The Nigerianuniversity 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. Avalidated questionnaire was used to collect data from the students. Cronbach’s Alpha co-efficient values of the constructs ranged from 0.796to 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. 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).