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HE marketing trends to watch in 2020

HE Marketing is an enormous challenge. With spending under scrutiny, students skeptical of Higher Education, and a turbulent political landscape it can be tough to get results. 

Brands around the world are adapting their marketing to keep up with Gen Z, and the changing consumer. 

Universities are, and should be, doing the same. Your students and prospective students have constantly changing expectations as social media, the digital landscape, and even culture shifts. 

To help you keep up with these trends, here is our rundown of the marketing themes to watch in 2020. 

The unique voice of Gen Z

Connecting with Gen Z is an enormous challenge. They’ve been accused of having a short attention span, they don’t check their email, they’re distrusting of brands. 

But actually, if you speak their language and build loyalty – they can become your best advocates. 

Their decision making has been described by Campaign Monitoring as “crowdsourcing”. They seek the opinions of their peers, influencers, and reviewers. That same report goes on to recommend: 

“Invite Gen Z into a collaborative relationship with you … find ways to allow your audience to become a part of the conversation and emphasize co-creation.”

The best way to speak their language is to involve them in the conversation. 

You can also start to connect with your Gen Z prospective and current students by connecting with their sense of humour. 

Gen Z love weird – and there’s been lots of exemplary social media case studies were universities and other companies are overcoming Gen Z’s skepticism of brands by getting in on the joke. 

The University of Reading has taken to this sense of humour and seen success: 

More and more brands are getting savvy to this sense of humour and approach to marketing, and in 2020 it is likely to boom. Get in quick, though, as it is well established that brands and politicians kill memes.

Conversational Marketing 

2020 could be the “year of Conversational Marketing” according to many experts, and universities won’t want to miss out on the trend. 

Consumers expect a higher level of service and interactivity, and they are less likely to pick up the phone or type an email. Increasingly, marketing has been about “providing value” – and it doesn’t get better than providing the service your future students want in the medium they prefer.

University websites have a lot of information to convey, and a lot of audiences to connect with. Researchers, staff, students, prospective students and staff, the community… the list goes on.

If you or someone you know has researched universities in the digital age, you’ll know the abundance of information can sometimes be overwhelming, and universities are getting better at organising and presenting in a logical way.

But many university and college websites are still missing one crucial element – humans. The human voice and opportunity to chat will be crucial for making university websites and marketing stand out in 2020. 


Research by McKinsey found that the marketers who were best at understanding their audience were the most successful in all measures: acquisition, conversion, satisfaction and more. 

How well do you understand the students that you’re talking to? And how are you gathering those insights? 

Many universities now are tracking the return on investment of all their conversion and marketing activities. Sophisticated CRM systems and other software have been developed for this purpose. This makes it much easier to analyse and  understand the student journey and also key influences on decision making. 

No doubt you are also conducting surveys of your new students and prospective students, too, to understand their motivations and influences on their decision making. 

At Unibuddy, we’ve dedicated hundreds of hours to analysing student conversations to give you even more insights into what students care about. Our research has segmented students into course, country of origin, level of study, stage of application and more. Based on this rich conversational data, we have a unique insight into what students care about and when. 

You can see some of that data in our white papers.

Interactivity and Personalisation

Shaped by unprecedented digital connectivity, globalism and social change, tomorrow’s university students are vastly different from those before them.

Digital content is what engages young people, but they are very savvy to glossy marketing and often lack trust in brands. So what can universities do? Marketing across all sectors is becoming increasingly personalised, and higher education is no exception.

Highly targeted and segmented messaging is helping universities connect with their students, tell a compelling story and, ultimately, boost conversion to application, acceptance and enrolment.

In user surveys, every generation prefers speaking to a human – but none more so than Gen Z. Despite being digital natives, it seems like young people still seek out more real connections.

Nothing is more personal than a 1-1 connection, and your personalisation efforts must include this opportunity to interact.

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