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10 Higher Ed Marketing Trends in 2023

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Recruiting students who are part of Generation Z is a whole new ball game. Gen Z isn’t just questioning where they should attend college, but if they should attend at all. 

Just as prospective students are evolving, so are the marketing trends we use to reach them.

In our new whitepaper, “Unibuddy Higher Ed Digital Marketing Guide: What You Need to Know in 2023,” we touch on the trends you’ll see this year and how to prepare for them.

Here are five to keep in mind.

Language goes digital

Gen Z is a generation of digital natives. They’ve never lived in a world without digital technology or the internet, incorporating it into every facet of their lives – 27% can’t go longer than an hour without it! 

They use their devices for everything, so of course they’ll use them on their higher education journey. Your digital assets will help inform their decisions. In fact, recent Unibuddy data shows that nearly 3 in 4 prospective students will use your website for initial research.

Related: The Higher Education Data You Need to Make Prospective Students Welcome

To be as effective as possible, your language needs to take on a digital feel, too – that is to say, you must speak to them in their own language. Across all digital deliverables, language should include softer tones rather than professional or institutional ones. 

Some institutions are even getting rid of formalities altogether! When the University of Leicester used Unibuddy Community to connect prospective and current students, enrollment increased by 23%.

Using student voices

Speaking of current students: they are your best spokespeople, so make them part of your marketing plan! After all, they are the personification of your brand. 

Gen Z craves authentic connections that make them feel welcome and excited, and getting to interact with current students will create just that. Rather than speaking with an adult, they’ll get to speak with someone they view as a peer without ulterior motives or conditions.

Related: How to Foster Authentic Personalization in Student Recruitment

Don’t just take our word for it – more than 9 in 10 higher ed recruitment professionals say student-to-student interactions are a crucial part of the prospective student experience.

Recruiting is omnichannel

As the first generation of digital natives and omnichannel students, Gen Z uses technology at every corner. In 2023, prospective students have the ability to interact with your content anywhere at any time across a variety of devices. 

And that’s a double-edged sword for many institutions. As many businesses are having to pivot to digital-first models and focus on digital experience, so are higher ed institutions. 

For the best chance at attracting and engaging Gen Z, it’s critical that you have all of your channel bases covered.

Again, your best tool is the one right in front of you: your student ambassadors and faculty. Don’t underestimate their power – allowing them to engage with and create authentic connections through content will help you stand out from the crowd.

Social media is king

While you can never be sure which social media platform will be the next big thing, you know that its mission will stay the same: to provide a digital space for people to interact and gather information. In fact, 40% of users turn to TikTok and Instagram for information rather than search engines.

Related: Social Media Marketing for Higher Ed in 2023

It’s true in higher ed, too! Unibuddy Community, the higher ed answer to social media, saw over 110,000 messages sent in 2022 alone.

Now is the time to take advantage of it. When you allow your student ambassadors to monitor and participate in the discussions on several platforms, you’ll be able to ensure channel coverage and distribute digital content to an engaged audience. 

But don’t try to sell – just focus on being inclusive and engaging. Social media is meant to be social, after all. 

Value outweighs cost 

Marketing in 2023 will be all about a laser-like approach rather than casting a wide net with low-hanging keyword groups and broad audiences. 

Instead, marketing teams will be focused on the things that are specific to their institution’s unique offerings. They’ll use more precise keyword groups and long-tail keywords that indicate high intent.

For instance, an institution running ad campaigns for its digital marketing program would choose “digital marketing degree programs” rather than “top marketing school US.” While the latter may be less expensive, the former will be far more effective. 

That’s because there’s a  much higher likelihood of it reaching the target audience, who will take action. Combined with competitive density and mid-range cost-per-click, the value far outweighs the cost.

You know your audience best. Using the right words, even if they’re more expensive, leads to a far greater payoff. 

At Unibuddy, we partner with higher education institutions to provide platforms that help you keep up with the trends and reach your goals.

Learnings from 2022 Still Applies to Today’s World

Leveraging Crowdsourcing Habits of Gen Z

Making a decision for Gen Z often involves consulting a variety of sources, like peers, influencers and reviewers. The opinions these groups have hold a lot of weight for Gen Z as they’re considered more honest, and with fewer hidden motives. Collecting information from a bunch of sources means that they can get an accurate and aggregate picture of what they’re seeking to understand. 

Maybe a prospective student is hoping to find out that the particular program that they’re interested in has good employment connections before they ever graduate. All of the higher education marketing material says so, but hearing first hand from someone who has been through the experience is going to carry a lot more weight. If they can hear from current and recent students, they can start learning what skills they’ll need and what kind of connections to form right away.

Using Conversational Marketing

Typical higher education marketing often lacks warmth and personability, things that instantly signal to Gen Z prospective students that human connection is not emphasized here. Conversational marketing is a way to speak to Gen Z in the medium they prefer, with the language they respond to best. They’re not looking to read a polished brochure or sift through overly formal webpages.

In addition to looking for information about your higher education institution, they’re looking to find out what the “vibes” are; how does your school make them feel? What kind of warmth is in the place where they’ll be spending a lot of time? Using the right tone can convey information to answer the questions your prospective students are looking for, and give them the idea that an education at your institution will be the experience that they’re hoping for.

Utilizing Data Insights

It’s no secret that you can gain valuable data from interactions with students, but with so many channels of marketing and even more students, sifting through the data can be a herculean task for anyone. However, with the use of highly nuanced CRM systems and software, analyzing the data is a matter of inputting what you’re looking to understand–whether it be where a student is on their decision-making process or what is influencing their decisions at the stage they’re in.

Unibuddy has analyzed student conversations with ambassadors and in community chats, to help you break down the insights from these interactions. We’ve categorized students based on field of study, country of origin, level of study, stage of application and more. With this data, you can provide a solution that best meets them where they’re at in their journey, targeting your approach for fewer wasted efforts and a higher return on your investment of money and time.

Personalized Messaging

Perhaps because Gen Z prefers digital marketing, they’re adept at spotting marketing that feels inauthentic and impersonal. Though digital marketing seems to have a universal appeal, marketing with all audiences in mind is too broad and doesn’t have that warm feeling that Gen Z is looking for.

Personalizing your messaging through segmenting your population helps you to understand what each student is looking for and gives you the opportunity to arrive at the right time with the right message for them. And though Gen Z lives online, their preference is still to speak to another person. With Unibuddy, providing that 1-on-1 connection with trained ambassadors is easy, and yields a wealth of information on how to best support your prospective students in making the decision that best fits them while keeping them engaged through the compelling individual stories of your ambassadors.

Short-Form Video Content

Video content is an important way to engage Gen Z prospective students. Knowing your audience means knowing what they want to hear and how. One of your main mediums in communicating with students is through social media, and given that most students applying have their own accounts, content can be shared with a tap.

Create content that shows students what your higher ed community and life is about. Some ideas for making captivating content are: video campus tours, answers to FAQ, mini-tours from students on their favorite places, like their dorm, the gym, the cafeteria or other interesting spaces that make your campus unique.

Learn more about trends like these in the new “Unibuddy Higher Ed Digital Marketing Guide: What You Need to Know in 2023.” 


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