Keeping Gen Z Engaged During the College Search Process

Ben Boivin
Jan 21, 2020

Working with what we know

Generation Z is defined as anyone born after 1997, meaning most traditional college students in 2020. Born with a device in their hands, they now understand social media, smartphones and digital marketing better than their parents. In a world where they see almost 5,000 ads a day, they are experts at dodging irrelevant, gimmicky ads and are more likely to search for authentic user journeys.

These money-conscious multitaskers have seen a sharp rise in college tuition since birth; therefore, it is essential to emphasize value as part of your marketing strategy. Their parents went through the Great Recession, so they are searching for career stability and quality financial benefits. While they are navigating the school that fits their needs best, money talks in today’s admissions landscape. With the recent changes made to the NACAC Code of Ethics, future students will be offered more opportunities than ever to find the best scholarship offer. The May 1 deadline will slowly lose its importance and higher education experts believe student poaching throughout the summer will be on the rise:

“The standards and ethics have changed drastically to increase the competition and the aggressiveness of recruitment efforts.”
George Wolf, Vice President of Enrollment at Siena Heights University

Clients who use Liaison’s Enrollment Marketing Platform (EMP™) have been transforming traditional financial aid documents into powerful marketing campaigns that engage and inform accepted students. By including variable content that targets specific audiences in your funnel (think first-generation or out-of-state students), you can deliver relevant content with a personalized touch. Every institution sends home financial aid packages, but many fail to communicate value effectively, and therefore, fail to reach enrollment goals.

Like their user journey, Gen Z is searching for the full experience on campus. An exceptional work-life balance is crucial — beginning in freshman year — but identifying popular clubs and organizations is only step one. To engage students and make them feel included, some of our clients offer free tickets to events and set up family-friendly tailgates after group visits to campus. The more you learn about your students through inquiry forms and campus visits, the more relevant information you are able to add to multichannel campaigns. The goal is to make prospective students envision themselves on campus, and through variable club-based student testimonials, you can connect current students to future ones.

As a social-media-dominated culture, we like to see what our peers are doing and how we can get in on the action. Because influencers play a big role in social media marketing, student testimonials play a big role in your enrollment marketing. Remember that enrollment marketing is as good as the admissions representatives on the other side. Tactful communication at each stage of the student’s journey will make them feel like your admissions team is paying attention—and having a counselor readily available on the other end—drives the idea home. In today’s enrollment marketing world, quality trust-building with students at the bottom of the funnel will yield a bigger and better class than inquiry quantity at the top.

Why is immediacy so important in Gen Z marketing?

Because future students operate at the speed of now! They want fast internet, binge-able television, rapid communication with friends on social media, two-day shipping and questions answered within 24 hours. Keeping them engaged means keeping your marketing up to speed. When they decide to fill out an online inquiry form, have automated, personalized responses ready to send within minutes. If they request to speak with an admission representative or student ambassador, set up reminders so that they are responded to immediately. There is nothing more nurturing to Gen Z and their parents than responsive, caring, personalized support.

Because they value the full experience, nurture marketing matters. The nurturing tactic is used to capture attention and build meaningful relationships. And for Gen Z, it works. Gone are the days where a 200-year-old tradition or list of famous alumni will be the determining factor as it might have been for past generations. Today, students are not as concerned with the history of your institution; they would prefer to learn how you can help them and their future endeavors. A student success story from a recent graduate holds more weight than an alumnae testimonial from Oprah Winfrey (who attended an EMP client institution) because they want to follow in the footsteps of a relatable experience.

Here’s an example of a five star testimonial that works: 

“I love Cazenovia College. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. When I first started, I was extremely homesick but now I never go home unless I really have to. Although being a student athlete is really hard, I have grown so much within volleyball and lacrosse, while also growing academically because of my coaches and professors.” — Current Student, Class of 2022

Gen Z students are intensely independent, but still rely on honest, authentic advice and reviews. In their purchasing and college searching, they do their own research, hashtag their questions, screenshot reviews and find the best deals. We have found success in immediate, personalized, relevant, nurture marketing and hope that in the future, you will too.

Ben Boivin

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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.