International digital marketing for universities and education export
Turf war and social changes happen during critical and revolutionary historical moments when the most flexible and adaptable actors win. Nowadays, projected winners will timely get adjusted to the digital normal and will not choose the incremental implementation of digital technologies but will undertake pivotal organization changes based on the wide range of digital marketing instruments.

Today we observe the reallocation of global market shares between countries and between universities within each country. On the one hand, we see the crisis scissors effects related to the consumer choice strategy.

When a customer chooses a cheaper alternative of the comparable quality level, the sliding off strategy opens extra opportunities for Russian universities for interception of those potential students who targeted more expensive universities and countries. This is also supported by the depreciation of the ruble against main world currencies.

On the other hand, we observe a turf war between universities with different digitalization levels (digital services, products, content, communications, etc.). On the background of this process, a fierce debate on the quality of distance education and digital education environment is happening. Universities will have to create modern digital environments and embed them into the 2021 admission campaign. Successful universities will find themselves among the leaders for the coming strategic period, while strong universities that neglect this transformation will lose their positions.

Moreover, the dominating model of international students choosing Russian universities can be described as dismissing when a student leaves the home country due to substandard social and economic situation, and lack of career and educational opportunities. The post-pandemic world economic crisis will have the most impact on the main source countries for Russian education that do not possess sufficient resources to insure against economic risks. This means that the model will remain intact, and Russia will not only retain but even expand its international student's segment.

However, Russian universities will only be able to convert these opportunities if they start investing in international digital marketing. Digital marketing is not only about channels of dissemination of information and instruments of communication with customers (what Russian universities have been concentrating on for the last six months). Digital marketing also includes the development of digital products, digital analytics of customers' behavior, and the transformation of price setting approaches, etc.

Key problems of digital marketing for Russian universities

1. The gap of complex administration of international marketing
Often, marketing departments of Russian universities are responsible for brand positioning within the country while international departments are responsible for education export. But national brands (logos, slogans, trademarks, etc.) do not always find themselves competitive on the global market and do not spark interest from potential students. Normally, international universities have an international marketing strategy developed with defined main target source markets, export portfolios of study programs, pricing policy for international customers, positioning, and promotion strategies.

2. Lack of comprehensive administration of digital marketing
Digital marketing is not just the promotion of goods or services through digital channels. Digital marketing assumes digital organizational transformation by revising business strategies, models, operations, and products, etc. In Russian universities, the administration of digital marketing is frequently substituted by the administration of digital media. In other words, the main attention is brought to channels of dissemination of information about a brand and study products and advertisement instruments. In contrast, the development of digital products and services and the development of the organization's digital culture lack attention.

3. Weak positioning of the university's brand on the website
The university website should serve as a business card of a strong brand and main instrument for communication and making deals. It is important to adhere to the main page structure's key principles from the customer's requirements point of view. Websites of Russian universities rarely meet these principles both from content and structure perspectives, being largely oriented at a domestic environment. In contrast, international universities' websites use the most up-to-date developments in digital marketing.

4. Weak positioning of the university's scientific potential on the international education market
The core of international universities' positioning is their scientific brands, while Russian universities mainly position their academic potential. As a result, there is a small share of Master's and Ph. D. students in the Russian education export structure and an insufficient rate of international scientific communication of Russian scientists. Thus, Russia is an outsider of the Top-10 countries regarding users numbers of the leading international scientific social networks (ResearchGate,, Mendeley).

5. Insufficient attention to trans-media opportunities
Total transmission to the Online makes us limit the volume of Internet communications. This approach requires a switch from the non-differentiated marketing strategy when a big single story about a brand is told to a wide target audience to the concentrated marketing strategy when you design stories for each segment of the target audience using appropriate channels and formats of delivery. Thus, we can talk about science on English-speaking Twitter while sharing international students' stories on Instagram and posting about study programs on Facebook. It is important to understand that trans-media opportunities change approaches towards the administration of digital marketing, and evaluating Internet-channel's efficiency, and line up Internet-based communications of a university (we have to delegate this function to storytellers).

6. Weak administration of reputation-based marketing and digital brand identity
Russian universities pay their main attention to the building of external image or a story that the university tells about itself on the Internet whereby modern digital marketing is defined by digital chaos of digital communications when the corporate culture is visible to any Internet user in comments, blogs, and semi-professional groups of universities' departments on social networks. The famous Peter Drucker's Culture eats strategy for breakfast quote tells us that there is no strategy — including international ones — that can work without tuning of brand identity.

During the 2020 admission campaign, we were relying on the accumulated effect of offline-events.
The 2021 admission campaign will be the first-ever 100% online. Are you ready?
Olga Bakumenko, Ph.D. in Economics, HSE — Saint-Petersburg. Expert on International Digital Marketing for Universities. Olga has been working in the field of administration of university's international activities since 2008. She got her degrees from leading Russian and international on international marketing, internationalization of universities, scientific journalism, and digital marketing. She is an author of courses on digital marketing for higher education and developer of digital international marketing for universities.