15 March 2021
How can universities appeal to Gen Z?

Brands around the world are trying to pin down Generation Z. They’re environmentally-conscious digital natives, with an offbeat sense of humour and a focus on social justice. Gen Z are unlike any generation that came before, and brands have had to adapt to survive. 

The reality is, though, that Gen Z is after one thing: honesty. McKinsey calls them “True Gen” because of their “search for truth”. A 2014 study by Cohne and Wolfe found that the No. 1 quality or behaviour which Gen Z demand of big brands is communicating honestly about products and services.

Flashy, big-budget marketing campaigns aren’t really appealing to Gen Z. Authenticity is much more important. 

So how does a university market itself honestly? By using students as content creators, giving prospective students the resources to crowdsource their decision making, and being in on the joke. 

Students as content creators

Gen Z loves creating content. We’ve been saying it for years, but 2020 proved it with the rise of TikTok. It’s not just dance crazes. Young people around the world are collaborating together on incredible pieces of content: including, most recently, a full length musical based on the movie Ratatouille

So your students are creating content with you or without you – and smart marketeers are harnessing those content creators! 

If you need further proof, look to YouTube – where the most viewed video about ‘university life’ is not a flashy marketing video or a high production value advertisement, it’s “A Day in the Life of a Harvard Student”, an independently created student vlog, with 6.9 million views. 

Prospective students are looking for this content, and your students will create it – your university should engage with that. 

Newcastle University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences decided to start utilising student-created content in their marketing efforts. Each month, the faculty gives their ambassadors a topic to write about (based on their content calendar for the year). They also provide a template to help them write their blog. 

They have received 12,000 unique views and also high conversion from reading a blog to becoming a lead. After viewing the blogs page, students were 3x more likely to start a Unibuddy chat than those who hadn’t viewed the blogs page. 

Katrina Savage, Head of Student Recruitment and Marketing, for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, said: “We know the power that a credible voice has, and all of the research and our experience shows that authenticity and authentic content works, this is why Unibuddy blog content is so important to us.” 

Crowdsourcing decision making

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.”

A recommendation – even from someone they don’t know – is a powerful aide for decision making. An incredible 73% of Gen Z consumers read or watch reviews before making a purchase and even more will do some degree of online research. If they are seeking opinions for even everyday purchases, imagine the consideration and research that will go into the biggest financial investment many have made – what university to go to. 

Traditional marketing doesn’t work with Gen Z and for good reason. Gen Zers are estimated to encounter 10,000 marketing messages every single day – that’s a mindblowing number. So it’s no wonder that the non-marketing messages, those authentic reviews, are the ones that stand out in the crowd. 

Know your memes

You can 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 where universities and other companies are overcoming Gen Z’s skepticism of brands by getting in on the joke. 

When done right, efforts will be applauded and rewarded by Gen Z consumers. The humour is absurd, self-aware and sometimes self-deprecating. When done well, your first reaction might be ‘no way they really posted that’. 

When done badly, of course, there’s an air of “how do you do, fellow kids”.

So involving your students and content creators in your central marketing strategy is a good idea to ensure the messages and memes you’re sharing will resonate with your audience.  

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