Sound marketing: Is your college or university really reaching the 4 generations?

Given the differences among the groups, content that is customized is essential to recruitment efforts.

One of the many challenges marketing professionals in higher education face is reaching not just one core audience in their promotions and strategic messaging, but four of them: Gen X, Gen Z, Millennials and Baby Boomers. Focusing on a single group, namely the youngest generation to drive enrollment or showcase their brand, might be a mistake.

“Every generation that we surveyed has expectations of relevant marketing,” said Sarah Thetford, customer success manager and higher ed specialist at Emma, an email marketing software and services provider. “With so much competition for attention in the inbox, it is critical that higher-ed marketers use insights to guide a tailored approach that delivers meaningful messaging,”

To that end, CM Group and market research firm F’inn have created a roadmap of best practices for college teams called “Higher Ed Marketing Insights from Gen Z to Boomers – How to Tailor Marketing For Different Generations,” based on a recent survey it conducted of 1,000 adults ages 18-plus to 65-plus. In it, there are scores of tips that provide windows into the habits of current and prospective students and others that a college or university might serve, including alumni, parents and potential gift-givers.

Researchers say the key is to any overarching plan is to provide as much customized content as possible that might hit on each specific audience’s desires—for example, those who are more likely to embrace certain social media platforms, such as TikTok, Twitter or Facebook, or video channels over more established news sources. CM and F’inn point out that Baby Boomers are the most likely of all the generations to be worried about their privacy. Most generations want targeted ads, but for Gen Z it is especially important and they tend to tune out those that aren’t. YouTube is also a huge source of information for Gen Z.

More from UB: What are Gen Z’s top priorities when looking at colleges?

“Many higher ed marketers are focusing their communication on Gen Z as their primary student population, and this group has unique preferences that require a different approach to messaging than the other generations we looked at,” said Lou Riordan, director at F’inn. “This report ensures that higher ed marketers don’t fall victim to assuming that the next generation will amplify trends from the previous one, as that is not always the case.”

In the report, CM and F’inn say college teams should be wary about how they are reaching out to each of the subgroup in their targeted pools, particularly when it comes to seeking donations. A strategy of phone calls that might work to attract the interest of Baby Boomers likely won’t work for younger generations, who will be more apt to open and respond to communications that are delivered via email or text. As many similar surveys have revealed, email is still king for all generations, well ahead of social media or chatbots, with an equal 35% preferring it over other communication strategies. College teams also should avoid stereotyping: Gen Z is nearly equivalent to its predecessors in terms of education gained (with 94% having earned a high school diploma or better), and Millennials and Gen X actually prefer digital learning more than Gen Z, according to the survey.


Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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