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How Does Social Branding Help to Improve Admission Rate for Healthcare Institutes in Singapore?

1.0 Introduction and Context

The market orientation of higher education systems has necessitated higher education institutions to adopt corporate practices like branding. Corporate branding is becoming commonplace among universities and colleges as they compete to position themselves favorably in a highly-competitive market. Contemporary higher education institutions are competing for students, staff, and funding, and corporate branding helps the establishment attract the human and financial resources (Sujchaphong, Nguyen and Melewar 2017). Higher education institutions operating in a free market economy have the autonomy run their affairs and develop strategies for addressing the opportunities and challenges presented by a competitive landscape (Ng 2016). These pro-market trends are characteristic of the neoliberal globalization that is influencing the marketing practices of higher education institutions.

Social marketing focuses on the positive social outcomes of an enterprise. It also leverages social approaches and channels of marketing. As such, social marketing incorporates service thinking along with the branding theory to influence the attitudes and behavioral intentions of the targeted audience (Gordon, Zainuddin and Magee 2016). Social branding has taken root in corporate marketing because it is able to reach a large segment of the population cost-effectively and efficiently. Social branding employs modern technologies such as social media platforms, mobile devices and the internet to reach large masses of people. Social marketing makes economic sense by using the scarce resources efficiently through leveraging user-content and influencers to reinforce the marketing messages of an organization.  

Shortage in qualified healthcare personnel is a global challenge due to the limited number of school-leavers with high grades opting for healthcare training. The mismatch of the incentives and disincentives of the healthcare professions continues to fail to attract new students into healthcare training institutions (Tan-Kuick and Ng 2010). Singapore is grappling with an increasing demand for healthcare professionals in the backdrop of an ageing population and increasing incidence of chronic diseases (Au-Yong 2018). Moreover, the Singapore Medical Council reduced the approved foreign medical institutions from 160 to 103 to maintain high quality healthcare professionals and direct students towards the local institutions (Stacey 2019). Further, the ministry of health in the country has enabled people to switch to nursing mid-career by allowing graduates in diverse fields to undertake a 2-year nursing degree (Au-Yong 2018). Despite these circumstances, Singaporean healthcare education institutions have to compete with overseas establishments for students, faculty and research funding. Moreover, while social branding promises to attract human and financial resources, its application in the Singaporean healthcare institutions has not been studied. As such, the potential of social branding in attracting students to healthcare training and thus, raising the admission rates of these institutions is unknown.   

This study seeks to answer the question, does social branding increase public awareness and service quality, and in turn, the student admission rate and profitability of healthcare education institutions in Singapore? To answer this question, the study’s objectives are:

  1. To determine the prevalence of use of social branding in healthcare institutions in Singapore
  2. To assess the influence of social branding on the admission rate for healthcare institutions in Singapore
  3. To determine the influence of social branding on public awareness, quality of service profitability of healthcare institutions in Singapore

The study hypothesizes that:

HO: Social branding cannot help to improve admission rate for healthcare institute in Singapore.

HA: Social branding can help to improve admission rate for healthcare institute in Singapore.   

H1: Social branding improves profitability by increasing admission rate in healthcare institute.

H2: Social branding improves change in services thus increase admission in healthcare institute.   

H3: Social branding increases awareness thus allows more people accept admission to healthcare institute.

2.0 Literature Review

2.1 Branding

Marketing strategies by organizations have been extensively studied and reported in literature. Organizations leverage their human capital, corporate culture and strategic capabilities to create a favorable reputation in the marketplace (Verčič and Ćorić 2018). As such, positive reputation remains one of the most valuable intangible organizational assets that generate a competitive advantage (Verčič and Ćorić 2018). Branding is pervasive in the contemporary business environment.  

2.2 Concepts of Branding

Davis (2017) describes numerous concepts associated with branding. For instance, brand positioning is the placing of a brand in a market using its distinctiveness and value in the customers’ mind, while brand values are the attributes the customer experiences through the brand personality and emotional association with the brand promise. The brand values tie together the brand proposition as strategy with the brand positioning in a cohesive and consistent structure (Davis 2017). Brand equity is the collection of ‘financial and marketing values associated with the strength of the brand in the market’ (Severi and Ling 2013, p. 125). The five dimensions of brand equity are brand association, brand loyalty, brand awareness, perceived brand quality and proprietary brand assets (Severi and Ling 2013). Besides, brand equity can be perceived financially as brand value and from a customer’s perspective as the perceived brand value. Nonetheless, for a brand to be successful in the contemporary environment, it must speak to the attitudes of the audience and recognize the social shift in the market. Abbas (2014) reiterated that brand awareness was about the familiarity about the brand and the ability to remember it among other similar brands. As such brand recall and recognition were vital aspects of brand awareness.

2.3 Theories of Branding

Various theories of branding have emerged as the branding concept gains popularity the highly competitive organizational environment. The customer-based brand equity (CBBE) model by Keller explains the influence of the attitudes of customers towards a brand in the brand’s success (Farjam and Hongyi 2015). By defining brand equity as the different customer responses to marketing activities of an organization, Keller identified 6 elements that characterized the thoughts, feeling and perceptions of a brand. These elements include salience, imagery, performance, judgments, feeling and resonance, which have a pyramidal arrangement to illustrate the building blocks of positive brand identity, as illustrated in figure 1.

Figure 1. Keller’s CBBE model 

Source:  Farjam and Hongyi (2015, p. 19)

The resource-based view can explain reputation as a valuable and intangible resource capable of generating sustainable competitive advantage for an establishment (Roper, et al. 2013). Organizational branding was a way of improving the reputation of an organization with the focus being on the image of the firm. In the same vein, the Brand Flux Model, which is a derivative of the Renaming Process Model, explains the revitalization of a defunct brand, despite numerous futile efforts at making it over (Williams Jr and Omar 2014). The brand can either be retired if the changes are unable to deliver renewed position of the brand, or be renamed to embolden it, as illustrated in figure 2.

Figure 2. Brand Flux Model 

Source: Williams Jr and Omar (2014, p. 251)  

2.4 Social Branding

Social marketing is a new phenomenon in corporate marketing being propelled by technological advancements in information and communications. Social marketing not only highlights the positive social results of an organization, but also employs social networks to advertise these outcomes (Gordon, Zainuddin, and Magee 2016). Social marketing endeavors to create social brands that reflect the social responsibility of a firm through diverse marketing channels such as public relations, social media, print advertising and many others. Marrone (2016) noted that purse strings, policy, partnership and publics were the additional P’s over those used in the marketing mix to define social marketing strategies. Altogether, social marketing targeted the society and consumers. 

Kozinets (2014) identified social brand engagement as being pertinent to the marketing impact of brands. Social brand engagement is a customer-centric assortment of connections, creations and communications between customers though brand related images, language and meanings (Kozinets 2014). Social brand engagement can be propagated through evangelism, creative activities, and impactful endorsements (Kozinets 2014). Driven by technological advancements to support social communication and increased emotional commitment by individuals, brands have developed into microcultures and legal social entities that can be shared, owned, and participated and related to (Kozinets 2014). Holt (2016) called the cultural phenomenon of branding the crowd culture, noting that it had changed the rules of conventional branding.    

Social media was the channel of choice for social branding because of its wide reach and cost-effectiveness. Kohli, Suri and Kapoor (2015) and Lund, Cohen and Scarles (2018) observed that social media had wrestled the branding control from marketers and transferred it to consumers. Consumers were co-creating branding content and communication, and disbursing it freely over social media platforms outside formal marketing strategies (Lund, Cohen and Scarles 2018). Kohli, C., Suri, R. and Kapoor, A., 2015) noted that social media had made customers more demanding and discriminating, while favoring niche brands in a competitive environment filled with new entrants and short brand lifespans. Moreover, Khamis, Ang and Welling 2017) argued that social media had facilitated the juxtaposing of a human brand and a corporate brand, thus birthing the social media influencer. Influencers were individuals with a significant following over the social media platforms and whose opinions was held in high regard by virtual communities.    

Brand likeability is a term coined to characterize the personality of a brand related to its persuasive ability. Melewar and Nguyen (2014) observed that brand likeability led to increased brand interest, personified quality, positive association, and brand contentment. Similarly, Roper et al. (2013) argued that social media was used as a branding and recruitment tool that could enhance the organizational attractiveness among potential employees and investors. Therefore, branding had tangible and intangible benefits.  

2.5 Branding of Educational Institutions

Institutions of higher education have been forced to adopt corporate practices including marketing, in the wake of increased competitiveness and high demands from students, funders and society. More importantly, higher education institutions had adopted branding to gain a competitive edge over their rivals in a trend that emerged in the last two decades or so (Chapleo, C., 2015). As such, these institutions needed to stand out above their rivals, with some, such as those in Norway, using being promoted alongside their countries in a national branding exercise (Sataøen 2015). Major universities differentiated themselves using unique logos and emblems, while others highlighted their architecture, mascot, colors and merchandise as branding artefacts (Drori, Delmestri and Oberg 2013). Similarly, internal branding was pertinent in the rebranding process in universities because it allowed the internal community to partake in the brand management strategy. Many higher education institutions used Harvard and Oxford universities as the gold standard to be emulated (Mampaey and Huisman 2016). Successful internal branding required continuous internal consultation and engagement, sustained launching of the brand and consensus among the administrators (Clark, Chapleo and Suomi 2019). Branding was a serious undertaking in the contemporary higher education institutions.  

Branding has been evidenced to deliver several benefits to institutions of higher learning and associated organizations. A study by Wong, Tong and Wong (2017) revealed that the teaching quality significantly influenced institutional branding positively, which, in turn, elevated the students’ satisfaction. Similarly, Hemsley-Brown, Melewar, Nguyen and Wilson (2016) noted that in the United Kingdom, marketization had led to the ranking of universities to position them to attract international students and funding. Already, Duffy and Pooley (2017) revealed that academic websites, such as, had leveraged self-branding and social media to gain popularity among the higher education community. However, Amzat (2016) noted that excellence in universities persuaded students to choose between different institutions and branding brought out these achievements to the public. Sometimes, external partners demanded too much and misused the university brand, which challenged the brand management strategy. Besides, universities often lacked a cohesive brand identity die to fragmentation of the brand management strategy across departments and faculties.  

3.0 Investigative Approach and Methods

This study is anchored by pragmatism as the social research philosophical underpinning, which explains the research design, methodology and methods. Pragmatism views reality as practical outcome of ideas, whose external character is embodied in the dynamic processes, practices and experiences (Thornhill, Saunders and Lewis 2013). Epistemologically, this study seeks the practical meaning of knowledge in the healthcare training context. The study focuses on the problem of students’ admission rates and profitability of healthcare training institutions in Singapore and social branding as a possible solution. Therefore, an explanatory design combining qualitative and quantitative data will be used in the study. This design is recommended for investigating problems that are poorly understood or lack research evidence (Thornhill, Saunders and Lewis 2013).

Primary and secondary data will be collected in this study. The primary data will comprise of first-hand responses from participants, while the secondary data will be sourced from publications that are available online.

3.1 Primary Data

For primary data, clustered random sampling will be used to recruit participants for the study. The clusters include healthcare education institution administrators, students and the public. This clustering ensures that participants that represent the key stakeholders and groups of interest in the research problem are included in the sample. Administrators and students will be drawn from healthcare training institutions in all levels, including universities, colleges, medical schools and polytechnics across Singapore. Ten participants will be randomly sampled for each cluster to create a sample size of 30 participants.

Primary data will be collected using questionnaires that will be administered to the participants. A sample of the questionnaire that will be used in the study is presented in appendix 1. The questionnaire comprises of two sections. The first section will capture the demographic data of the participants such as the age, sex, cluster, education level, and so on. Closed-ended questions will be posed in this section and participants will be required to choose the response that suits them the most. The second section will gather the perceptions, opinions and experiences related to the use of social branding in marketing healthcare training institutions in Singapore. Some of items will be closed-ended while others will be open ended, to allow the participants to express themselves and provide additional details from an individual and personal perspective.   

The data will be cleaned, coded and entered into computer software (SPSS) for analysis. The data will be categorized in variables. The independent variable is admission rate of students in the healthcare training institution. The dependent variables include social branding usage (separate into the different social media platforms), public awareness, and change in institutional services. Descriptive analysis such as means, frequencies and percentages will be determined using the software. In addition, the relationships between variables will be determined using the spearman rand-order correlation statistic. This correlation coefficient is preferred for ordinal variables that are represented by the primary and some secondary data. The hypotheses will be tested using the one-way and two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and post-hoc tests, such as Tukey’s honestly significant difference (HSD) and eta squared to measure effect size. The significant level (p value) for all statistical tests will be set at p=0.05 or 95% confidence level. The null hypotheses that reveal a significant relation between the variables (p < 0.05) will be rejected, while those with an insignificant relationship (p > 0.05) will be accepted. 

3.2 Secondary data

For secondary data, 10 publications and archival documents will be sampled purposively using criteria based on relevance, currency, reliability and credibility. Institutional publications, such as annual reports, that contain information related to marketing, profitability and student admission rates will be selected. For the publications that will be sourced online, keywords such as social marketing in higher education, social branding in higher education, social branding in healthcare education institutions, and institutional social branding in Singapore among many others will be used to search over Google Scholar.

The publications will be perused for vital information that can be used to answer the research question. Thematic analysis will be used to retrieved and collate the main themes and subthemes emerging from the publications. In addition, relevant secondary quantitative data such as admission rates, social branding budgets or expenditures, proportion of social branding in the marketing strategy of healthcare training institutions in Singapore will be extracted from the publications. The quantitative data will be analyzed along with the primary data collected using the questionnaires.     

4.0 Ethical Issues

Studies evoke various ethical concerns that need to be addressed to maintain research integrity. This study raises ethical issues related to informed consent of participants and training institutions, confidentiality, privacy and anonymity, and data security. Moreover, safety and health risks arise because of the involvement f human participants in the study.  

This study will adhere to high standards of ethical research conduct stipulated in Code of Good Research Practice of University of Roehampton. The participating organizations, including universities, colleges, medical schools and polytechnics will permit the researcher to engage them and their members in the study. Thereafter, participants will be required to give their consent to participate in the study. However, before they agree to participate, the prospective candidates will be informed about the purpose of the study, their anonymity, the confidentiality of their information and their right to withdraw at any point in the study. Therefore, once the participants are enrolled, their protections, rights and freedoms will be guaranteed in writing. The researcher will be truthful to the participants, and will encourage the respondents to be honest in return. Moreover, the participants will not be exposed to any health and safety risks in the course of the study and their right to participate or decline their participation will be assured. Furthermore, the researcher will use the findings for the intended purposes only, including sharing them with the participating institutions.   

5.0 Time Plan and Resources

This study is projected to take 12 weeks. The study activities commence with the approval of the proposal and ends with the submission of the dissertation at the end of the 12th week. The study has limited time and budget, and therefore, the researcher will employ internet communication intensives to save on time and cost. Once this proposal is approved, institutional consent will be sought, along with the formulation of the questionnaire. Also, the recruitment of participants and the piloting of the questionnaire will be undertaken concurrently. Five participants will pilot the questions, and the feedback will be used to refine it before it is administered to the entire sample.  These activities should take two weeks before the data collection process commences.

Questionnaire administration, the internet search, data entry and analysis, and report writing are expected to consume most of the study duration as scheduled in table 1.    

Table 1. Gantt chart of the study schedule

ActivityTime  (week)Month  
Proposal approval1            
Questionnaire formulation and piloting1            
Institutional consents             
Participant selection and approval1            
Questionnaire administration3            
Internet search4            
Data entry and analysis3            
Report writing5            

The study will require a computer installed with SPSS and connected to the internet. Moreover, communication, travel and printing of the final thesis will also be undertaken. Besides, the data analysis will require a data analyst. As noted earlier, the researcher will be economical with time and finances by relying heavily on communication technologies. As such, travel time and cost will be reserved for the most necessary circumstances such as visiting the healthcare education institutions to obtain consent and collecting archived documents from the institutions. Moreover, the questionnaire will be administered online, saving money and time further. These activities have been itemized and costed in table 2.

Table 2. Study budget

NoItemCost per unitNo of unitsAmount (SGD)
1Telephone  150
2Travel  200
3Internet costs50 per month3150
4Data analysis150 per hour5750
5Report printing  140
6Contingencies  75
 Total  1465


Appendix 1: Sample Questionnaire

Section A:

  1. Age:
    1. 18-29 years                 [  ]
    2. 30-39                           [  ]
    3. 40-49                           [  ]
    4. 50-59                           [  ]
    5. 60 and over                 [  ]
  2. Gender
    1. Male    [  ]
    2. Female [  ]
  3. Which kind of healthcare training institution are you affiliated
    1. University                   [  ]
    2. College                        [  ]
    3. Polytechnic                 [  ]
    4. medical school            [  ]
    5. nursing school             [  ]
  4. Relation to the healthcare training institution
    1. Administrator  [  ]
    2. Student           [  ]
    3. Public              [  ]

Section B

  1. Does the institution have a marketing strategy
  2. Does the institution use social media marketing
  3. Which social media platforms does the institution use
  4. For how long has the institution used social media marketing

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