How to See The People In Your Audience Demographics… As People

If you want to know how to attract and retain your higher education student population, start by identifying their unifying characteristics – the parts of their identity that don’t point to their demographic existence but their humanity. This framework for understanding the foundational aspects of people’s lives and interests that unite them as a group is fundamental to creating a targeted, human-centric, and holistic marketing campaign. By understanding these essential elements—their values, passions, and beliefs—you can craft content that speaks directly to them authentically.

Who is your student?

Think about the students you want to reach. What do you already know about them? What type of information could help you understand your student’s needs better?

Think about how much time and effort you’re willing to dedicate to finding out more about them. Consider creating a student persona, a 360-degree representation of their lives that includes a deep dive into their families, friends, community, and other identifying factors. It is a fundamental step to crafting marketing campaigns that speak directly to their needs and make them feel seen and welcome at your campus or program. And while this is an integral part of the process, it requires dedicated time and attention and often includes interviewing current students, attending community events, facilitating focus groups, and gathering information from 1st party researchers.

If you use personas to get to know your students, consider adding a student journey to your marketing preparation. A student journey is an adaptation of a customer journey that shows where a prospective student is in the marketing funnel. The marketing funnel is a graph that illustrates what level of decision-making the student is in – awareness, consideration, engagement, conversion, or advocacy.

Once you’ve defined their journey and decision-making patterns, it’s time to fill in the blanks. For example, if your goal is to recruit students to your Career Education programs, what kind of data would help reach that goal? Consider where these prospective students are likely spending their time online (social media? Forums? Video game streaming?) and if there are any trends in the program you’re recruiting for and their interests (2-step processes, gamification, influencers).

What inspires them to act?

Beyond the persona and student journey, there are many attributes to consider when building your marketing. If you want to know what inspires your target audience to act, start by looking at the bigger picture. What are their hopes, dreams, and fears? How do they feel about the world and themselves?

If we return to the Career Education recruitment example, we will look at our prospective students’ inner world: what are their hopes for their careers, and how do they align with the campus brand? What are the most fearful of when looking for a job, and how can the Career Education program mitigate those worries? What about their community and the world at large influences or impacts on how they see their career decisions, and how can the college be their ally?

By understanding what inspires your target audience to act, you can create a cohesive narrative that emotionally appeals to them, making your brand and marketing messages more impactful.

Take the next step

Identifying your student can be a lot of work, but it’s also a great exercise in understanding and refining your message. You may not know all of the answers, but by considering these questions—and perhaps others we didn’t cover—you will get closer to defining who your student is and how you can recruit them than ever before. Researching and learning about students and communities takes time and expertise. 3fold is happy to help.

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