Winning over Generation COVID: a guide for education marketers

The start of a new academic year at college or university should herald busy lecture theatres, making new friends, exploring new places and generally enjoying some newfound freedom and independence. The reality for many students beginning their studies in 2020 meant having to isolate in restricted social bubbles with people they hadn’t met before, unable to attend face-to-face lectures or visit their friends and family back home. So it’s no surprise to learn that young people aged 12–24, dubbed Generation COVID – are one of the worst-affected groups following the pandemic, particularly in terms of their career prospects and mental health.

With over half of students saying they felt dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their experience in the autumn 2020 term, how can marketers in higher education and further education start to rebuild trust with prospective students and boost enrolment?

  1. Talk to prospects and their parents

The oldest millennials are approaching 40 so many of them will be parents to prospective students, as well as those in Generation X (born 1965–80). They take a more intimate, less hierarchical approach to parenting than previous generations, so should be an important target audience. Use language that includes parents and prospects alike and make sure you have a presence on channels that capture both demographics.

  1. Demonstrate value for money

If they’re going to spend thousands of pounds a year on tuition fees, not to mention the cost of living, young people are increasingly looking for extras that will add value to their student experience. Older generations didn’t have to pay tuition fees, so budget-conscious prospects – and their parents – are looking for value-added offerings such as resources (online and offline), free-to-use facilities, focus groups or discussion forums, academic expertise and opportunities for cross-course collaboration.

  1. Highlight their career prospects

With their post-pandemic future more uncertain than ever, you need to demonstrate to the next cohort that you can equip them with the skills they need for the world of work. Employability should be front and centre of your marketing activity – highlight your careers service, placements or internship opportunities, mentor programmes and success stories from recent graduates who your audience can relate to.

  1. Show you care about their wellbeing

Referred to by some as ‘a sacrificed generation’, many young people may be feeling pushed aside as they have suffered years of educational disruption, a surge in unemployment and the psychological effects of isolation and social distancing. Prospective students and their parents need to know that they will be looked after during their studies. With young people fighting the entrenched stigma around mental illness and championing wellbeing, putting the emotional, physical and mental support you offer to students will be well received.

  1. Don’t exclude stay-at-home students

While the impact of the pandemic and Brexit is still being felt, higher education institutions are looking closer to home to recruit the numbers they need. And with rising uncertainty about their financial future, it’s no wonder that increasing numbers of students choosing to commute. This important segment of your audience is more likely to be the first in their family to attend university, to come from a lower-income household, to be mature students and to have an ethnic minority background – make sure your content is inclusive and relevant to their needs.

  1. Digital first approach

Already immersed in the digital world, young people have been pushed further online after a couple of years trapped at home. From fully digital or video prospectuses to well considered and interactive online open days, your marketing and communications need to consistently meet your students where they’re at. Social media can also give you a great opportunity in creating a transparent and authentic voice, for example by having current students answer Q&As on TikTok.

  1. Sustainability is not an optional extra

University of Gloucestershire, the UK’s most sustainable university, is leading by example by axing their prospectus, sending zero waste to landfill and including sustainability in all their degrees. Shout about your sustainability credentials but don’t be tempted to overstate your offering, otherwise you risk being accused of greenwashing.

The golden thread for any digital marketing content for prospective students is that you need to get to the point quickly. Generation COVID have grown up surrounded by a deluge of online information, so make sure you get your message across clearly and concisely. If you can win them over in the first few seconds, chances are you’ll draw them in to find out more.

Contact our team if you need a helping hand with your education marketing strategy.