrounded by many choices, survival of companies largely depended on using digital tools. This is a valid point, because time is treasurable. In light of saving time, consumers change their investigation behavior from visiting on site to investing online. Investing and comparing online not only saves consumers’ time, but it also makes them access to other consumers’ comments. Social media is obviously much more excellent among other digital tools due to its interaction characteristic. Once the website has been recognized, social media will play as the communication tool between organizations and customers. Many scholars such as Clark, Fine & Scheuer (2017; 2016); Wali & Andy-Wali (2018) even said social media is valuable for improving the relationship quality between universities and students. The former group of authors found that students who follow three social media accounts have stronger perception with the universities than the ones only follow one social media platform. One possible reason for this is students can access to collect information and resources from different perspectives. The more the understanding lead to the more faithful and belonging. The latter group of authors argue that Facebook has strong influence on building and maintaining academic and social relationships between students and the universities. They explain that social media is widely used by students, it will then eliminate barriers and help to achieve a smooth communication between students and universities. The view of setting close relationship between students and universities is also supported by Bolat and O’Sullivan (2017) who concern more deeply with multi-perspectives. Through a netnographic analysis of a specific Facebook page namely ‘This is Where I study’, they claim that students have a strong compliance to students-generated content. The possible intention behind this fact is that sympathy is easy to be constructed in the group of consumers. The arguments presented here are thought-provoking, since it provides an opportunity for marketers to observe the psychology mechanism of students and rethink how to serve and satisfy the students better. As the private early childhood education organizations take the largest market share, it is valuable for the marketers to study carefully the theories and techniques in social media marketing. The findings of the chosen scholars indicate that social media is a good platform to construct and maintain customer loyalty. This has been a great success in residential communities where parents have group account in social media platforms. Parents who have good purchasing experience will communicate with other parents in details, as the social media allows to share photos and videos. The information sourced from the reliable channels works the best. Consequently, organizers achieved more sales with almost none cost. In addition, it will increase the traffic of its official website and gain more exposure. As time goes on, the traditional communication strategy takes place from on site to online. The proliferation of online social media platforms, apps, “we media” provides more perspectives for consumers to observe and compare organizations from standing at their insight rather than from the organizations’ own salesmanship. Organizations nowadays have realized social media marketing is an important marketing tool and adopt it into their entire marketing strategies. Meanwhile, social media increases the transparency of organizations. In consequence, both consumers and organizations will be benefited from this. In light of organizations, they are supervised and pushed to improve their service quality and customers loyalty. In light of consumers, they can know more information and communicate directly with organizations than ever before.

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Appendix

Figure 1 Process of systematic literature review

C:\Users\ADMINI~1\AppData\Local\Temp\1532957153(1).jpg

Table 1 Summaries of the chosen literatures

Author & Year Country Theory/Purpose Type of study
Alipour, Aghamohammadi, Ahmadi & Hoseini (2012) Iran To explore a marketing mix model to help private school to increase students enrollment in Tehran Quantitative
Angulo, Pergelova & Rialp (2010) Peru To guide the marketers an approach of market segmentation considering both rational and emotional aspects Qualitative
Bolat & O’Sullivan (2017) N/A To explore students engagement and perception of universities through studying a specific Facebook page “This is where I study” Qualitative
Chapleo (2010) UK To explore the common features associated with successful higher education institutions’ brands Qualitative
Clark, Fine & Scheuer (2017; 2016) America To examine whether high engagement on following social media of universities will enhance the relationship quality between universities and students Quantitative
Constantinides & Stagno (2011) Netherlands To learn how social media plays as an important role to affect prospective students decision making process Quantitative
Guo, Ling, Yang, Li and Liang (2013) N/A To provide the marketers a dynamic pricing model through segmenting peak and low demand seasons of a hotel Qualitative
Ivy (2008) South Africa To explore a feasible marketing strategy for universities which recruiting MBA students in South Africa Quantitative
Lee, Park & Cameron (2018) America To examine congruity effects of university identity and image Qualitative
Omar, Nazri, Abu & Omar (2009) Malaysia To explore the relationship between service quality, customer satisfaction, trust and loyalty in childcare center Quantitative
Rodic-Lukic, & Lukic (2016) Serbia To determine the factors affected the students’ decision making on faculty enrollment Quantitative
Rogers, Finley & Patterson (2006) Canada To serve students better through segmenting their needs Qualitative
Sataøen & Wæraas (2016) N/A To discover strategic communication used by countries for the purpose of build the brand of its higher education sector Qualitative
Schlesinger, Cervera & Iniesta (2015) Spanish To examine the relationship between the graduates and universities and discover the affective elements to the loyalty Quantitative
Wali & Andy-Wali (2018) Nigeria To examine the function of relationship management between universities and students by integrating social media as a marketing tool Qualitative

[1] The Five Year Plan is a national plan for targeting the development of the People’s Republic of China since 1953, with a suspension during 1963 to 1965 because of the Great Leap Forward (Fan, 2006).


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