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The worlds of higher education and marketing are both changing so rapidly. As marketers, we’re faced with a difficult task of understanding how to combine these transitions to reach prospective students successfully, especially when marketing to a younger generation poses a challenge for any industry.

The Pew Research Center recently declared that the Generation Y (or Millennial) cutoff year is 1996 – a bit older than what people may expect – so we are well into the Generation Z student body. While some may say these two generations are similar, there are some differences to note when targeting them. Here are some tips for reaching your next first-year class:

1. Make it about them.

This statement rings true for any solid marketing strategy; make it about your customer, not yourself. This means two things for Generation Z: show them what their futures can look like at your school and show them the type of community you provide your students.

Members of the latest generation of students are more focused on entrepreneurship and picking up new skills than past generations. This makes it important to showcase what you can offer them to achieve these goals.

This goes beyond what programs you offer. Is it possible to take classes offering glimpses into other interests? Do you host any business or skill workshops for students who want to test the waters in new areas and entrepreneurship? What clubs and organizations do you have on campus for them to develop their skills and passions? Showcase every opportunity you can provide students to develop themselves both personally and professionally.

Within a similar strain, show them the type of community and culture that exists on your campus. Generation Z, even more than Millennials, are interested in supporting their community and peers. They want to shape the future of the world. Provide them with opportunities to make a difference on campus and in the greater community, exhibit these opportunities in your marketing tactics and show off current students who are making a difference. All of these activities let your prospective students know that you, too, care about changing the future of the world we live in.

2. Know where to reach them.

If you thought Millennials were always on the go, prepare yourself: the smartphone is the most-used device among the new generation at over 15 hours per week. This means that your website and everything you publish needs to be mobile-friendly.

Fortunately, Generation Z is making this easier on you; most of the sites and social media outlets they spend their time on are already optimized for mobile. Their favorite website is YouTube, and their favorite social media outlets are Snapchat and Instagram. Somewhat surprisingly, they also enjoy Vine, though its popularity was short-lived (R.I.P.). However, this knowledge gives us some major insights: they are big on short videos, images and non-committal sources of information, i.e., sites that will let them come and go in shorter spurts as needed.

Source: TMZ

Keep a close eye on the landscape of social media marketing. New developments unfold very quickly in this space. Recently, Snapchat stock fell nearly $1.5 billion after Kylie Jenner tweeted about not opening the app as much anymore. Snapchat’s new design has users upset and has clearly caused some ~major drama~. Be ready for anything!

3. But don’t forget about their parents.

Reaching your prospective students is your number one goal, but are they your only audience? Don’t forget the significance and influence of a parent’s role in a student’s college search. Parents may want to know more of the hard facts than their students will, so continue to make this information available as well. This includes cost, safety, housing, programs, on-campus activities, etc.

What’s the best way to reach this group of people? You guessed it; it differs greatly from how we can reach their children. Parents of your current prospective students will fall in the Baby Boomer generation and Generation X, with a likely higher presence in Gen X. However, both of these generations consume a great deal of their social media on Facebook, and their most commonly used means of accessing digital content is still a desktop or laptop rather than a mobile device like their kids.

This poses a new element in your marketing; while you must focus on the arena your prospective students are active in, you’ll also need to pay attention to those they may be starting to abandon to make sure their parents aren’t alienated.

And brace yourselves; in a couple years, millennials will be making their way into that parent group.

4. Create excitement among current students.

Students take great pride in their schools, and this can be a huge advantage to you. Don’t forget that your current students are still highly connected with your prospective students from their high schools. Take every opportunity to share exciting news about your school, community, city, state, etc. on social media.

I know; this seems to contradict tip number one. But it’s all about how you approach the matter. Remember that the credit for your awards doesn’t always belong to the school. If you have high graduation rates, give credit to your students who work hard and your professors who support your students. Frame these accomplishments in encouraging ways. Over time, your students will begin sharing these exciting tidbits more and more, exposing your potential next first-year class to some of the benefits of attending your school.

One key way to accomplish this is to focus on specific student accomplishments. This is not only an accomplishment for that student but an accomplishment for your school for giving that student the opportunity to follow their passions. This ties back with tip number one: make it about them.

5. Don’t be cringe-worthy.

Do you know that feeling when something terribly awkward is happening, but there’s no way to stop it, so you just have to watch it happen is silence while groaning internally? Yeah, that’s how many Millenials and Gen Zers feel when brands try too hard to “relate” to them.

Source: HubSpot

Embrace pop culture, but know where to draw the line. Students today are drawn in by edgier campaigns than past generations were, but they’ll also be the first to cringe when a company tries to speak to them in “their language.” Many brands try to reach Millennials using emojis, memes, social movements, etc., and while some are successful, the majority are not. Be extremely tactful if you attempt to launch a student recruitment campaign around pop culture, or even safer, rethink if that’s the best way to reach your goals.

Remember that these prospective students take their futures seriously. While you can reach them with aspects of pop culture, irony and/or humor to solidify the persona of your brand, don’t offend them by suggesting that they only communicate via emojis and memes or are attached to their fidget spinners.

Generation Z is a complex group of individuals, all with different goals and passions, but they care deeply about their futures and their communities. Reaching them successfully will take carefully planned and executed recruitment strategies, but these five tips will send you in the right direction to start with.

I told you from the beginning this would be difficult! Higher education marketing is not for the faint of heart.

Even though understanding your prospective students is hard, understanding how to analyze your marketing data effectively doesn’t have to be. Our marketing analytics team can help you dive into those numbers to determine:

  • Where students are dropping out of your funnel
  • What tactics are effective (or ineffective)
  • Ways to help you increase your enrollment numbers

Learn More

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