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The Nigerian university educational system was liberalised in 1999 and this led to the establishment of private universities. To promote their different programmes and competitively position themselves, each employed varied marketing communication tools and strategies. Little is known about the use of marketing communication mix by universities. The study assessed the performance of marketing communication strategies used by private universities in South-West, Nigeria.
The study adopted survey research design. The population consisted of 22 private universities in South-West, Nigeria and 20,276 undergraduates in the same universities. Stratified sampling technique was used to select six universities. Multi-stage sampling technique was used for the rest of the selection process. Simple random sampling was used to select faculties/schools. All the departments in the selected faculties/schools were used for the study. Simple random sampling was used to select a sample size of 753 students from the universities, which was proportionally distributed across the six universities. Interview guide was used to draw responses from the marketing communication officers of the selected universities. A validated questionnaire was used to collect data from the students. Cronbach’s Alpha co-efficient values of the constructs ranged from 0.796 to 0.811. The response rate was 100%. Data from the questionnaire were analyzed using inferential statistics. Interview responses were analyzed and presented thematically.
Findings revealed that marketing communication elements significantly influenced customers’ choice of all the private universities studied: Babcock (Adj. R2 =0..410, F(1,258)=180.833, p<0.05), Afe Babalola (Adj. R2 =0..550, F(1,221)=272.396, p<0.05) Lead City (Adj. R2 =0..40, F(1,128)=6.367, p<0.05) Adeleke (Adj. R2 =0..059, F(1,48)=4.056, p<0.05) Elizade (Adj. R2 =0..016, F(1,22)=0.647, p<0.05) Caleb (Adj. R2 =0..0.009, F(1,54)=1.504 p<0.05). The findings also indicated that Afe Babalola University, Adeleke University and Lead City University were the only private universities that competitively compared the value and satisfaction of their customers.
The study concluded that improvement in strategically combining marketing communication elements of these private universities would lead to more chances of choosing the universities by students and parents. It was recommended that private universities should strategically mix their marketing communication tools to effectively communicate the uniqueness of their value and adequately deliver such value to meet the expectation of the target customers.
Keywords: Marketing communications strategy, Marketing mix, Brand awareness, Brand image, Relationship building
1.1 Background to the Study
University education is essential for economic and social development. In most countries in the world, it has the responsibility for equipping its products with knowledge and skills required for positions in government, business, industry and professions. Perhaps this is the reason the university prides itself as the highest citadel of learning in the production of high-level human resource for the labour market (Omoike & Aluede, 2007) Among others, the university is expected to produce new knowledge through research, adopt and disseminate the knowledge in order to facilitate new cultural values, support government, enhance business, industry and the professions with advice and consulting services. Thus, staff (academic and non-academic) students and graduates (products of the ivory towers) are seen to typically hold a privileged status as originators and keepers of knowledge by the society (Srivastava, Narayanan, Singh, Gendy & Arun, 2012). This pride has made candidates of tertiary institutions tend towards university education at the expense of other tertiary institutions.
Other factors that seem to propel candidates to prefer the university to other tertiary institutions are the course of study or programmes run by the university, the duration in running such programmes, the societal status accrued to such students. The fact that some of these courses are only offered in the university, coupled with the announcement made by the federal government that polytechnics would now be campuses of proximate universities and would no longer award Higher National Diploma, has increased the propensity of would-be candidates for university education. These factors have accounted for the annual increase in the enrolment figures of students into universities in Nigeria.
Consequently, government decided to grant licensing to private universities in order to accommodate the large number of candidates seeking admission placements into universities. This is because it seems difficult, if not impossible, for governments of the countries that are considered to be developed, to provide tertiary education singlehandedly for these candidates; hence the call for private involvement in providing the much needed infrastructure in the tertiary education sector (De Vaus, 2002; Zikmund, 2000).
The year 1999 marked the birth of private universities in Nigeria with the licensing of Babcock University, Ilisan Remo; Igbinedon University, Okada; and Madonna University, Okija (Akpotu & Akpochafor, 2009). Since then, there has been gradual increase in the growth of private universities at an average of four (4) every year (Sherif, 2016). This rise in the number of private universities has intensified competition between private and public universities, on one hand, and among the private universities, on the other hand, thereby precipitating fertile grounds for marketing strategies for the universities to thrive.
Marketing any product, most especially universities, relies heavily on communication, whether directly or indirectly, by bringing the product offering to the awareness of potential customers or creating a brand image for the product, in the market place. Communication is, therefore, described as a process of transferring information between a sender and a receiver(s) through understood symbols, words, expressions or and body language (Ogili, 2005). As a result, Jefkins (1989) explains that marketing communication must include every form of communications. Since marketing communication represents the totality of the elements in a brand’s marketing mix to facilitate exchanges of shared meanings with the brand’s stakeholders, private universities employ every element of the marketing mix to constantly and consistently communicate with their customers, starting from programmes offered to the physical evidence of their facilities (Masterman & Wood, 2005).
Consequently, some private universities start the communication with the value and philosophies of the institutions. The private individuals, religious groups and corporate owners of universities in Nigeria, in addition to educating Nigerians, also transmit their values and philosophies to their students. In some cases, these philosophies may be religious, moral and social. For instance, Babcock University gives as part of its core commitments the initiative of impacting society for positive change by developing the intellectual, physical, social - the etiquette necessary for each occasion, values and integrity - as well as spiritual potential of their students in order to be the solution needed in our society. These core values which are ordinarily the basis for establishment of university seem scarce to come by nowadays. Now, it is no longer surprising to see students, especially undergraduates, dressed in shirts casually thrown on trousers with slippers to the classrooms. The respect that should be accorded to the staff is gradually fading away. In other words, private universities do not just impart academic knowledge, they also inculcate societal values into the students, thereby preparing them to be the future leaders of the nation thereby fulfilling the responsibility placed on the university to build students in character and learning.
Today, with the continuous state of flux in educational businesses, it is not surprising to find universities with nearly the same philosophies or concepts with the same services, thus decreasing the market share and increasing the stakes of survival (Ojo & Afolabi, 2015). To meet up and fit into such a competitive ground, private universities constantly develop and improve their strategies in order to capture a greater share of the market or to create a competitive advantage for themselves. For instance, two universities may offer the same course of study like mass communication with three specialisations at the same price in the same location. One university may decide to add branding, sales promotions, event management to the third specialisation area which may not be in the other university’s curriculum, for the same course. Doing this by the first university amounts to meeting the needs of its customers as well as literally fighting its competitors. The action of the institution actually shows that it is able to respond to the demand expectations of the customers which may invariably increase its market share.
Meanwhile, customers differ in the benefits they seek from the educational services offered to them while considering the universities to attend. Among the factors considered is the planning as well as getting all the achievement for their children’s future and the total cost of the education (Dahari & Ya, 2011). This includes good and well-resourced academic staff, infrastructural facilities like; conducive and well equipped libraries and laboratories, accommodation, functional and modern classrooms, security of environment, and stable academic calendar, among others.
Some customers favourably consider private institutions that are faith-based because of morals, values, religion and character development, and can even withdraw from the schools, when they think such schools are no longer in line with their own beliefs (Sebba, 1991; Van Pelt, Allison & Allison, 2007). The income level of customers also plays a vital role in the selection of institution as well as the parents’ level of education. Other customers are particular about prestige and status (Rehman, Khan, Triq, & Tasleem, 2010), size of the school, fees, accessibility of the university and security. The image and status of the university, distinction of its scholastic programmes, future graduates’ job prospects and entry flexibility and institutions’ physical environment are other reasons that determine customers’ choice of university. To this end, the relevant question in this research is: do these factors actually inform the planning and implementation of the marketing communication strategies of universities?
Though customers may recognise their educational needs, they do not just decide. In other words, decision-making about the choice of institution to attend is a process. It starts with the input and agreement of one or more members of the family in making choices, judgments, and ultimately the conclusions that guide behaviours about university education (Scanzoni & Polonko 1980). Customers could be seen to play five different roles: initiator, influencer, decider, purchaser and user. This means that one person initiates and the other person influences, finally one person among the family decides and purchases. In some other cases, one person plays all the roles. It then means that students may initiate the idea about the choice of universities to attend, influence the parents or the guardian, take decision but may not be the one to pay the tuition fees even though there are other costs to be paid and will definitely be the user. Sometimes, the students play all the five roles in that case; such students may be mature and belong to a working class but still wish to be formally educated. There are also times where the parents initiate the idea of going to university, influence the students’ direction of thought, decide which school to attend and pay for the programme while the students will be the ones to attend the class. Hence, the question is: who exactly are private universities actually targeting in their marketing communication strategies?
Oftentimes, private universities concentrate completely on the information that they want to convey. But the customers may comprehend the whole message or a part of the message; or miss the point entirely – even though the information is relayed precisely by every standard. This actually shows that it is not enough to merely deliver a message. The message must be received by the intended receiver, interpreted as conceived by the sender; message is remembered over a reasonably extended period of time by the receiver in order for the feedback of a well received and successful communication from the customers to meet the set objectives of the private universities. The challenge is to ensure that expressive communicative activity is clear, consistent and coherent, while also enabling and facilitating impressive communicative activity that aids judgement and decision-making about the choice of institutions (Varey. 2002).
Again, marketing communications by these universities help to build profitable relationships between them and their customers about the services offered. The concept relies on delivering the marketing message to all the stakeholders that have some form of contact with the organisation with the communication objectives of informing, persuading, reminding, influencing and encouraging action from such stakeholders. In order to ensure that such communications achieve desired effect, all the marketing messages issued by these universities are expected to be coordinated and consistent, ranging from their programmes, physical evidences, processes and prices, which enable the promise offered to the stakeholders to marketing communication tools that are used to make the promise and the people who deliver the promise.
As a result, communicating with and convincing customers to buy services is more challenging than selling manufacturing products because education services is both tangible and intangible though the intangibility feature is more than the tangibility (Kola & Akinyele, 2010). Education is service oriented which can only be experienced by the customers that have paid for it. It is perishable and cannot be stored like physical product which makes the claiming of ownership by the customers unattainable. Hence, the derived value from a service is time bound and customers need to participate by writing notes in class, doing assignments, writing examinations in order to achieve their aim. This indeed makes education service to be intangible while the use of textbooks, notebooks and other tools for practical speak of its tangibility (Lovelock & Wright, 2002).
Therefore, with the specificity and peculiarity of the universities’ service product in mind, the study assesses the performance of the marketing communication strategies of some selected private universities in creating awareness about what they offer, persuading students to select them, influencing the perception of pride in the brand among the students and their sponsors.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Branding tertiary education in Nigeria is an important, but yet an understudied area. Yet studies have indicated that there is an increasing competition among universities and there is need for improving the marketing processes in order to achieve better communication between universities and their interest groups (Chapleo, 2010; Ivy, 2008; Saginova, & Belyansky, 2008)). Also, other scholars have written about how various types of communication strategies in marketing: advertising, public relations, personal selling, and other promotional tools could be implemented and evaluated by universities (Dekimpe & Hassens, 1995). Thus, confirming that many colleges and universities use marketing strategies to engage their target customers as it has become absolutely necessary because of the level of competition in the tertiary educational sector. However, to the best of the researcher’s knowledge, no research study has been done in the area of evaluating the performance of the marketing communication strategies employed by private universities in which the seven marketing mix is used to engage the target customers. The elements of the seven marketing mix are: programme, price, place, promotion, people, process and physical evidence.
The seven marketing mix was developed by Kotler (2008), specifically for educational service marketing. This marketing communication mix, when applied strategically, could have influence on the perception of the target audience since people establish common meaning, understanding and relationships through consistent, coherent and congruent communication. Affirming this, Harper (1977) states “it is not a question of deciding to do it or not to do it, but rather, it's a question of deciding how to do it and how to be effective” p. 25. However, Kotler explains further that too often, these marketing communications focus on overcoming immediate awareness, image or preference problems in the target market instead of viewing communication as the management of the consumer buying process over time, during pre-selling, selling, consuming and post- consuming stages. This means that marketers (in this case, Nigerian Universities) need to assess the influence that each of these communication strategies will have (or is having) at different stages on the perception of their customers.
In view of this, the study examines the marketing communication strategies employed by Nigerian universities to meet the set objectives. It will also determine the extent the marketing communication strategies employed by the private universities have influenced the perception of their customers in the choice of universities and course of study. Do the universities put into cognisance the factors considered by their target customers in planning the marketing communications strategies? How effective are the marketing communication strategies?
1.3 Objective of the Study
The main objective of this study is to assess the performance of the marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities (Babcock University, Afe Babalola University, Adeleke University, Elizade University, Caleb University and Lead City University) in South-West, Nigeria, in relation to the choice of institutions made by the customers of the private universities. The specific objectives are to:
- identify the marketing communication strategies used by the selected private universities in South-West Nigeria to communicate with their customers;
- ascertain the reasons for the adoption of the marketing communication strategies by the selected private universities in South-West Nigeria;
- find out the extent to which the marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities meet their set objectives;
- determine the target customers which these private universities engage with identified marketing communication strategies;
- determine the effectiveness of the marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in South-West Nigeria;
- verify whether the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria compare the value and customers’ satisfaction delivered by their elements of marketing communication strategies with those of their competitors;
- determine the relationship between the elements of marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria and brand awareness;
- find out the relationship between the elements of marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria and brand image;
- determine the relationship between the elements of marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria and perception;
- find out the relationship between the elements of marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria and relationship building;
- determine the relationship between the elements of marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria and referral and
- examine the extent to which the marketing communication strategies influence the decision of the customers in the choice of institutions
1.4 Research Questions
The study aimed to answer the following research questions, which were derived from the objectives:
- What are the marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria, to communicate with their customers?
- Why do the selected private universities in South-West, Nigeria, employ the identified marketing communication strategies to communicate with their target customers?
- To what extent do the marketing communication strategies employed by the private universities in South-West Nigeria meet their set objectives?
- Who are the target customers which the selected private universities engage with the identified marketing communication strategies?
- What is the effectiveness of the marketing communication strategies employed by selected private universities in South-West Nigeria?
- How do the selected private universities in South-West Nigeria compare the value and customers’ satisfaction delivered by their elements of marketing communication strategies with those of their competitors?
The following null hypotheses were tested at =0.05 level of significance.
Ho1: There is no significant relationship between all the seven elements of MCS employed by selected private universities in South – West, Nigeria and brand awareness
Ho2: There is no significant relationship between all the seven elements of MCS employed by selected private universities in South – West, Nigeria and brand image
Ho3: There is no significant relationship between all the seven elements of MCS employed by selected private universities in South – West, Nigeria and perception
Ho4: There is no significant relationship between all the seven elements of MCS employed by selected private universities in South – West, Nigeria and relationship building
Ho5: There is no significant relationship between all the seven elements of MCS employed by selected private universities in South – West, Nigeria and referral
Ho6: MCS used by Babcock University do not significantly influence the decision of customers in the choice of institution
Ho7: MCS used by Afe Babalola University do not significantly influence the decision of customers in the choice of institution
Ho8: MCS used by Adeleke University do not significantly influence the decision of customers in the choice of institution
Ho9: MCS used by Elizade University do not significantly influence the decision of customers in the choice of institution
Ho10 : MCS used by Caleb University do not significantly influence the decision of customers in the choice of institution:
Ho11: MCS used by Lead City University do not significantly influence the decision of customers in the choice of institution
1.6 Significance of the Study
The significance of the study is to assess the performance of the marketing communication strategies employed by the selected private universities in Nigeria. The study identifies the influence of marketing communication strategies on existing students' choice of private universities. Private universities now use some or all the seven elements of marketing mix to engage their customers, which means they have moved beyond relying only on the communications tools such as Advertising, sales promotion, public relations, personal selling, or even direct marketing, to also include physical environment of the university, process of administration, people in the university and their behaviour to communicate with their customers. It is the strategic combination of these tools that makes marketing communication an enhanced method of engaging customers and other stakeholders.
This research would be significant to private universities in many ways. It would assist them on how to send impactful messages to their valued customers. Marketing communication personnel can use this material to plan marketing communication strategies that are market-oriented by identifying, as well as translating, the needs of the customers for possible offering of solutions. This would minimise the incurred expenses in implementing the marketing communication strategies. The findings of the study would inform the private universities on how to implement marketing communication tools to create and sustain long-term relationship with their customers. The study would be beneficial in ascertaining the most operative strategies intended to draw more numbers of candidates to study in the private universities.
The research gives education marketing communication agencies an indication of the effectiveness of each of the elements of the marketing communication strategies employed by the private universities. The study would therefore help education marketing communication agencies to achieve better out comes from the marketing communication campaigns of their clients. This, in turn, would enable the agencies to help institutions to use their limited funds more efficiently to attract students who conform to the desired student profile of the clients (institutions) as the present global economic down-turn is affecting many organisations, and has made them look inward and find areas of minimizing cost of production.
Tertiary institutions could use the results of the research to plan their marketing communication strategies more effectively. As the study identifies factors that influence the student's decision-making process; students would also benefit from the study, because marketing communication strategies can then be directed at specific target groups. The marketing communication messages would be student-centered. This would enhance students to make more informed decisions about the tertiary institutions they wish to attend; the field of study they wish to pursue, the curriculum and duration of study as the use of marketing communication strategies would avail customers with clear, credible and consistent messages. In cases where the parents act as the influencers in the decision-making process of selecting the choice of institutions for their children, the credible coherent and consistent messages received from the universities will enable them to direct their children accordingly.
This research would also be of immense importance to the academic sector, especially scholars in the field of marketing, and marketing communication in particular, who want to know the effect that a better coordinated marketing communication strategies would have on private universities’ marketing objectives, their customers’ patronage, sales growth and market share.
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