If someone asks you who your audience is for any higher education message you produce, what is your answer? If it's "everyone," you're missing the mark. It's easy to see why that's such an appealing answer. Most higher education institutions cater to very diverse groups of people, all from different socioeconomic, age and sometimes even national backgrounds. But trying to paint your message with such a broad brush can lead to some serious problems, and hinder your ability to differentiate yourself from competing schools with similar offerings.
Your goals need to be clear and specific when you're defining your marketing segments, and choosing which to focus on for any given message. This is the take-home message from a recent post on Inside Higher Ed's marketing blog, Call to Action.
Useful, relevant and actionable
Making segments useful and actionable means looking beyond basic, overly generic grouping approaches such as undergraduate vs graduate students, or online vs residential student. A few years ago, The Parthenon Group (now part of Ernst & Young LLP) offered an excellent way to think about segmenting the higher education student market.
Their approach, titled The Differentiated University, “separates students into six distinct and defined segments based on their motivations and mindsets rather than just demographics, allowing college and university leaders to develop more sophisticated strategies for reaching the next generation of students with offerings and operating models to most effectively and efficiently serve them.”
The six segments — aspiring academics; coming of age; career starters; career accelerators; industry switchers; and academic wanderers — transcend traditional groupings to identify much more useful and actionable shared characteristics that should inform marketing strategies. Although created with a specific focus on undergraduate students, the segments provide ample room and flexibility for all prospective students.
Regardless of demographics, all students are interested in the same fundamental product — education. Why they are interested and what they hope to get out of it is much more profound. Using motivations and mindsets to map marketing strategies opens up much more opportunity for creativity and intelligent differentiation in targeting and positioning. What matters most in this model is why the educational product fits the individual and how it will help him/her achieve what they want to achieve. Less relevant is a description and list of institutional features that may or may not have any value for an aspiring academic, industry switcher or career starter. This understanding also provides the framework for expanding the market segments an institution can and should target.
— Tim Jones via Inside Higher Ed
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