Mary Hoy

Mary Hoy

Director, Audience Insights & Strategic Planning

What you need to know about the next generation of students

Mary Hoy

Apr 17, 2018

Just when you felt comfortable enough marketing to Millennials, it’s time to shift your focus to recruiting Generation Z students.

Don’t panic! There are a lot of elements of research out there on Gen Z, the crop of prospective college students whose birth years start in the mid-90s to mid-2000s.

I’ve compiled some of them to help you apply them to your college marketing efforts.

For Gen Z students, the college admissions process is oftentimes a long, drawn-out and intensely personal decision-making process. (The result: broadcasting that decision to the world via social media.)

My favorite description comes from Ologie, a Columbus marketing firm that specializes in higher education marketing:

“For future collegians, the search process is an arduous journey: pulling information from the web, hauling deliveries from the mailbox, checking endless emails, visiting countless campuses, and consulting friends. Considering financial aid, grants, scholarships, early decision and applications, deadlines, stipulations, rules, requirements, regulations, and procedures. Parents, peers, counselors, and college loan officers. AP, ACT, PSAT, SAT, GPAs, RAs, and TAs. OMG.”

The Gen Z Report Understanding the College-Bound Mindset, 2017, Ologie

Keeping that in mind, here are some key principles to applying a Gen Z lens to your marketing communications.

Know your “do’s” and “don’t’s.”

The “Do’s”:

  • Provide a personal connection. Gen Z prospects need to have an experience that results in feelings of comfort, acceptance and relatability, particularly when it comes to faculty relationships.
  • Get them to campus. Prospects need to experience campus to understand if they can see themselves there.
  • Be clear and simple when communicating. Gen Z students are really busy and are getting bombarded with college materials from schools and opinions from friends and family.
  • Prove it’s an inclusive environment. Talk is cheap.
  • Offer them a personal, seamless experience. Prospects want to know that you are paying attention to them in particular — not their cohort in general.

The “Don’t’s”:

  • Don’t underestimate them. Gen Z students are mature, self-directed and resourceful. They’re serious, careful consumers. They’re entrepreneurial, resourceful and hard working; they see it as their responsibility to create their own success.
  • Don’t lose their attention. They’re busy! They need to consume information quickly to see if it’s worth my time and attention. They’ll invest more time in brands that prove their worth.
  • Send bulk communications after they’ve been in touch. When Gen Z prospects tell us what they want, they expect us to deliver.

Remember you’re dealing with digital natives.

Gen Z digital native tendencies apply to the digital experiences brands create. When you are marketing to them, ask yourselves questions:

  • Have you offered them an experience that allows them to find what they need, exactly at the moment they need it? (Ensure you’re utilizing outreach that provides utility. Don’t make them pick a path; provide a clear one for them.)
  • Have you offered an entertaining method to answer questions?
  • Does your website render on a mobile phone?
  • Is your design clean, uncluttered and authentic?

All these are expectations Gen Z has of brands — and universities are no exception. If you haven’t made the information easy to find, they’ll find it elsewhere through channels you can’t control. (Think YouTube vloggers, word of mouth, hashtags, Snapchat, Reddit threads.)

Social media matters.

Be cognizant of the role that social media plays in Gen Z decision making. For today’s prospects, it is everywhere. Every thought, every visit to a campus, every win AND loss are magnified when the world is watching, increasing anxiety around an already stressful process.

While universities often see social media as a channel to showcase a brand, teenagers consider it an essential communication tool for their social lives. On the flip-side, all the while they are evaluating you, they’re broadcasting this to their peers. That means doing your best to ensure their reaction to you is a positive one is crucial not only to their perception, but likely also to their friends.

Keep calm and market on.

Marketing to Gen Z is a challenge — but a positive one. Their expectations of brands is higher than previous generations. And that pushes us to be the very best version of ourselves.

More reading:

Day in the Life Presentation

Google It’s Lit

IBM – Unique Generation Z

Ologie’s Gen Z Research

Faculty and staff internal to Ohio State can request the reports from their Marketing contact.

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