Imagine you’re a Gen Z student immersed in the college search process. Chances are, you’re being bombarded with messaging from a variety of colleges and universities all touting their commitment to “providing hands-on learning experiences,” “fostering academic excellence,” and “nurturing innovation.” After a while, this nearly identical messaging blends into one big jargony jumble, offering no clarity as to which school might be the right fit for you.
In today’s higher ed environment, competition for each and every student has increased, and marketers must be creative and use every resource possible to remain relevant to attract diverse demographic groups that are becoming more cynical about the value of higher education. Despite that, the defining characteristics of colleges and universities seem to have become increasingly similar.
What may be getting lost is the human element.
A generic institutional voice focused on selling a school’s benefits may not resonate with a younger generation that is much more interested in human connection than buzzwords and vague, pie-in-the-sky promises.
Taking a more human approach to marketing means taking your college or university’s story and telling it in a way that makes an intriguing case for your target audiences to learn more about – and ideally become part of – that story.
HOW TO HUMANIZE YOUR HIGHER ED BRAND
The most effective marketers in every industry don’t just advertise their brand – they build relationships. Drawing audiences in with compelling storytelling, personalizing content, and finding ways to encourage connection are essential strategies, especially when you’re trying to connect with younger generations. As you develop your college or university’s communications with potential students, think about engaging them, building trust, and adding warmth at every step.
Here are some tips for getting started on incorporating a human touch into your marketing efforts:
- Highlight Your College or University’s Actual Humans: Think beyond fancy logos and crisp campus photos and give prospective students and families opportunities to see the people they’ll encounter on campus. Having inspiring professors, advisors, and students serving as the “faces” of your school on social media posts, testimonial videos, email communications, blog posts, and advertisements conveys an openness and friendliness and increases relatability. Extend this representation to in-person or video events too, so prospective students have the chance to meet and hear from the people who know your school best before they make their choice.
- Let Them See Who You Are: Your written content is important and plays an integral role in telling your school’s stories, but intriguing visuals and authentic videos can more effectively capture the attention of a generation that’s grown up with Instagram and TikTok. Even for older prospects – or parents of your Gen Z potentials – captivating videos that highlight a student’s journey to success, unique research experiences, exciting student-centered competitions, and campus life help viewers picture themselves, or their kids, there.
- Be Authentic: Today’s students are becoming increasingly savvy at identifying content and messaging that seems inauthentic. So while it’s important to inject warmth and humanity into your marketing efforts whenever possible, try to stay close to your brand identity and your college or university’s strengths and values to avoid coming off as phony or trying too hard to be something you’re not.
- Encourage Employees to Engage: Your faculty and staff will have the most interaction with the students who come to your school. In addition to highlighting them in videos and social posts, encourage them to share stories about students and alumni who inspire them or who have made them especially proud. Reading a social media post or microsite article, or watching a video, in which a professor shows admiration and support for a student’s journey will help prospective students feel like they’d have that level of support on your campus.
- Consider User-Generated Content: A video you produce about a standout student is undoubtedly powerful, but sometimes potential students are looking for something lighter to help them relate to your school. Consider letting your students create casual, lighthearted, and funny “day in the life” vlogs or social media and blog posts where they can share personal anecdotes from their academic experiences, student competitions, or research. Give each piece of content a once-over, of course, to make sure it’s appropriate and still puts your school in a positive light but try not to worry too much if it’s not perfectly polished (with Gen Z students, less polished might be a good thing!). Again, authenticity is an asset.
- Stay Social on Social Media: Your social media accounts aren’t just another place to advertise events or share your latest awards and recognitions. Engaging in regular conversations with current and prospective students, alumni, as well as faculty and staff shows that your school cares about its people’s experiences and what they have to say. Encourage students to share (appropriate) content they’ve created, assign staff members to respond quickly to student questions, and find opportunities to connect active visitors and posters with other ways to engage with your school. You can also use what you learn about your current and prospective students through these social channels to create more personalized email communications, social posts, and events.
A higher ed marketer’s work is never done when it comes to making your school stand out among the vast array of institutions your prospects are considering. But adding a human element to each of your touchpoints is a reliable way to relate to your audiences and increase the chances they’ll choose to enroll.