How Student.com Successfully Engages a Global Market
Elisabeth Brier and Paula Keve

Originally launched as Overseas Student Living (OSL) in 2011, what is now known as Student.Com has established itself as a thriving global brand.

The company’s mission is to provide student accommodations for international co-eds and has successfully done so in 426 cities and counting.

Though Student.com expended essentially no major media campaigns, the once bootstrapped startup now enjoys tens of millions in investment and has been deemed one of Europe’s Hottest Startups.

Paula Keve, the company’s Head of Communications spoke to TechDay about what it takes to engage a global market, establish yourself in new cities and grow organically.

As an international company spanning across a number of different countries even continents, does the Student.com’s primary marketing tactics vary location to location?

Our primary marketing tactics are similar across different countries in the sense that they aim to build our brand trust and reputation among key stakeholders. Whilst our focus is on a student and parent audience, landlord partners and universities are also important stakeholders that we work to build brand affinity with too.

Within our different stakeholder groups, we adopt different messaging and approaches. For instance, with landlord partners and universities, our tactics are more corporate-level – whereas with students, we’re more consumer.

On the flip side, when it comes to branding, what remains consistent despite geographical differences?

We adopted our current global brand name and identity – Student.com – in 2014. Visually our brand is the same in every market that we operate in, as is our brand personality. The only real exception at present is China, where we’re also known as 学旅家 (‘Xue Lü Jia’) – which translates as ‘home for a student’s journey’. As our business grew in China, there was a strong need for us to establish a more powerful identity for our brand there. Our new brand name is catchy, unique and a true reflection of our mission – to help students find their perfect home overseas.

What are the main challenges when expanding Student.com into a new market when it comes to garnering visibility and name recognition?

Expanding into new markets and building our brand requires a lot more than a simple translation exercise. Generally speaking, the main challenges stem from understanding our stakeholders – who they are, which channels we can effectively reach them through and which methods of engagement work best. Once we have that foundation in place, increasing our visibility and recognition is a lot less challenging.

In countries like China, marketing channels are so unique that building our brand from the ground up can feel like an entirely different ball game. However, we’ve always been an ‘international business’ – so when it comes to ‘setting up shop’ in new markets, we’re confident in our teams and overarching approaches.

Are there certain global partnerships Student.com employs that aid growth as well as help to define the brand?

Currently, our partnerships are either in-market or regional. For example, we work very closely with universities – in both source and destination markets – and other education-related organisations, such as study abroad agencies. These partnerships enable us to reach wider audiences and, by association, support our brand credibility.

What advice could you offer startup founders looking to expand internationally?

Whilst there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in terms of marketing your product or service internationally, the fundamental approaches to understanding a new market and formulating a strategy based on your research remain the same. Once you’ve grasped that – the sky’s the limit!

What can we expect to see from Student.com in the near future?

We’re continuing to grow our brand, in addition to improving our product and service offering. In addition to expanding into new markets, we’re also focusing on broadening our reach in our existing core markets.