4 Critical Gaps: Gen-Z Expectations vs Higher Ed Marketing

89% of higher education marketers believe they have enough budget to meet their marketing goals. 

This is great news, but a number that high certainly surprised me when I first saw it. This stat is from our recent 2024 Higher Education Marketing Report and is just one of several enlightening stats we found. But I think there’s an important nuance here. 

When we asked about the biggest barriers that higher ed marketers face, the two top answers were:

 Lack of time
 Lack of resources

Anecdotally we’ve seen this with clients who have limited freedom to hire new staff or implement new strategies.

Our report should help a bit here. The data was taken from two surveys: One of 203 higher education marketers and a second of 1,493 prospective college students. The goal is to identify gaps between these two groups and provide data-backed insights to help marketers advocate for the time and resources they need to succeed.

So let’s dive into a few of those critical gaps.


#1 – YouTube is Underinvested

Gen-Z spends a ton of their time on YouTube. They also trust more than other platforms and prefer YouTube for researching schools. 45% of students listed YouTube as a trusted or strongly trusted platform for news and information. 

In contrast, only 18% of higher education marketers are prioritizing resources for YouTube. Marketers top 3 platform investments by resources are Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 

This is a mistake.

Our recommendation is for schools to move YouTube higher up on their platform priority list.

Video content, including YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, makes up 61% of preferred social research channels for students. Among those channels, YouTube is the top choice. This preference for YouTube combined with its high trust, makes it a crucial channel for student prospect engagement. 

To meet this preference, institutions should develop a comprehensive YouTube strategy that focuses on answering student prospect questions and showcasing what makes their school unique. 

Additionally, YouTube Shorts should be an important part of any higher ed YouTube strategy today. These engaging short-form videos are a big growth driver for YouTube audiences and are increasingly being highlighted by YouTube. Anchor your short form video production on YouTube by repurposing and publishing across all social channels.


#2 Email Is More Relevant Than Ever

Email doesn’t seem like a great engagement opportunity for Gen-Z, but the data tells a different story. 

When we asked students which channel they preferred hearing from colleges and universities on, email was the top answer, with 55% of students preferring it for updates and information.

On the other side of the equation, marketers signaled that email is the number one channel they’re pulling back resources from over the next 2 years. 

Email is also the highest touch channel for today’s prospective students. They are not spending more time on email compared to YouTube or TikTok of course, but they are checking it more often, with 51% of students saying email is their highest-frequency channel (followed by Instagram and SMS).

Email is a critical touchpoint for students. As students move past high school into college and a career they recognize email as a reliable and direct line of communication. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. 

Higher ed marketers should consider AI tools to help bridge this gap and create more personalized, relevant email content. Email still works, but it does require a higher quality of content today that answers specific school consideration questions and sells your school’s unique attributes. 

Using AI to tailor email content to individual student interests and behaviors can increase relevance and engagement. It’s essential to ensure email remains a key component of your marketing strategy, given its high utility and student preference.


#3 Increase Focus on UGC

Students trust content from their peers far more than influencers or official school accounts. In fact, influencers were the most distrusted source of information by students.

70% of students prefer to consume higher ed marketing materials from other students.

Prospective students want authentic student experiences and opinions, and when they turn to video social channels or Reddit in their school research, they’re ideally looking for unfiltered reviews by other students.

This trust of student generated content provides a credible and relatable perspective that prospective students value. Many schools are already utilizing UGC content on some level, but there is an opportunity across the board to emphasize this tactic more while increasing both UGC video quality and quantity.

These student contributions will look different for each school. Students should be incentivized through upskilling, class credit, or compensation through official roles or internships. Schools should also emphasize diverse student voices and experiences with UGC to build trust and authenticity with a range of student backgrounds, demographics, and career goals. 


#4 Content Topics – Meeting Specific Needs

When we asked students what types of information they wanted to hear more about from schools we identified a few significant gaps. Schools are doing well with meeting higher demand content such as degree, campus culture, and student success stories.

The biggest opportunities to serve more relevant content for student prospects is around job placement, financial aid, housing, and study abroad options. These areas are underrepresented in higher ed marketing strategies on average.

Providing comprehensive and practical information helps students make informed decisions about their education, while also comparing schools more directly. 

To bridge this gap, institutions should expand their content focus to cover practical career and campus life decisions. Examining common student prospect questions and search trends could help inform these topics directly. Look to share video stories of student success in internships, job placements, financial aid, scholarships, and housing setups.

Bridging the gap between Gen-Z expectations and higher ed marketing strategies can be difficult with the many channels, audiences, and goals schools must consider today.  

Anchor your student prospect marketing with a YouTube-first strategy. Consider reallocating resources from less effective platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter/X). This content should feature students and answer practical student questions.

AI is not great at helping you create UGC video content that’s updated and useful. At least not yet. This is an area where creativity and solid content strategy will still shine. 

An area where AI and automation tools can help is leaning into personalized email marketing to make it more engaging and efficient.

Bridging these gaps will build stronger, more authentic relationships with the next generation of students. Your future depends on it.

There’s a ton of additional data and insights in the report. Read the full 2024 Higher Education Marketing Report here and let us know what parts of the report were most helpful for you and your team.

The post 4 Critical Gaps: Gen-Z Expectations vs Higher Ed Marketing appeared first on Convince & Convert.

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