The U.S. higher education landscape is crowded, especially for organizations that don’t know how to personalize university messaging. Thousands of degree-granting institutions compete for a shrinking pool of students, all seeking to position themselves as the college of choice. But value propositions can be difficult to get across in an environment where parity reigns true; if every school boasts great academics and a family-like campus community, it’s hard to stand out.
Fortunately, your general value propositions aren’t the only way to position your college or university as the best choice for prospective students. In fact, understanding how to personalize university messaging can go a long way toward breaking through the noise and maximizing the effectiveness of all your communications.
Personalization in higher education, of course, is not necessarily new. Colleges and universities have long relied on personal outreach from admissions counselors in core target areas. The key, then, is also knowing how to personalize university messaging in the digital arena, aligning your online efforts with that personal outreach already in place.
That’s a complex process, but it’s far from impossible. Join us for an exploration of the concept of personalization in higher education, along with five actionable steps to personalize your university messaging and attract more students.
The Importance of Personalization in Higher Education Marketing
To say that the higher education landscape is crowded might be an understatement. The average high school senior, especially once they submit their SAT scores and enter the College Board database, receives hundreds of recruitment materials from colleges and universities of all types. All of them will sing the praises of their institution through the eyes of both administrators and current students.
In that context, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. It’s even easier to not pay any attention to these thousands of pages of recruitment materials and simply deposit them in trash or recycling. That’s before we even consider the multiplicity of emails and digital communications students receive.
But by providing personalized, targeted communication, institutions can help students feel more connected and engaged. This leads to increased attention and interest.
Personalization in higher education marketing also matters because it helps to tailor the marketing message and communication to the individual student. In an environment where students are making significant decisions about their future, connecting personally with a student can make all the difference.
Also, personalization allows your institution to better address the needs and interests of individual students. The prospect pool in this industry is by no means homogenous, with drastically different interests, backgrounds, and career goals to cater to. Personalization moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach and towards an alternative designed to speak to each student individually.
That’s why, according to one study, 84% of students said that receiving more personalized messaging and attention made them more likely to choose their eventual college home.
Personalizing Content in a Digital Environment
Understanding how to personalize university messaging in an interpersonal environment is relatively straightforward. But, of course, it’s also near-impossible to scale; the more prospective students you talk to, the more resources (not to mention admissions counselors) you will need.
That’s where digital content comes into play. The ability to mass personalize allows you to build custom campaigns at scale, all designed to both humanize your messaging and offer more relevant content.
And here’s the key: your audience yearns for this type of digital personalization. According to a recent report by Adweek and IBM Watson, 44% of U.S. internet users would leave a brand that didn’t personalize content for one that does. Meanwhile, 75% of internet users agreed that personalization is crucial for a brand’s staying power.
Limit your audience to Gen Z, and the results get even more significant. More than 80% of this generation even expect ads to be personalized to their needs, compared to just 57% of millennials. If even the most intrusive type of recruitment tactic now needs to be personalized, imagine where the other channels rank.
How to Personalize University Messaging Online in 5 Steps
Even online, personalization might seem complex. But in reality, a few simple steps can help you simplify how to personalize your university messaging. While the possibilities for more customized messaging are almost endless, these five steps can help you get started.
1. Segment Your Audience as Early as Possible
Personalization and segmentation almost necessarily go hand in hand. The latter allows you to split your audience into more homogenous groups. This then allows for more customized communication targeted toward each group.
The good news: you can begin to segment your audience from the moment they enter your database, either through name buys or through inquiries and event sign-ups. Consider just a few of the many possibilities here:
- Segment prospective students from their parents.
- Create segments for different class years, like high school seniors vs. juniors and sophomores.
- Segment students by their interest areas, like STEM students vs. art students.
- Segment local students as a unique audience compared to students from further away.
- And so on
Most CRM systems make this type of segmentation easy through automated flows. Grouping your audience segments might not help with personalization on its own, but it leads directly to the next step.
2. Build Custom Communication Flows for Student Segments
Once you’ve built your segments, it’s time to create the communications that will convince them to apply and eventually enroll at your school. Customized communication flows can more directly address their interests and needs. Consider the above segments as examples of more personalized messaging:
- Talk to prospective students about the fun campus life and to parents about how safe your campus is.
- Help seniors apply for college while helping juniors and sophomores with earlier steps like browsing their college options.
- Talk to STEM students about your hands-on experience options and to art students about opportunities for displaying their creative work.
- Talk to local students about your college as a gateway to the world (through options like study abroad) while introducing your school more broadly to students who might not know you as well.
These messaging flows can be based on emails and text messages, which your CRM can likely kick off automatically once a new student “lands” in their respective group. But that customization can also extend to the ways your admissions counselors talk to students to ensure every touchpoint is as relevant as possible.
3. Add a Personal Touch to Digital Messaging Where Relevant
In addition to more customized communication flows, the individual messages you send can also have a personal and human touch. Even with automation, this type of personalization can take a few different shapes:
- Make your emails look like they come from your admissions director or the counselor in whose territory the prospective student resides.
- Address each student by their first name in the email. Also, insert personalized information you know about them, like the major to which they’ve applied.
- Create custom, personalized versions of your website that change dynamically based on the information you know about your visitors (like their location).
Again, the core of knowing how to personalize university messaging is building personalization that seems human but can still be applied at a mass scale. That ensures you can remain consistent even with large portions of your audience while still reaping the rewards of personalization.
4. Personalize Your Interactive Map for Different Audiences
Your interactive campus map also comes with a few personalization possibilities. For example, you can build map layers for different audiences. Then you can link directly to that layer in your communications to that audience. That way, prospective students won’t have to see the same content that a nostalgic alum would.
Within your map layers and categories, you can enhance this type of customization further. Include information specifically relevant to prospective students—and even prospective students in different majors. That way, the map becomes more than just a wayfinding tool: it offers crucial engagement opportunities for your audience.
5. Create Custom Virtual Tours for Specific Interest Areas
Similar to your virtual campus map, a 360-degree virtual tour is another opportunity for an immersive experience that can still be personalized. A general campus tour is likely beneficial. But you can build smaller offshoots of that tour that resonate specifically with the audience segments you’ve built in the first step.
Consider, for example, an audience segment unified around future majors in your business college. That segment will benefit from custom communications specifically about your business programs. But why stop at email or texting? You can also build a customized virtual tour of your business college to send to prospects. This creates a more relevant experience in the middle of the recruitment funnel.
And again, your student segments can guide the types of virtual tour experiences you might want to build. Once you have a significant enough segment of students sharing common characteristics in your database, consider whether and how a virtual tour could enhance communication with that audience. If it does, you might want to build it.
How to Personalize University Messaging With Concept3D
Knowing how to personalize university messaging is only half the battle. You also need to have the necessary tools for that personalization, especially in the digital realm.
That means a CRM solution that can support audience segmentation and customized message flows. But it also means a virtual tour and mapping solution with enough flexibility to create experiences tailored to your general prospective student audiences and individual groups within it.
That’s where we come in. Concept3D has years of experience helping higher education institutions build engaging, immersive, customized experiences for recruitment. Ready to learn more and build more relevant tactics designed to attract students? Contact us to start the conversation.