Buyer personas form the bedrock of all marketing, and inbound marketing in particular. Failing to understand personas will waste resources and produce lackluster results.

A persona represents a particular demographic to whom the campaign is speaking. Done effectively, a persona is a fictional person who mirrors the goals and concerns of thousands of real people. Personas distinguish the types of people who read your content, and they allow for content tailored to their needs as they follow the buyer’s journey.

Fortunately, choosing the basic personas of those taking to the internet to choose a higher education destination destination isn’t that difficult. However, each is vastly different from the next. Here are the essential three higher education marketing personas we’ve identified.

Higher Education Persona #1: The High School Teenager

student on laptop

Students about to graduate high school are tech-savvy in their search for a university to attend.

Think back to the final years of high school. Who could have predicted where we are today?

Most students have no idea what they intend to do for a living when they decide which colleges to pursue — and they typically don’t know when they arrive on campus, either. They are looking for a place where they feel confident they can find their calling and put new life experiences under their belt. For young people, this defines the “college experience.”

Don’t try to sell a degree to a 17-year-old. Instead, guide them to the conclusion that this campus community is the best place for them to shape their future.

Marketing the Higher Education Experience

Young people are looking for the “college experience.” Marketing an experience is a vague thing to do. When considering content for prospective young students — as well as their online search habits — keep in mind some of these things that are significant to this persona:

  • Diversity of study areas
  • Vibrant campus life
  • The local community
  • Athletic opportunities
  • Student organizations
  • Scholarship possibilities

It’s no surprise this persona is likely the most tech-savvy and social media-connected of the bunch. Expect high rates of mobile and tablet searches and visits. Paid advertising on Facebook may be particularly useful: not only because high school students are all over Facebook, but also because the platform allows for hyper-specific targeting.

Persona #2: Targeting the Higher Education Parent

parents on laptop

Parents conduct their own search in the college hunt — but they do it much differently than their children do.

This is the parent of Persona #1. Parents conduct their own research in the college search because, well, they don’t trust their kids to make such a big decision alone. The parent may also be footing a chunk of the bill.

Persona #2 has deeper life experiences that shape their view of the role of higher education. He or she knows what it’s like to pursue a career, pay bills, save for the future and raise a family. They want their child to be prepared to do the same someday.

What Parents Look for in a College or University

Obviously, parents want to send their kids to a school that’s safe and full of enriching experiences. But what Persona #2 really wants to know is that their child’s degree is going to mean something in the real world. This parent may be about to pay an astronomical sum of money over several years to secure, for all intents and purposes, a piece of paper for their child. They need to know that it’s worth it. They need to know that the name of the school on that degree carries credibility that will benefit their child for the rest of his or her life.

What makes a school stand out is a different set of things than what will convince their children. Base content geared towards Persona #2 around things like:

  • Employment rate after graduation
  • Average starting salary
  • On-site career center services
  • National rankings
  • Professional networking opportunities in the job market
  • Notable alumni, focusing more on job title

Parents are more likely than prospective students to search for specific schools within a university to assess their credibility. They may also make use of online reviews of your university from parents of your students. “Best _____ schools” searches are more likely to come from parents, and they are the ones most impressed by a U.S. News & World Report ranking.

A parent’s role in the college search is an extension of parenting. They want the best possible future for their child.

Persona #3: Adults, aka ‘Non-Traditional Students’

woman on computer at work

The average age of first-time college students has been on the rise for years.

Persona #3 encompasses people 25 and over who, for one reason or another, postponed their college education until now. There could be any number of reasons for this decision, but some common ones include:

  • Military service
  • Family obligations
  • Financial problems
  • A previous career path that fizzled out

Though these folks are referred to as “non-traditional students,” they have become increasingly common on college campuses in recent years. According to government statistics, the number of nontraditional students in undergraduate programs increased by 19 percent between 2003 and 2013. In all, people over 25 represent 38 percent of all students enrolled in higher education.

To ignore marketing to this demographic would be a huge mistake for colleges and universities.

Marketing to a Later-in-Life College Student

An adult heading to college later in life than most is more likely to arrive with a career path in mind than a recent high school graduate. They’ve likely concluded that to make good money and live more comfortably than they have been, a college degree is essential.

This person may search for particular school within a university. He or she may take particular note of:

  • Career center services (Will they be able to find a job when they are done?)
  • Networking opportunities
  • Employer recruitment (Do employers come to this school in search of qualified candidates?)

It’s important that content offered to this persona convey an understanding that, in 2016, finding your career might mean going to school at an unconventional age. If your marketing efforts don’t address the concerns of this persona, they may expect to feel out of place on campus, lost in a crowd of youngsters with whom they have little in common. If that happens, they’ll cross you off their list.

One final note: When we speak of non-traditional students on campus, it’s important to note that we aren’t referring to “continuing education,” or “adult education” — non-degree programs with different admission requirements that were designed almost exclusively for adult students, many of whom are already employed and on a career path they intend to continue. This is an important student demographic, but it’s a topic for another day.

Need Help Creating Your Own Personas?

Download Our Guide For Creating A Buyer Persona

How’s Your Higher Education Marketing Strategy?

The days of recruiting your student body via mailers are gone. Marketing successfully online requires a strong, multi-channel paid advertising and content strategy — one that takes into account the desires and concerns of those whom you wish to bring to your campus. Higher education is yet another industry in which buyer personas are essential.

Is your higher ed marketing strategy driven by personas, or do you need to define them? We create data-driven personas for our clients, and we use those personas to build effective marketing strategies that deliver results. Get in touch with us today to learn how we can help you better understand and reach the students you want to recruit.