Back to Blog

Customizing Your Higher Education Marketing for Different Generations of Student

Customizing Your Higher Education Marketing for Different Generations of Student
Table of Contents

In the complex world of higher education, effective student recruitment hinges on understanding and addressing the diverse needs of prospective students. In working to meet these needs, Halda’s in-house research has highlighted a crucial trend: The success of enrollment strategies increasingly depends on generation-specific communication.

The Generational Divide in higher ed communication preferences

While there are certain tendencies that span demographic lines, different generations of students exhibit distinct preferences in communication styles. Millennials, for instance–a high-value target for graduate schools–often value comprehensive, narrative-driven content. Generation Zers, born from 1997-2012, tend to prefer concise, visually engaging, and interactive formats, like TikTok and Instagram. Gen X, on the other hand, appreciate a lot of information and aren’t as particular about how they get it. Preferences, like these, should inform the development of targeted marketing strategies, ensuring that messages resonate with each group's unique expectations​​.

Clear preferences can also be seen in what each demographic considers to be truly personalized outreach.

Gen X, for instance, has an especially low threshold for what counts as personalized contact. Anything that doesn't feel completely generic provides what they consider to be a tailored experience. This is probably why they respond most favorably to lots of different types of outreach. Gen X is 55% more likely to be significantly influenced by text messaging and 52% of Gen Xers report that phone calls had a significant impact on their enrollment decision–by far the highest of any age demographic.

Millennials, however, prefer less contact and are much more likely to not interact with a school’s content until they are already prepared to start an application. They aren't as interested in a back-and-forth, but that doesn't mean they aren't actively engaging. For this reason, hey represent a large chunk of a school’s stealth traffic. Building an online journey that tells a comprehensive, compelling story–unmediated by human interaction–is more likely to resonate with this audience.

Finally, Gen Zers want clear, fast, concise information, preferably from a human. They are quick to sniff out canned communication and are least impressed by chatbots, which reflects their relatively high threshold for what counts as truly personalized communication. Essentially, they think that "personalized" is best when it comes from a person. This means that some traditional (you might even call them throwback) strategies like direct mail, and phone calls still carry a lot of relative weight with this population. The fact is, these tried-and-true tactics have staying power as a refreshing zag from the tech-mediated content they’re used to.

Engagement with 'Stealth Visitors'

When does this strategic segmentation and messaging need to occur? As soon as possible. And the best way to do this, at least from a website standpoint, is to take care of stealth visitors. Most of the web traffic from prospective students–around 90%– is organic, and an increasing number of these students are remaining anonymous. 38% of prospective graduate students don’t provide any information about themselves to a school until they send in an application (and that number is increasing). This highlights the importance of an intuitive, informative, and engaging digital presence for universities​​.

Despite these generational differences, one element remains constant across all demographics: The desire for personalized experiences. Because tailored interactions significantly impact enrollment decisions across all demographics, they are a universal necessity in communication strategies​​. What this personalized communication looks like, however, depends on the generation of student you’re connecting with.

Effective strategies for data-driven demographic-specific engagement

  • Segmentation and Analytics: Use detailed analytics to segment audiences based on specific criteria like age, professional aspirations, and interests. Tailor communication strategies accordingly, leveraging insights to create messages that resonate deeply with each segment in the right places.

  • Channel Optimization: Align communication channels with the preferences of each demographic. For instance, Gen Z is more responsive to visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok, while older demographics, including Gen X, usually prefer more traditional channels such as Facebook. Sometimes these distinctions are profession-based. For instance, prospective arts students engage more on Instagram, while future STEM students prefer LinkedIn and Twitter.  Utilize the specific strengths of each platform to enhance engagement.

  • Content Customization: Whether through email, SMS, social, or blog content, develop and customize content to suit the unique tastes and preferences of each demographic. For example, interactive virtual tours and fresh-faced student testimonials generally appeal more to undergraduates, while detailed program outlines and faculty credentials are most relevant to graduate students. Consider language style, tone, and visual elements in your content to ensure it aligns with the preferences of the targeted demographic.

  • Feedback Mechanisms: Feedback mechanisms gauge the effectiveness of your strategies. Online surveys, social media polls, and focus groups can provide direct insights from prospective students. This, on top of monitoring engagement rates, click-through rates, and conversion metrics will give the perspective you need to refine your approach. Some companies also offer analytics tools that allow you to quickly aggregate and visualize your full-funnel data.

  • Adaptability: Demographics are not static, and their preferences can evolve rapidly. Regularly review and adjust your strategies based on the latest data and feedback. For instance, if analytics show a growing interest in online program offerings among a certain age group, consider enhancing digital marketing efforts in that area.

  • Personalization Tools: Leverage tools to personalize communication at scale. Sometimes these are provided through your CRM, but companies like Halda offer more flexible, targeted personalized interactions that can turn your website into a powerful conversion engine. Besides engaging your audience, Halda’s tools track prospect interaction and behavior on the website, enabling you to send personalized follow-ups, program recommendations, and event invites based on prospect interests.

Using AI to Market to Different Student Demographics

Segmenting communication is impactful, but it's also challenging. More differentiation means more tasks, more data analysis, and more things to get just right. In a higher education marketing world where teams are spread thin and budgets are limited, there's a new interest in how AI could automate tasks and communication. As long as your data is well-organized, AI can definitely help you find trends and optimizations to make sure your communication is on point. When it comes to using AI to automate that communication in the first place, however, generations likely have different preferences.

All signs suggest that GenX, especially, would be open to communicating with AI-produced content. Their automation radar is not particularly fine-tuned, and they're generally forgiving of time-saving communication that delivers personalized information. Millenials, too, seem to value efficiency over everything. They are the last to start researching, the quickest to make decisions, and want to interact with information on their own terms. AI-generated content or AI-driven experiences that allow for fast information delivery falls right in line with what Millenials are looking for.

Gen Z, ironically enough, might be a tougher sell when it comes to embracing AI-generated communication for higher education. They want that human touch and feel, and they have a high threshold for what counts as personalized help. Still, AI can definitely deliver great information to these people in a timely manner. You may just want to be transparent that AI helped produce the content. After all, they have a sensitive AI radar, and you don't want them to think that they're getting disingenuous communication.

Ultimately, customizing communication in higher education is not just about effective marketing; it's about building meaningful, lasting connections with prospective students. By embracing demographic-specific strategies and leveraging data-driven insights, higher education institutions can create more engaging, impactful, and successful enrollment processes. Tailored communication fosters a sense of belonging and community, which drives student engagement and–eventually–enrollment.

Every 0.85 Seconds

Halda personalizes the experience for a prospect.

How often are you personalizing the experience for your potential learners?

Book a Demo