You know that slick brochure with the photo of your school’s first building on the cover? While parents might be impressed, 18 year-olds, your actual customer, are wanting something more.
Baby boomers have always appreciated thoughtful marketing. Heavy paper with a glossy finish is expected from higher education institutions. But millennials are putting more pressure than ever on schools to update their marketing strategies. Trust in your institution is now earned more through authentic feedback from experienced consumers (your students), and less through your brochures or web site.
While most universities are struggling with this shift, others are answering the call. When we started promoting student ambassador programs 15 years ago, there weren’t a fraction of the programs that exist today. Schools are realizing that their best marketers are their own students and have done great things with their student ambassador programs. And now, a growing number are empowering their student ambassadors to go beyond on-campus tours by extending their reach through direct online communication with prospective students as they look for new ways to share authentic experiences.
For years we've seen the powerful impact on conversion rates when prospects are given the opportunity to speak with students. And don't think the media hasn't taken notice, either. Forbes recently helped produce a study that demonstrates some great points about millennials, your prospective students, that can help university marketing strategies adapt to the new standards teenagers are holding them to. Forbes mentioned 10 points in their article, but here are the ones we think directly apply to higher ed:
1. Prospective students aren’t influenced by advertising
Just 1% of millennials surveyed in the Forbes study said that an ad would increase their trust of a brand. They simply don’t trust traditional advertising and avoid it at all costs. They want to hear about your brand from someone they trust, which will lead to them trusting you. And only then will they listen to your message.
2. Prospective students review online content before making a purchase
33% of millennials rely mostly on blogs or social content before they make a purchase decision, compared to 3% for traditional advertising. Authentic blogs or Instagram posts by experienced consumers (your students) is no longer a “nice to have.” If you don’t have authentic material on the web, and a lot of it, prospective students will probably be looking elsewhere.
3. Prospective students value authenticity over content
43% of millennials rank authenticity over content. They’d rather spend time hunting down authentic posts by other students talking about your school than reading your About page. It might take a bit longer, but the value of aggregating multiple opinions into one cohesive perspective is something they've been trained well on. Of course you need to have strong messaging on your marketing materials, but you also need to encourage your students to be producing content about you and having conversations with prospects online. Without it, you end up being just another glossy brochure.