Millennials or “Gen Y” are commonly referred to as those born between 1986 and 1996, two decades during which technology flourished.
The World Wide Web was created, you could call someone without being at your home, and DVDs changed the way we watched reruns of Seinfeld. Those who were born during these years grew up with on-demand service and unlimited streaming. Hundreds if not thousands of studies have been released detailing what makes a millennial tick — from how they decide on their first car to how they choose where they want to go to college.
But 1996 was 23 years ago. Who is the next generation?
Introducing Gen Z, the age group born between 1995 and 2015. Marketing and advertising professionals have long been obsessed with solving the challenges that have arisen with this group. What motivates them? How do they make decisions? What are their buying patterns? Most of these questions have been answered; however, how do those answers affect one of the most important decisions that a Gen Zer will make: where to go to college?
Here are five fast, high-level insights that you need to know when marketing your higher education program to Generation Z.
1) Tell a Real Story
The days of material aspiration and glamourous advertising are over. Just ask Nike, whose social justice ad with Colin Kaepernick swept at Cannes. Gen Z wants reality. They seldom see ads, but when they do, they want to see themselves in them. What does that mean to you? You’ll need to show them, through accessible and realistic customer journeys, the outcomes of the choices they will soon be making. By telling the real story of your program, and what lies ahead for them, Gen Z will be captivated — and may even shut down Netflix to explore your university. This is the most crucial piece of the journey you will go on to capture the fleeting attention of this audience, but once you’ve compiled the research and uncovered the stories they need to hear, you’ll be five steps ahead of your rivals
2) Be Online
Gen Z was born when the Internet was in full swing. Being the first digitally native generation makes this step an exceptional priority. Everything they have ever wanted has existed instantaneously at the click of a button — why would shopping for colleges be any different? A 2017 Forbes report explains how, on any given day, children ages 13–18 spend 9 hours consuming content digitally, not counting content relating to school or homework. More than any other demographic in the Digital Age, Gen Z is self-determined and reliant on finding things out for themselves using the power of the Internet. Make sure that you’re helping them find what they're looking for. Ensuring that all facets of your school are online will make you relevant and keep you ahead of the competition in lobbying for students’ interest, and more importantly, their applications.
3) Keep Up
Consistency is everything. Pouring $200,000 into your new main website won’t do you any good if, a year after launch, you still have the same student life, academic options, financial aid information, and organizational history on your site. We live in a time where the flow of information is non-stop. Invest in a plan that ensures that your audience of coming-of-age Gen Zers knows what your school currently offers and that all of the key information that sets your school apart is up to date and center stage. Being able to act in a responsive manner to content changes can be a tall order at the university level, but if your organization is able to build or employ a system to increase efficiencies in content updates, your school will reap results in the form of regularly returning viewers and increased engagement — which are key to boosting admissions.
4) Be Mobile
If content is the key, that would make mobility the lock. Gen Z spends on average 5.9 hours per day engaging with content on mobile devices. While filling out an application may require a laptop, the research and site exploration that a user takes in the beginning stages of university selection can and will be done over mobile. If your university site and content are not up to mobile standards, chances are you’ll experience high bounce rates and missed conversion opportunities. To combat this, check out the Mobile-Friendly Test from Google, a tool that ensures your site and content are up to date on mobile devices.
5) Embrace "Decision by Committee"
Do you remember as a kid when your family would go on vacation, and you would have no idea what any of your friends did that week because you didn’t have any way to talk to them? Gen Z has never felt that. They were born with Facebook in one hand and Instagram in the other. To them, constant contact is less a CRM system than a lifestyle. This all-connected, digitally native generation is autonomous and interested in pursuing their own dreams, but only after they’ve evaluated the input of their support systems. This Ad Week report by Josh Perlstein explains that similar to the patterns seen in B2B buying, Gen Z is selecting everything from socks to schools “by committee,” which means getting input from everyone from their friends and family members to social network polls and Reddit threads. Your college can join the "decision by committee" conversation by showing potential applicants what other students are saying about your university. Encourage current and future students to share their experiences at your school on social media whether they’re touring the campus or sharing a meal with friends in the dining hall.
All in all, Gen Z will undoubtedly present challenges to B2C businesses especially colleges and universities. However, by addressing the issues listed above, your organization will both minimize risk and place itself in the best position to capture the applications of prospective students.