Digital marketing – the use of digital technologies such as the Internet, mobile phones, display advertising, and other machine-readable formats – is a critical component to your recruitment efforts.
And digital marketing is also one heck of a challenge thanks to continually changing digital technology, your audience’s changing habits (what digital technology they use and how they use it) and a very crowded playing field vying for your audience’s attention by creating a lot of noise and distractions.
That’s why so many colleges and universities are asking how best to use digital marketing to grab the attention and interest of Gen Z, as well as to motivate them to take appropriate action for their stage in their buying process – such as to request more information, attend an event, apply, and enroll.
Here’s what’s working in the world today – and a few things to keep on your radar for the near future.
Smartphone (and design of websites, landing pages, forms)
Ninety-eight percent of Gen Z owns a smartphone; fifty-two percent say that their smartphone is their most crucial Internet device, and Gen Z spends an average of 3 hours and 38 minutes online daily on their smartphones.
Why is this important? This audience will be visiting your site, using their smartphone, to gather the information that will help them select an institution. Make sure you design a web site/landing page that lives up to if not exceeds their expectations for the tech they use; otherwise, there will be disappointed site visitors turning to your competition.
Chatbots & 24/7 Personalized Service
Gen Z prefers fast, easy access to accurate, relevant information when they need so you need to give some serious thought to chatbots – a computer program or artificial intelligence that is designed to simulate conversation using auditory or textual methods.
Think of it as Live Chat without the live human part of the equation.
To learn more, check out how Starbucks uses chatbots, and how Microsoft’s Xiaoice chatbot passed as a human and how Chinese males “fell in love with her.”
Social Media & Apps
When on their smartphones, Gen Z is also using social media apps, so the question becomes ‘What are their preferred social media platforms?’
Based on this data, Gen Z’s love for Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat are due to visuals – well-lit photographs, videos, snaps.
That means that if you’re going to leverage these platforms, you’re going to need quality photography and videos.
Video – Recorded & Streaming Live
From stunning photographs to recorded and live-streaming video, Gen Z is visually-driven, preferring to watch rather than read.
According to Criteo, Gen Z consume an average of 23 hours of video content per week.
With that level of interest, Facebook Live can offer you a fantastic opportunity to provide a campus tour or a detailed Q&A session for prospective students. Video is also an effective way to leverage on-campus events – for example, check out this Global Speaker Series from Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Email Still Works
According to Campaign Monitor, 58% of Gen Z checks their email multiple times per day, and another 23% check their email at least once-per-day. And, according to the same report, approximately 32% of Gen Z prefers that brands email them “a couple of times per week.”
Well, Campaign Monitor also reported that “Additionally, 36.1% say they open emails based on a personalized subject line and 35.1% say they open because of the graphics, images, or branding in the email.” And 83% like receiving promotional offers.
The big question is, “does email marketing work?” Well, students ranked emails from a college or university as the most trustworthy source for college information – so the next question is, “how can we improve the performance of email marketing campaigns?’ (And that’s addressed later in this article under ‘Closing Thoughts.’)
With the growth and adoption of mobile and desktop voice search assistants such as Siri, Cortana and OK Google – you need to be aware of how search engines are adjusting their algorithms, so Google is prioritizing pages that answer common voice search questions. For some insights into how to optimize for voice search, check out Voice Search Optimization Guide: 6 Steps for 2019 at Search Engine Watch.
Display Ads are Dying; Collaboration is on the Rise
Don’t try to sell Gen Z – they dislike that –, and that is resulting in more than 51% using ad blockers and the ability to skip online ads three seconds faster than Gen X.
What’s getting through to this audience? They are. Or should I say their peers are – and they are doing it through collaborative marketing?
Oh, yes. That link for collaborative marketing is supposed to take you to “Collaborative Marketing is the Next Big Thing,” published by Forbes in 2013. Here’s why I selected that source – this has been something that many have attempted over the years, and many have found to be very useful for a short period. Then, managing those not working for you reared its rather ugly head and caused these efforts to disappear.
My suggestion for making collaborative marketing work – as with all things, moderation is key. Do what you do quickly and easily. Keep it simple.
Influencer Marketing, Word-of-Mouth & Reviews
Influencer marketing is “…a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market on social media. It identifies the individuals who influence potential customers and orients marketing activities around these influencers.”
For those of you over 35-years of age, think ‘spokesperson.’ Same thing, different generation.
The point here is that Gen Z prefers hearing about brands from third-parties – be they paid, as some influencers are, or ‘enthusiastic supporters’ that believe so strongly in your institution and programs that they share their belief with anyone who listens.
As the benefits of collaboration mentioned earlier, influencers, user reviews, and testimonials work wonders in the digital world.
On the Horizon – Visual Search, 5G
What’s coming up on the horizon? Visual search uses an image to identify relevant online content. For example, check out Google Images – drag and drop an image on that page, and Google comes back with pertinent information tied to the picture.
How can this work for you? Imagine the prospective student of tomorrow searches with your institution’s logo or an image of a building on campus or even an image used in one of your promotional efforts.
Now, as for 5G (5th generation) wireless technology – it’s here. The challenge is understanding what it means to digital marketing.
Imagine hopping in an autonomous vehicle and calling up Amazon Alexa to prep for dinner. A holographic display appears on your dashboard and directs you through the steps of a recipe, based on your diet preferences and meal history, as you drive to Whole Foods to pick up the ingredients, which are already being assembled robotically.
That is a (realistic) vision of the future with 5G, according to Scott Singer, managing director at consultancy DDG.
Don’t Assume Traditional Media is Dead
Forgive me for jumping up on this digital soapbox for a moment, but this needs to be said – and you need to hear it.
Don’t assume traditional media is dead because it isn’t. You need to know how to use it properly for a new audience.
Check out this about television and Gen Z. SPOILER: They are watching traditional TV and even the commercials!
And direct mail? How about a 4.4% response rate versus 0.12% for email?
Closing Thoughts: What Matters
This article focuses on digital marketing – and though digital is an important topic, how you use it and what you have to say is what success is all about.
Gen Z hates to be “marketed to,” and they respond better to brands whose vision and mission match with their values.
What your institution does to make the world better, and how to present that information are key factors impacting your digital – and traditional – marketing success.
What does this mean, exactly?
Bragging about “the new rock-climbing wall in the student recreation center” and being “flexible and convenient” isn’t going to be as effective as “here’s how a recent graduate of this program helped make a difference….” or “…here’s how our students put what they learn to work and help…”
And when that message comes from those students, graduates, beneficiaries – the message can carry more weight, and have the most significant possible impact on Gen Z.