2017 was the year it all changed. It was the year when millennial consumers fulfilled their long-anticipated destiny of overtaking Baby Boomers as the single largest consumer demographic. With an estimated $200 billion in annual buying power, consumer trends would now be dictated by the younger members of our society, with little likelihood of it reversing anytime soon. And with Generation Y & Z falling in closely behind, it becomes increasingly more evident that most brands are catering to the ideas of younger consumers in both their content and the method of brand message delivery. This is relevant to every business, regardless of the industry that it counts itself a part of. And it goes without saying that one of the most directly-affected industries is that of higher education. Whether courting high school students, current enrollees or adults looking into continuing education, recruitment is an entirely new ball game. And while admissions boards still have the final say regarding which of the crop is picked, it is prospective students that are setting the bar as to how hard colleges and universities need to work in order to grow that crop. With that in mind, what strategies are your institution employing as part of your higher education marketing initiatives? Do they take into consideration the changing expectations of your audience? Are you delivering the right message, in the right manner? And what steps are you taking to fortify a relationship, once established?
Bottom-line, the days of institutions of higher education resting on their laurels as if students should consider themselves lucky to be a part of its rich history are numbered. And with that in mind, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when planning the incorporation (and execution) of digital marketing strategies designed to define yourself as the ideal destination for prospective young students everywhere.
The Do-It-Yourself Generation
When addressing an audience under the age of 35, the first thing that you should remind yourself is that, when it comes to research and verification, they are more independent than any other consumer group. By this, we mean that the instantaneous availability of information made possible by technology has created an impulse to find the truth. There is also greater trust placed within one’s peer group, as opposed to the company/marketer themselves.
This poses a unique challenge when approaching the demographic since any statistics can (and usually will) be called into question if there is doubt as to their accuracy. Some of the other challenges related to this will be addressed below, but it stresses the importance of making information factual, well-supported and easy to access. It indicates a need to anticipate the questions that will be asked, and address them beforehand. It also stresses the importance of creating and maintaining a comprehensive, and well-informed peer community
The Need For Speed
As noted above, the expectation of speed relates to everything, be it information, validation, a simple response or comprehensive results. An inability or lack of willingness to perform at this level is damning, placing greater demands on your time and resources. And remember, failure to satisfy this basic demand will be broadcast publicly across any peer groups, re-branding you as both unresponsive and ineffective.
Put it into Words & Pictures
Due to the connective nature of technology, younger consumers prefer written communication to spoken. While arguably, the belief is that it encourages accountability and aims to make correspondence more efficient. This means utilizing social media engagement, group chats and texting as a means of speaking to your target audience.
And if you’re going to present spoken content, utilize video platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo, that allow for the material to be digested on the time and terms of the consumer. But while OnDemand content provides convenience in that regard, any video marketing strategy should also employ Live Streaming platforms to maximize engagement in real time.
The use of social media and video platforms are perfect examples of why your online presence should be more than a simple website. No matter how comprehensive, informative or user-friendly that website may be, it doesn’t convey the ease of accessibility and communication that social media provides.
Also, effective use of social media ensures that your content is presented to your audience in the most direct manner possible. After all, that’s where the audience is, scrolling through newsfeeds, stories, and video content. Which segues into the need to…
Diversify Your Platforms
If you think you can get social media credibility by using a single platform (Facebook, for example) you are sorely mistaken. The expectation that effective marketing exists on multiple platforms helps to depict why traditional marketing is dead. Marketing is no longer done on the terms of the marketer, it is done on the terms of the audience. And if you want to reach the widest audience possible, you need to be everywhere they might be looking.
Make It Personal
Younger consumers are far more willing to share their personal information, if doing so results in a more personalized experience. This is key in cultivating prospective applicants and maintaining relationships. It should inform your approach, in terms of how focused (or generalized) your recruiting, application and interview process is. It allows you to create a more personalized experience from Day One, empowering you to communicate with each individual more effectively, by tailoring communication to their preferences.
Higher Education Marketing For The Next Generation
It’s so simple…and the iron rule of marketing: know your audience. As mentioned above, the days are numbered for outdated models of both promotion and communication. If 2017 was the year that it all changed, the best examples of innovative consumer marketing were integrating these strategies a minimum of five years earlier. So, if you’re entering the 2018-19 year with an incomplete (let alone non-existent) digital marketing strategy, you have some serious catching up to do. No, seriously….get on that.