The New Kids on the Block

By Natalie Squance

How University Marketing Can Connect with a Gen Z Audience

You’ve finessed your Instagram game, mastered the art of hashtags, and have even got stakeholders on board with your TikTok plans. As a savvy marketer in higher education, you know the importance of tapping into the zeitgeist and have made it your mission to get to know what makes the newest generation tick. 

You know that reaching Gen Z through their favourite digital platforms is non-negotiable. 

You know that Gen Z accounts for 32% of the global population.

You know that 60% live in urban areas. 

Hell, you even know that the preferred colour is Gen Z green (move over, Millennial pink). 

But do you know what they value

Generation Z is the largest generation in human history and the first generation of true digital natives. Politically engaged and passionate about social change, Gen Z is the most diverse and soon to be the most educated generation to date. 

“…they make decisions and relate to institutions in a highly analytical and pragmatic way. That is why, for us, Gen Z is ‘True Gen’.”

– Generation Z and its Implications for Companies, Mckinsey

Why Simply Existing On Social Media Isn’t Enough

Gen Z climate protestor holds sign that reads 'We Are The Change'

In the competitive world of higher education, what’s the magic behind the institutions that nail their marketing? The secret is rooted in Gen Z’s desire for authenticity: true purpose. 

There’s a clear demand that their decisions and opinions be shaped by real people. Sticking to the status quo and treating them as a mere audience to present top-heavy brand messaging isn’t going to cut it. That goes for taking a stand for the sake of a marketing message, too. It’s time to get real about your purpose and mission. Your Gen Z students are quick to identify cliched and unoriginal content and can flag inauthentic brands faster than you can say “#Boomer”.

This is a generation focused on channelling and leading cultural conversations and craves connection through shared values. By showing how your university is working to make a difference in the world, you’ll engage new students looking to do the same. Make your content real. Make it authentic. Make it meaningful.

“After learning a brand supports a social cause or is socially responsible, Gen Z are 85% more likely to trust a brand”.

– Fuse Marketing

The Power of Purpose for Your University

With a recent study suggesting that over half of 16-19-year-olds think all university marketing looks like same, creating a deeper connection through a clear and relevant purpose could be the competitive differentiator to win Gen Z’s vote. Purpose and a compelling offering combined makes for a perfect recipe for building connection and a unified community. Start by taking a step back and looking at your university’s brand and ask yourself these key questions:

  • What do we fight for?
  • Who fights for us?
  • Who or what do we unite? 
  • What drives the organisation forward?

Hand Over the Keys. Let Your Students Steer the Way

If building a connection with Gen Z requires that you speak the same language, then you’ve hit the jackpot. You have an advantage that other brands simply don’t have. Your Gen Z students. 

Dialogue with students is the most powerful tool a university marketing department can have. It allows you to become a marketing ventriloquist, speaking to your students in a relatable way and in a voice other than your own. Get to know their personal and emotional narratives by creating a student-led steering group. These stories, told in their own words, will help to form marketing strategies that are truly authentic. 

Gen Z is a diverse group pushing for greater authenticity – not just between people, but in interactions with organisations too. How can universities achieve this? Simple: Don’t fake it ’til you make it. Listen, ask, and let your students lead the way. 

What’s the next step for your university marketing strategy?

To chat with us about connecting with your audience, get in touch via our Education page.


Written in collaboration with Naomi Couper

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