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Marketing to Gen Z: 5 Things Colleges Need to Know

Aug. 8, 2017
2 months, 1 week ago
by

Gen Z has officially arrived on college campuses.

The generational changeover isn’t new to marketers, but motivations, values, and needs differ with each generation, and so should your marketing. Here are five key insights into Gen Z you need to know to market your institution with this audience in mind.

1. They are digital ninjas

Early hands-on experience with technology makes these students digital natives, and more importantly digital ninjas. Their understanding of how tech works is incredible. Their ability to sniff out the unauthentic and irrelevant (to them) is well honed. And their attention span is short—eight seconds.

What this means for your marketing: Make it impossible for them to not click. Let's face it—earning a Gen Z click is hard because this audience has high expectations and short attention spans. Be different. Think about incorporating video into your ads or using humor in the meme or gif categories. Get into their subconscious by taking a multi-channel approach (display, Retargeting, social), and give Gen Z time to warm up to your messaging as they go about their daily lives. Use platforms where ads look like organic content, like Facebook and Instagram. After you’ve earned their click, make your next adverting move personal. They will appreciate the personalization and value you’re providing as they go about their college search.

2. They aren’t Millennials

The biggest mistake a marketer can make is to not update their marketing efforts because they think Gen Z and Millennials are one in the same. As a Millennial myself, I remember a time when we weren’t all “logged on.” I grew up in the dawning of the digital age and learned about digital as I went along. Millennials are more likely to click on ads, have more brand affinity than our younger counterparts, and will engage with traditional media. Basically, we as Millennials make marketing easy. Gen Z is less forgiving.

What this means for your marketing: Use the channels Gen Z uses. Instead of on traditional print or television advertising, money might be better spent on Snapchat, YouTube, or one-to-one messaging where you can cultivate a more personal relationship, which Gen Z is looking for. Personalize your website by answering this audience’s most-asked questions about your school to provide a better on-site experience and improved SEO ranking. Better yet, personalize your website to that individual specifically by offering content based on where they have been on your site, which ads they’ve seen, and what content is most relevant to their journey. It’s all about creating an experience that is memorable and one that they connect with where they are living—online.

3. They are exceptionally driven and fiscally minded

Gen Z grew up in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. They saw parents, family members, and friends struggle with job loss, home foreclosures, and budget cuts. These students are exceptionally driven to be financially insulated. According to a Barnes and Noble survey, 35% of this generation "currently own their own business or plan to have one in the future.” The same survey also found they are taking college classes at a younger age (or plan to) before getting to college in order to better prepare. 

What this means for your marketing: Gen Z is entrepreneurially minded and career focused. They are looking for an education that will lead them to a successful career, and your marketing should reflect this motivation. You have student data that shows what majors they are interested in; use it to provide more relevant ads about your degrees and how that program will prepare them for their career. Use outcome statistics from your alumni to illustrate the value of your programs and the direct benefit your education will have on their bottom line.

4. They know their options and are resourceful

Gen Z has grown up with Wikipedia, Reddit, online courses, YouTube, and endless access to education. They are professional self-learners who know they can figure anything out by just watching a video. A four-year education might not be a foregone conclusion for this entrepreneurial, fiscally minded audience.

What this means for your marketing: You’ll have to educate these prospective students about what you can do for them. The Barnes and Noble survey found there are three factors that are really important to this generation in choosing a college: career preparation, interesting course work, and professors who care about student success. Use these factors as a guide to hit on these value points in your ads, Web copy, and e-mail marketing.

5. They are connected

The biggest buzzword right now is “influencer marketing.” Influencers are everywhere, and this generation not only listens to them but also shares what they learn. Expand your definition of “influencer” because this group looks to their peers for advice.

What this means for your marketing: Look at your current student body—are there any students who are clear role models? Use them in your marketing and as on-campus brand ambassadors. Gen Z wants to make connections with other people they trust, and sometimes a professor or president 30–40 years older than them just won’t do the trick. Put their peers behind your social marketing. Use current students on social media and do live Facebook or Instagram stories so prospective students can ask questions and get real student answers. Let them lead the conversation and create connections to your brand ambassadors. Good content will be consumed and shared, giving you access to their entire network of college-going Gen Zers.

Want to talk more about Gen Z and how to reach them? Join us at NACAC for our pre-conference seminar all about reaching this audience!

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