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Marketing Strategies for Late Entry in a Mature Market
Authors: Stephen Joseph Wilkins (The British University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
First-mover and late entry advantages have been considered by many marketing scholars but surprisingly little research has been concerned with service industries in international markets. This research fills a gap in the literature, as it seeks to determine whether late entrants in mature markets can survive, prosper and make sustainable economic returns.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has one of the world’s most competitive higher education markets. Using the UAE higher education market as a case example, the purpose of this research is to (1) identify the different positioning and differentiation strategies adopted by late entry institutions to gain a competitive advantage; and (2) assess the extent to which these positioning and differentiation strategies appear to have been effective in delivering competitive advantage. The sample comprised seven campuses established by foreign universities in the UAE between 2012 and 2018.
The analysis was based on information freely available in the public domain, such as institution websites, promotional materials and press releases, as well as wider media coverage. A content analysis procedure was implemented. The literature was used to identify key words and phrases (such as reputation, quality, and student experience), which were then counted and grouped into themes or categories. Institution employees were also interviewed.
The findings suggest that some late entrants made no attempt at product differentiation. In 2017, 59% of higher education students in the UAE studied business, leading several of the new entrants to focus on business programmes. Due to previous campus failures, institutions emphasized their large size or financially-strong UAE-based partners. As is the norm in higher education markets, several institutions attempted to differentiate themselves by emphasizing their heritage, reputation or positions in rankings.
However, it was found that the most effective differentiation strategy was not related to any part of the marketing mix but to the targeted market segment. Indians account for 28% of the UAE’s population and Pakistanis 13%. Amity, with 2,000 students and the largest of the late entrants, targets Indian expatriates living in the UAE, and Abasyn adopts a similar strategy, but targeting Pakistani students. Locating in Ras Al Khaimah rather than Dubai or Abu Dhabi has allowed Abasyn to have among the lowest levels of tuition fees in the UAE.
Late entrants in the UAE higher education market have faced a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma. Constructing a university campus is hugely expensive and some institutions will not commit to doing this until there is proven student demand. However, students will often avoid institutions that do not have an attractive campus. The results of this study suggest that despite the risks, a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy can be hugely rewarding.