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Marketing to today’s students is completely different than marketing to previous generations.

The sheer volume of these differences can be very intimidating to marketers trying to understand their target audience. How can you possibly keep track of every new standard you have to meet? The solution is to break the expectations of prospective students down into just a few categories. This gives you a clear set of rules to follow when developing engagement strategies to suit your ideal students’ needs.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • The factors prospective students consider when shopping for institutions
  • How to make your institution more appealing to prospective students
  • What so many institutions get wrong about engagement

This week, I spoke to Kayla Manning, the Vice President of digital marketing, recruitment and online program strategy at Ruffalo, Noel and Levitz. Kayla has been in the higher education space for just over a decade and currently helps colleges and graduate schools with lead generation, lead nurturing and retention. After studying the preferences of today’s students for many years, Kayla compiled her most important findings to create the 4 Pillars of Expectation and Engagement. Each pillar outlines the different ways students engage with institutions as well as what students like to see when choosing where to attend.

People Shop For Schools Like They Shop For Clothes

Pillar number one is the Rise in Consumer Mentality, which denotes that students are now shopping for schools, programs, and degrees as if they were shopping for material items, like clothing. In the past, students decided which institution to attend based on the institution’s reputation, their family history, or simply where their friends were going. Today, however, students are basing this life-changing decision on a number of specific factors. They are searching for certain types of degrees, the cost of certain programs, and even how much money they will most likely earn after graduation.

Last year, Kayla noted, 71% of 200 million Google searches for graduate programs did not contain the institution’s name. Instead, these searches were centered around factors like degrees that offered the best value or job security.

This is just more proof that institutions need to prioritize digital marketing. Institutions must know what their ideal students are searching for and make sure their ads are showing up for search terms that are relevant to their programs.

Students Have Questions, So You’d Better Have Answers

Pillar number two, Instant Gratification, goes hand-in-hand with the shopping approach. Since prospective students are asking more questions, institutions must clearly answer these questions on their websites. Remember, young adults absolutely despise talking on the phone. It’s your job to give them all the information they need so they don’t have to call. Kayla suggested accomplishing this through the live chat feature or social media, depending on what your top competitors are using.

Instant gratification also applies to inquiries or notions of interest. Of all students who shopped for more than one institution last year, Kayla said, 88% chose the institution that responded or made contact first.

No One Likes Generic Emails And Websites

Speaking of communication, prospective students have a particular distaste for generic emails. That’s why pillar number three is Personalization and Customization. Emails to leads should acknowledge how far the individual is in your marketing funnel. Let’s say a prospective student enters data that shows interest in a specific program. That individual would not want to see an email that acts as if nothing has happened.

The final pillar, Authentic and Genuine, emphasizes that engagement should never feel scripted. Prospective students value interactions with current students for this exact reason, Kayla added. Several institutions she’s worked with have turned current students into social ambassadors who answer questions on the school’s behalf. The institutions’ websites play recent footage of students hanging out on campus, as opposed to scripted, outdated videos. For maximum authenticity, Kayla says, have students film themselves walking through their dorms and post on social media.

Different Priorities Require Different Strategies

A central theme of Kayla’s four pillars is understanding that different types of students require different engagement strategies. Business students should not be marketed to like nursing students, just like students seeking the classic “college experience” should not be treated like students seeking the best ROI. But you can’t figure out which route to take if you don’t know your ideal students’ priorities. Your first step should therefore revolve around the foundation of the four pillars: extensive research.

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