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Recruiting Intelligence

6 Digital Consumer Trends University's Need to Understand

Universities are constantly on the cusp of behavior changes since their young undergraduate applicants include a larger percentage of early adopters of technology than the overall population. Even graduate applicants and the non-traditional students are made up of large groups of digital natives. This reality will have an impact how universities recruit and teach students and stay in touch with alumni. Those willing to make an investment in the very near term will quickly outpace the competition. Let us explain...

We recently reviewed two research reports for you that document changes in consumer behavior in the digital world:

Let’s first look at the broad consumer trends identified by McKinsey:Top iConsumer Trends For 2012.

  • The trends 1,2,3 and 5 presented above are particularly relevant for your enrollment marketing. They indicate the trend toward mobile access to content.

These shifts in behavior to mobile, video, participatory and on-demand content consumption affect your messaging and content delivery as you seek to attract and recruit students.

The overall percentages in the McKinsey report are based on the entire population. Importantly, the McKinsey consumer segmentation shows stark differences between consumers. “Mobile omnivores,” as McKinsey calls the group consuming large amount of data and mobile content, will be a significant percentage of your audience. Smart phones have become nearly ubiquitous among the younger generations -- certainly among those able to afford college. Your website is still central as the underlying foundation of your content presentation. The question today is: how and where will your audience access your website?

We think of these consumer changes as opportunities for universities to deliver relevant content in the right format, accessible anytime and anywhere, to meet prospective student’s expectations and needs to learn about your programs. Your admissions marketing will have to adjust to these expectations.

At the tactical level, you will need marketing support (content production) and IT support (hosting and dissemination systems along with tracking/analytics to know what is succeeding and what is not).

We would highlight two opportunities for digital communication with prospective students. We recommend that universities use social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In) as paid marketing channels as much as a free digital engagement and communication channels. Consider this: consumers are using mobile devices to compare products and communicate within every retail outlet. What do you think your prospective students are doing on their phones during their campus tours and visits? Can you use this unique face-to-face time to connect and engage with prospective students digitally as well. You bet you can!

This is what McKinsey means with the digital trends 4 and 6 above:

  • Social shift - from growth to monetization
  • Retail shift – from channel to experience
Use digital and mobile to meet your customer where they are, exactly when they are there.

The Noel Levitz report reinforces the points made by McKinsey specifically for the student applicant pool. By way of context, we want to highlight that Noel Levitz ranks the most important resources U.S. students use to learn about a university as:

  • The campus visit
  • Meeting admissions officers at fairs
  • Email and calling someone in admissions

Figure 7 below from the report shows which resources are influential during the search with website and email topping the list. Also important are third-party college sites and social media.

Figure 17 makes the point raised previously that mobile access is critical. 70 percent of the students have accessed the university website on a mobile device. And, remember these are U.S. students. International students have an even higher propensity to use mobile devices for their internet access.

McKinsey states a few imperatives for all executives that include a need to invest in consumer insight to understand rapidly changing behavior and build maintain a competitive advantage using deep analytical skills. Innovative teams will integrate emerging digital, social and mobile tools into more traditional “voice of the customer processes.”

The reach digital marketing allows today, combined with the tracking tools (analytics) available to tell you specifically what is working and what is not, give you new, robust opportunities. And many universities out there are slow to adopt these new techniques.

Bottom Line: Those acting relatively quickly today will quickly outpace competitors reticent to make this kind of investment. Universities need to be fast followers with their digital capabilities -- your prospective students are leading the way.

How many Students cite the following resources as influential

Source: Noel Levitz: E-Expectations 2013

Have Students looked at a college Web on a mobile device?

Source: Noel Levitz: E-Expectations 2013

Topics: Insights