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International Persona Development: 101

International Persona Development: 101

You've heard us talk about the importance of persona development for your marketing work.

It's time to take this conversation to the next level. You're really going to want to share this post with your team, again. (Have you asked them to subscribe to the blog yet?)

The persona is such an essential tool in our industry, but do you really know what a persona is? Or why it's so important? And if so, when was the last time you stepped back to really examine best practices for developing your personas?

Switching topics for just a sec...Ben is in Moscow this week presenting at the Forum on International Education about digital marketing techniques to reach the global student market. Watch this space for a post with insights about the Russian student market at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels, as well as the Russian market's level of interest in certificate and online learning opportunities. The US-Russian relationship is at a fascinating point. There will be some great stories we are eager to share with you.

In this week's blog, we're taking it back to the basics. We invite you to join us for an quick tutorial on persona development and we offer you the option to download Intead's basic Persona Development worksheet. 

First things first... 

What is a Persona? 

A persona is essentially a profile of an imaginary individual that encapsulates the unique characteristics of your target audience. In your case, this should be different for each target audience you are trying to contact globally. This could be segmented by country, degree level (graduate, undergraduate), degree type (masters, certificate etc.) and more.

Think about it – would you have responded to the same messages as an 18 year old looking for an undergrad institution as you would when applying for an MBA while working full-time? 

Do you think a Malaysian student and a Colombian student are both motivated by the same things and go to the same websites to gather information? Of course not. And you'd know that because you've been following our Know Your Neighborhood publications for the past 3 years...right?

Why Are Personas So Important? 

Creating strong personas that accurately represent your target audience will help align all of your recruitment and marketing communications efforts. If you are able to distribute the personas to every touchpoint for prospective students in your institution, your target audience experience will be consistent and in-line with their expectations.

Think about it – if you already understand the motivations of the Indian student who contacts you looking for information, won't you be able to provide stronger support and be a better advocate for your institution? Won't your prospective student respond more positively when you show how well you understand her?

Important for your entire marketing team: your personas should always guide your messaging. What are your key selling points in a particular market? What will resonate with your audience? What makes your program the right choice?  This should include messaging that appears in everything from your initial ads pulling leads into the top of the funnel, to email marketing to nurture those leads, admissions webinars and 1:1 recruitment calls.

Keeping your personas front-and-center in the recruitment process makes the entire process more student–centric and makes them feel welcome before they ever set foot on campus. 

Last point on importance of personas: your personas clearly articulate to your campus colleagues how global marketing works and what you are up against. When you show your varied personas for different parts of the world and the varied ads/content you produce for each audience segment, suddenly it becomes clearer why your department needs marketing funds. Where domestic recruitment ads can survive on a simpler set of messaging themes and designs, global recruitment ads require more variety to be successful in-market. Obvious once stated. Hard to get non-marketing colleagues to buy-in.

What Should a Persona Include? 

Your personas should begin with essential demographic characteristics. You can probably find these in the averages from your existing enrollment data if you are already targeting this audience (or extrapolate about the students you are trying to reach).

  • Age
  • Location
  • Career track
  • Industry
  • Education level
  • Financial situation

However, you shouldn't stop there. It is also important to examine the psychographic characteristics of your target audience. This may be harder to examine and require a little more qualitative research among your current students and alumni.

Don't know an answer? Ask. We always like to say "a little pizza can earn you a wealth of insights." The areas you should be exploring include:

  • Motivations – what is driving them to make this major life decision? 
  • Fears – what are they trying to avoid? 
  • Goals – what do they want to achieve? 
  • Influencers – whose input do they value? 
  • Cultural factors – what habits or desires are influenced by culture? 

Don't worry if you can't find every single answer. It's just important to start somewhere. Your personas will become more complex and data rich over time. As you recruit more students, talk to them and learn more about the audiences you are trying to reach. 

Where Should I Begin? 

Start with what you know. Every day on campus you probably walk by students that represent others you would like to attract – confident, successful and most of all, happy. These are your best fit students.

Ask them how they got here. Why they chose your institution. Who influenced their decision-making process. Get detailed. Ask them to describe the scene when they reviewed the acceptance letter(s) and made the decision. What were their other options? Did they use an agent or apply directly? Who did they call to share the news? Did they post anything on social media? All of these questions will help you dig a little deeper into the minds of your prospective students. 

To help get you started, our Intead Plus subscribers have access to some very helpful worksheets including persona development that addresses key information you should include, and a template to help you lay out the information. Find the info you need right here.