Personas: The Secret To Even Greater Success


Having worked with a lot of colleges and universities over the past 15-years or so, I was disappointed to see the CMO share their personas with me.

High school graduate.

Transfer student.

International student.


Graduate student.

Post graduate student.


That was it.  No demographics or psychographics. No insights at all into their wants and needs, expectations and perceptions.  And nothing about their decision-making processes or selection criteria.

(NOTE: Depending on your strategy, you might also need to develop personas for what Bart Caylor at Caylor Solutions refers to as “Influencers,” and “Advancement.”)

How the hell can anyone be expected to create relevant content for without understanding these details?  (Hint: You can’t.)

Why Your Personas Need To Be Detailed

I wrote back in 2018 about personas, both B2B and B2C, and offer an “How to Create Personas” overview with templates in my Guide to Content Marketing (2020).

You want your personas as detailed as possible because they will drive your media planning and buying, messaging and offers.  And though personas do take time and effort to develop and maintain, understanding your audience and the segments within your audience will make your recruitment, retention, fundraising and other programs more effective.

A great way to get started is with your existing data.  And for now, let’s focus on students.

One approach that has been highly effective for my clients has been ranking students based on certain criteria so you can identify your “ideal student.”

Think of it this way, you want to recruit successful students so why not identify “success” in your current students and then use that to recruit new students.

Take the data you have on your students over the past 24-months.  Then rank them on factors that you feel define your “ideal” student – GPA, credit hours completed, etc.  For each factor, divide the list into quintiles and give those that rank in the top quintile 5-points, and those in the 2nd highest quintile 4-points, etc.

Once you have done this for all of your factors, total up the points awarded and the top point earners are your ideal students.

From there, take those ideal students to a data company like InfoUSA or Claritas and have them append data to your files so you have more in-depth demographic and psychographic data.

The next step is interviewing and surveying.  What you want to learn is their wants and needs, expectations and perceptions concerning higher education, your institution and the competition.

You also want to learn about how they go about identifying and selecting an institution and program of study.

As I mentioned earlier, this level of understanding will help you with your media planning and buying, messaging and offer strategies.  And that will result in a variety of outcomes that can include a lower cost to acquire new students, a larger quantity of high-quality new students, higher retention and graduation rates and more.

Closing Thoughts

When was the last time you spoke with your students to better understand their wants and needs, expectations and perception regarding higher education?

If it has been longer than 6-months, you need to get back out there.  And, to be honest, think about how to maintain an ongoing conversation with your audiences so you can start to identify shifts as they develop rather than after they take place.

This doesn’t have to cost a lot, and when done correctly, this work will pay for itself in new enrollments and retention.

In the past 6-months, your audiences have gone through a whole lot of change – you need to understand how all of that change impacts their perception of higher education, as well as their needs and expectations.

Think of your personas as a snapshot – and set up a system for taking more frequent pictures because you need to understand your audiences if you hope to achieve your institution’s enrollment and fundraising goals.

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