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The Value of Buyer Personas in Higher Education

Creating buyer personas offers you an opportunity to create content that actually matters, and is memorable to prospective students.

Colleges today are receiving more applications than ever before. According to The New York Times, applications at more than 70 percent of colleges have increased for 10 of the past 15 years. While this statistic is certainly good news for admissions professionals, it also means that colleges and universities must address the unique needs and pain points of a larger number of students.

In other words, a general sales pitch isn’t going to cut it anymore. In order to form a real connection with prospective students and stand out among all of their other choices– you need to get to know them first. Discovering prospective students’ needs, wants, and common pain points when going through the admissions process offers you an opportunity to create content that actually matters, and is memorable to prospective students.

In traditional marketing, this process of getting to know the ideal customer is known as creating buyer personas. For colleges and universities, these personas are representations of your prospective students. Student personas are research-based representations of your ideal applicant and the process they go through when researching, applying to, and deciding to attend a certain school.

When taken advantage of by admissions teams in the higher education space, student personas will ultimately lead to more successful and effective marketing. Here’s why:

Your messaging will be stronger

If you aren’t sure who the students are that you’re targeting, your messaging will be weak. By trying to appeal to everyone, you will essentially reach no one. On the flip side, once you’ve identified your student personas, you will be able to use language that appeals to them and provide solutions to their problems that seem tailor-made.

To demonstrate, picture two high school students considering attending “Urban Public University.” One student, Amy, is from the local market, and is mainly considering the school because she will be able to commute from where she lives. The other student, Jason, is from a rural town out-of-state and is mainly considering UPU for the networking opportunities and big city feel. Although both students are interested in the same school, they are attracted to it for vastly different reasons. The messaging used in admissions marketing needs to reflect these differences.

You won’t waste money

Understanding your student personas will save you money when spending your advertising budget. This is especially true when advertising on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Each of these platforms offers the option to create highly targeted ads for very specific demographics. If you know that one of your student personas is an out of state student who is interested in taking online MBA courses, you can ensure your ads only appear in front of people who fit this criteria.

You can identify common pain points

Student personas help you discover any objections students may have. If you understand your prospective students’ most common questions and concerns about attending your school, you’ll be able to address them more directly through your marketing efforts. Sure, you can use testimonials from current students and alumni to showcase the benefits of attending your school – but when those testimonials come directly from people who fit your student persona, they’ll be seen as more credible by prospective students. This is because millennials almost always trust their peers over professionals. In fact, millennials trust content created by their peers 50% more than other media, according to a study by the global research company Ipsos. You can use this to your advantage by leveraging social media to share positive feedback from current students who fit your student persona.

Although they can be time-consuming to create, student personas are they key to an effective content marketing strategy that will attract the qualified applicants you want to your school. Student personas help identify what information is important to prospective students – which can have major implications for all of your marketing content and messaging going forward. Use student personas to support marketing decisions that will ultimately provide meaningful information to students at all stages of their college search process.

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