The Direct Network

Buyer Personas: What They Are and Why You Should Make Them for Your School

Posted by Dean Asher on Feb 16, 2016 9:00:00 AM
Topics: Higher Ed, enrollment, buyer personas, Marketing to Students

Enrollment and recruitment can be challenging, for a lot of reasons. It takes a lot of time and resources to maintain or improve your enrollment numbers. With that kind of investment, are you making sure it's paying off as much as possible?

Outside of an obvious change in enrollment figures, it can be hard to measure the success of your recruitment marketing. It can be even harder to determine what needs to change about it from year to year if you don't understand your audience.

Student buyer personas can come in all shapes and sizes.

That's where buyer personas come in. If you haven't heard of them, don't worry — by the time you finish reading, you'll know what they are, how they'll benefit your school and how you can start working with them.

What's a buyer persona?

Marketing automation company Hubspot defines the buyer persona as "a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers."

"Personas help us all ... internalize the ideal customer we're trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans," Hubspot explains. "Having a deep understanding of your buyer persona(s) is critical to driving content creation, product development, sales follow up, and really anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention."

Put more simply and in terms more directed toward higher education, a buyer persona is simply a generalized example of the prospective students you want to attend your school, which you can in turn use to better tailor and structure your messaging.

A buyer's persona is not a real, literal person, but it's one who represents the "average" person in any demographic you're trying to reach. You may not think of students in the context of "customers" in the same way a business might, but personas can still help immensely in understanding them better, and in turn reaching them better during the critical enrollment phase.

It's unlikely that any student you can potentially enroll will be a 100% match for your buyer persona, and that's totally OK. What's important is that the majority of people you're talking to match the persona closely enough that you can use it as a guide when building your messaging.

How many personas do you need?

This will depend entirely on your institution and the types of students you wish to target. However, we suggest starting small and just focusing on a few core personas: something like "Traditional Student Tony" or "Distance Learner Danielle."

How do you create a persona?

If you're unsure where to start, your current students can be a great place to start gathering the information you need to know. Consider trying a focus group or survey to get some key background information if you're unsure of it, but most of the information you'd need to know to construct a persona, you most likely already have.

Things you should ask about your personas as you build them include their age, living situation, goals and challenges, as well as what they're looking for in a school.

Traditional Student Tony is most likely an academically-motivated junior or senior considering his college options early. He probably lives in the same state as your school, but may be from far away if the program you offer in a career path they're interested in is particularly strong or noteworthy. Traditional Student Tony is also likely unsure about paying for college, so they'll be looking for a program that offers good value — whether that's in terms of low tuition, lots of financial aid options or good job placement out of graduation.

Distance Learner Danielle is probably different. She may be an adult juggling her own family and current job with a desire to go to school and earn a degree. It may have been five years since she graduated high school or 20, if she graduated at all. Distance Learner Danielle is most likely looking for a way to learn on her own schedule, online. She might be interested in a vocational degree, and is looking for programs that are flexible and affordable.

These are just a few examples of what a persona may look like. Yours will probably vary in at least a few key ways, but can you see how having a picture of this person in your mind might make it easier to develop a marketing strategy?

If you use this information to create messaging or content designed to attract new students to your program, your prospective students will be more likely to find it relevant and listen. And that can be all the difference in enrolling the students you want.

About Dean Asher

Dean Asher is a former copywriter with MBS. Though he no longer writes for us, he is still proud of having helped this blog continue to evolve as an industry-leading resource of news and original content.

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