Targeting Gen Z: A Marketing Guide For Higher Ed


In higher education, understanding and adapting to generational shifts is a necessity to survive and thrive. The landscape of higher education marketing is shifting, and what resonated with past generations of students may fall flat with today's tech-savvy, socially-conscious Gen Z, which is generally defined as those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s. In this post, we’ll explore marketing strategies that appeal to the distinct and dynamic generation that is Gen Z.

Understanding Gen Z: Short Attention Spans, Big Dreams

Gen Z has an average attention span of 8 seconds, compared to Millennials' 12 seconds, which means that traditional digital marketing strategies no longer have the same effectiveness. Ditching long-winded brochures for quick-hitting content seems to have the greatest effect. Video-centric platforms like TikTok and Instagram are prime territory for meeting Gen Z where they are and creating a genuine connection. These mobile-first platforms create digital experiences that are easily digestible, making them perfect for Gen Z's short attention span.

Gen Z is tech-savvy, so by leveraging cutting-edge technologies, institutions can enhance their outreach efforts and engagement. Staying ahead of the curve is critical for higher ed to relate to and communicate with prospective students. Here are a few digital marketing strategies that can be effective:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Chatbots can answer admissions questions 24/7, and AI assistants can guide students through FAFSA applications at all times of day. Georgia State University (GSU) is already piloting such innovative uses of AI. However, AI does have a reputation for sometimes giving out incorrect information and presenting misinformation as authoritative, highlighting the limitations of generative AI. Marketers need to make sure to only use AI when it’s appropriate and with all necessary safeguards in place.

  • Immersive Experiences: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) campus tours can transport students virtually, showcasing facilities and student life. Duke University has also used VR and AR  for virtual field trips, simulations, and training. 

  • Text Power: Automated text reminders for upcoming deadlines can give students a gentle nudge and keep them on track. Cal Lutheran delivered a successful weekly video campaign via text message for students who opted in. 

Personalized Communication: Building Trust and Authenticity

A personalized approach to marketing goes beyond just using the recipient's name in emails; it's also about embracing their interests and concerns to strengthen your brand story. Colleges and universities need to understand their audience and address their anxieties and excitement. Gen Z values genuine connection, and here are some ways to establish that trust:

Sustainability & Social Responsibility: Values Matter

Gen Z aren't just looking to enhance their resumes; they’re often seeking schools with a conscience that aligns with their own. Gen Z students see higher education as transcending knowledge; it’s about building a better world, not just a brighter future for themselves. Institutions that demonstrate a commitment to social issues can resonate deeply with many members of Gen Z, with the school's values sometimes being the “tie-breaker” in their decision of which college to attend. Purpose-driven marketing is one way to break through to Gen Z, as schools are now expected to wear their values on their proverbial sleeve. Putting action behind social issues will develop a stronger brand perception and strengthen the overall marketing efforts. Some issues to consider featuring include:

  • Sustainability: Highlight environmental initiatives and eco-friendly practices on campus.

  • Social Responsibility: Promote diversity and inclusion efforts to attract a generation that highly values these aspects.

  • Student Well-Being: Demonstrate your commitment to student mental health and well-being resources.

Incorporating these values in the school's overall messaging and branding is important. From social media posts to campus events, make sure that your school's values and initiatives are present in all aspects of student life.

Conclusion: A Tailored Approach for a New Generation

Gen Z presents a unique set of characteristics and values that require a different approach to marketing. By understanding Gen Z's needs and preferences and leveraging a mix of strategies (embracing new tech, personalizing communication, and championing values), colleges and universities can develop a winning formula that will lead to increased engagement and, ultimately, enrollment success.


Older Post Beauty & Brains: Why Your Website Needs Both Newer Post UNINCORPORATED Launches Hansei, an AI-Powered Chatbot for Higher Education

Higher Ed News Brief

Sign up to get the top headlines in higher education every week.