Marketing “Higher Education”: What You Need to Know

Stack of six books on a brown table with full book shelves in the background
Posted on by Jason Cook
Categories: Education

As an institution of higher learning, you are focused on the use of education to empower your students to find greater success in all fields of business. That said, you mustn’t lose sight of the need to empower your business to find greater success in all fields of education.

Simply put, this requires an ability to attract a greater number of promising students and educators. It means generating excitement about your school, using fresh and impactful strategies to position yourselves as one of the premier destinations for higher education.

That said, higher education is no longer a linear journey built exclusively for young adults. Today, the greatest achievements come from committed and passionate students of all ages, backgrounds, and demographics. Are you doing everything that you can to reach those particular students? Are you confident that you are, in fact, doing enough?

At the end of the day, your approach toacquiring prospective students and staff alike should be based on the unique demands of their generational identity. After all, you wouldn’t market to a ‘Generation Z’ candidate in the same manner as you would a ‘Generation X’ or ‘Baby Boomer’ Adult Learner.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the inherent differences that exist within the generation gaps and how it should inform your digital marketing strategy.


Generation Z

The youngest group of potential applicants to your school will have been born after 1999. Classified  as ‘Generation Z,’ they are the product of a technology-driven society with a nearly hard-wired expectation of speed, constant accessibility and immediate results in all that they do.

That said, these tendencies have yielded some negative effects. According to a Nielsen Norman Group study, “Fast-moving teens are also less cautious than adults and make snap judgments; this leads to lower success. We measured a success rate of only 71 percent for teenage users compared to 83 percent for adults.”

Such statistics stress the importance of both brevity and clarity in all communication. In doing so, you are configuring your content to perform well on all platforms and to retain attention in the most effective way possible; and with that in mind, here are a few statistics that help to emphasize the importance of doing so. With that in mind, ‘Generation Z’ is…

More likely to give up on a poor-performing or slow-loading website. While they retain an appreciation for aesthetics, load speed, functionality, and navigability of a site are of higher importance.

With nearly 4/5 of Generation Z’ers (between the ages of 13-18) in possession of a smartphone, their connection to technology becomes clear. With this mind, the importance of responsive, mobile-friendly websites becomes clear (as if it wasn’t already, right?)

More likely to seek out video content, via YouTube or Streaming Services. If you’re relying upon traditional (read “soon-to-be outdated”) marketing platforms such as Network Television or Print Ads, you will miss this audience completely.

Instagram and Snapchat are the leading Social Media platforms of choice (at least until something new comes out). Utilizing Facebook or Twitter to reach ‘Generation Z’ will prove less effective.

And speaking of outdated platforms, would you be surprised to learn that email is considered exactly that? While it will still be actively employed in a professional sense, Generation Zers are approximately 3x more likely to open content sent in a Chat / Direct Message format, than in an email. While this may prove more difficult for solicitations, this is where high-quality, shareable content gains value.



All too often, there is a tendency to dismiss anyone below the age of 25 as a millennial, which is incorrect on a number of levels. In fact, the eldest among the oft-criticized millennial demographic is now in their mid-30’s. Shocking, we know. That said, applicants born between the years of 1983 and 1999 fall under the millennial classification and represent the single largest living population of any group. With superior buying power and an ever-increasing influence over the decisions of both younger and older generations, the ‘millennial vote’ is one that all businesses would be wise to cater to.

In a study performed by Microsoft, it was determined that the average attention span had fallen from 12 seconds to 8 seconds between the years 2000-2015. This, combined with over 3/4 of millennials claiming that they default to their smartphone when nothing else is engaging their interest, reinforces the importance of brevity and clarity (as stated above).

In terms of Social Media, millennials utilize Facebook but also frequent Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter with equal frequency having helped to solidify each one as a viable platform. That said, millennials aged 25-35 favor the former while those aged 19-24 favor the latter.

Between personal and professional use, millennial spend about 6 hours a day perusing emails. While the majority claim they preferred fewer emails, about 1/3 clarify their position by stating that they’d prefer less redundancy and more value in their email traffic. That said, abandon Spam tactics and look to tailored content, when utilizing email to reach this segment.

And remember, countless studies have established that nearly 80% of Millennials value experience over a material possession. That said, your strongest endorsement might come in communicating the quality of the experience your school can offer. By sharing the positive attributes of your culture and opportunities that are presented to your students, you’re more likely to gain traction.


Adult Learners

Whether Millennial, Generation X or Baby Boomers, recent decades have produced an ever-increasing number of adult learners. Represented, in many cases, by service men and women, former students who put their education on-hold in order to start a family, or individuals whose maturity has re-prioritized higher education in their lives, most adult learners come with a built-in sense of commitment. They are properly motivated by the goal of increasing t

That said, adult learners make up approximately 20% of the American workforce, and that number is expected to increase over the course of the next decade. In fact, it’s expected that by 2023 48% of the entire college population of the U.S. will consist of adult learners, over the age of 25.  Such a large segment of our population simply can’t be ignored and should be part of any marketing strategy.

In reaching this group, you should plan to employ a multi-media, multi-platform strategy including even tradition (read “soon-to-be outdated”) marketing platforms such as Print Ads and Network Television.


Are You Using the Correct Marketing Strategy?

In the grand scheme of modern commerce, education is no different than any other business field. It requires innovative marketing strategies, facilitated by skilled third-party professionals with their finger on the pulse of today’s consumer. After all, your potential audience is more diverse and more powerful than it has ever been. If you’re using a singular, “same-old, same-old” approach, you’re setting yourself up for failure. And in doing so, you’re only proving that there are far better institutions to educate those prospective students on how to be successful.