Higher education is an industry defined by limited resources. Especially admissions and marketing offices often struggle in their recruitment efforts, thanks to limited staff and budgets that prevent full-scale campaigns so commonly found in other industries.
However, limited resources do not have to be the death knell in a successful admissions campaign. Even a small college admissions team of two or three professionals can still optimize and scale their marketing efforts to recruit the new incoming class. You just have to know how.
That “knowing how” piece is, in turn, directly connected with the audience admissions now look to attract: Gen Z. The current generation of high school and middle school students has unique expectations, behaviors, and interests that can all be used to scale your admissions marketing campaigns. These tips can help you get to that point.
Step 1: Listen to What Gen Z is Saying
Every strong marketing effort begins not with pushing out messaging, but with listening. Gen Z is a unique generation, in more ways than one. Listening to the preferences of high school audiences can go a long way towards building strategies designed to recruit these students to inquire, visit, and apply to your college or university.
That requires research. Larger universities and admissions offices frequently conduct surveys designed to understand the behaviors, motivations, and preferences of their audiences. Smaller teams might not have that luxury; fortunately, plenty of other sources can help you get almost the same level of in-depth insight.
Organic Audience Research
This one is simple. Listen to what your audience is telling you, through all the channels you use to communicate with them:
- Calls and email responses to your admissions office.
- Social media comments, shares, and direct messages from prospective students.
- Feedback from admissions events, through formal post-event surveys or informal conversations with students and families.
- Reviews for your college on sources like Princeton Review, Niche, or even Google Reviews.
When paying attention to these sources over time, it’s surprising just how much you can learn about your audience’s generational habits and preferences. From figures of speech to the type of information they look for, you can use that information to integrate into your messaging.
Audience Research Through Third-Party Data
The second type of audience research to gain insights into Gen Z is more formal, but doesn’t require significantly more resources. As it turns out, plenty of organizations and associations are looking for the same information as colleges. What makes Gen Z tick is among the key questions brands today need to answer to successfully market to them.
Much of that research is both statistically relevant and publicly available. You just have to know where to find it, and what sources to take seriously. This list can help to get you started:
- Pew Research Center, What We Know About Gen Z So Far
- McKinsey & Company, Gen Z in America
- Deloitte, 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey
- Annie E. Casey Foundation, What are the Core Characteristics of Gen Z?
- Ruffalo Noel-Levitz, 2021 E-Expectations Trend Report for Higher Education
- EAB, The Gen Z Persona Equation
Of course, these are just a few of the many examples of reliable, credible research into Gen Z and its behavior. You’ll learn anything from their priorities in their daily lives to online behaviors, when and how they expect to hear from brands, and how they expect to hear from colleges and universities.
One other resource: a recent Concept3D webinar in which Logan West from the New York Times shared not just the insights in this guide, but different ways even small admissions offices can engage with prospective students who are part of Gen Z.
Step 2: Determine Your Specific Marketing Goals
The next step comes with a simple truth that’s important for any admissions or marketing team with a limited budget: you cannot be everything to all people. Scaling your efforts can only work with specific marketing goals that guide most or all of your campaign decisions, messaging, and budget investment.
To get there, ask yourself a simple question:
What, more than anything, do you want your audience to do?
The answer can take a lot of different shapes. You might:
- Need to increase more awareness of your school, simply letting high school students know that you exist.
- Be looking for more demand at the top of the recruitment funnel, looking to increase inquiries and campus visits.
- Need to increase your total applicant pool, boosting the number of inquires and online audiences who actually apply.
- Need to increase your conversions from application to actual enrollment, focusing on the middle and end of the funnel in the process.
Each of these goals requires very different types of campaigns, channels, and messaging. For example, some, like yielding more students from your applicants, may not be possible through paid digital ads at all. Knowing what your goals are allows you to be much more focused in everything you do, trimming unnecessary tasks and maximizing effectiveness for your smaller team.
Once you know your goals, it’s time to set up your campaigns specifically. Segment your audience and move away from generalized templates. Focus each piece of communication, from ads to emails and printed materials to even personal phone calls, to be specifically targeted towards the goal you are trying to achieve.
Step 3: Refine Your CTA to Keep That Singular Purpose
With your goals specified, it’s time to focus on your messaging. Now that you know what you want your audience to do, optimize each piece of your message, but especially your call to action, to point them in the right direction.
For example, if your focus is on generating awareness, you probably don’t need to ask your audience to apply. If the goal is applications, don’t focus on campus visits. To make sure this is the case, you can ask yourself a few vital questions:
- How can your CTA connect directly, and maybe even explicitly, to the goals you have set?
- Where do your materials, from ads to emails, point them? What web pages do you want them to visit?
- Does this call to action make sense to the specific point in their user journey, and what they would expect from you at this point?
- Is your message and CTA focus on building a relationship with your audience, offering them what they’re looking for vs. pushing a non-solicited message on them?
Put simply, your CTA should align with your admissions goal as well as with your user’s behavior and purchasing clock. Reaching that match can be tough, but is well worth the effort. When you get this step right, you can launch highly effective higher ed admissions marketing campaigns with both limited budget and limited personnel.
Step 4: Confirm Audience and Messaging Alignment Before Launch
The final step is verification. Before launch, make sure that everything you’ve learned and built in the previous step actually works. That sounds complex, but can actually be quite simple if you know where and how to look:
- Ask current students, like student workers in your office or tour guides, their thoughts about the campaigns and ads you’re developing.
- Use your direct conversation with prospects at college fairs and campus visits as a checkpoint: do the ads address the common questions and pain points you hear?
- Evaluate past campaigns, emails, and print materials you have run. How well does the messaging, audience alignment, and CTA line up in this larger context?
You can also use some post-launch tactics to evaluate your campaign. For instance, simply monitoring your campaigns’ metrics (like views, email open rates, conversions, and engagement) can go a long way towards understanding whether your CTAs are working as intended, or whether you should make adjustments while the campaign is running.
5 Action Items to Scale Your Higher Ed Admissions Marketing Efforts on a Shoestring Budget
Ready to launch? Creating a successful admissions marketing campaign within a small team can certainly be challenging. But if you get the process right, you can still be highly successful in attracting, engaging, and converting prospective students within Gen Z.
You just need to know what steps to take. These action items can get you started:
- Research your audience, using existing and publicly available research from credible sources.
- Determine and narrow down your marketing goals to maximize your campaign effectiveness.
- Refine your messaging and CTA to align with your marketing goals and audience expectations.
- Confirm your audience and messaging alignment before launching the campaign.
- Take other steps to scale your admissions efforts, including automation technology to reduce manual efforts.
That last piece deserves further attention, as well. Marketing automation has made rapid inroads in higher education admissions, from automated email flows to digital map technology designed to help users explore and find their way around campus without the need for a manual tour.
We can help with that last piece. Concept3D has built mapping and virtual tour technology designed to help admissions offices of any size, from one-person operations all the way to major universities. Ready to learn more? Contact us to start the conversation.