All the higher education marketing trends we have highlighted so far are impactful for one very important reason – they tap into authenticity. These days, prospective students have access to an overload of information pertaining to higher education, making it more difficult for organizations to stand out than ever. Higher education analytics show that authentic organizations draw in more prospective students. But what is authenticity, and how is it established?
See how your organization can show its human side to help prospective students make the right post-secondary education decision.
Why Is Authenticity Important?
The short answer is that modern marketing is all about building trust. A quick peek into any relationship will reveal that trust is not at all possible without authenticity. While marketing used to be solely focused on the messages an organization wanted to relay to a target audience, marketing today is a two-way street. It is transactional and conversational. It is a relationship. The integration of digital media into this relationship does little to phase Millennials and Gen Xers. Growing up with social media has made digital as personal as face-to-face.
Video content’s consistent record of high performance is a testament to the importance of authenticity. Even pre-recorded, edited video ads are much more human than text. Take it one step further into live video, and authenticity and transparency can do wonders to enhance audience perception of a brand. There is no hiding with live, and viewers love it. This is not to say that polished messaging and content are going extinct. It is important to maintain a level of authority and professionalism, especially when differentiating your organization as a thought-leader in your field. However content showcasing the personality of an institution reliably draws in prospective students.
Content showcasing is especially important in higher education marketing. Education is experiential, making it a very personal decision. Providing a two-dimensional advertisement does little to inspire trust or encourage engagement. Students want to be able to picture themselves in the world you are presenting. This helps them feel better informed during the decision-making process.
Building Relationships & Fostering Loyalty
It is difficult for people to become attached to brands that act like a one-way mirror. Consumers have become accustomed to telling brands how they want to be marketed to and only paying attention to the ones that listen—enter user generated content (UGC).
Marketing is transactional, and every encounter has the potential to create a ripple effect. With authenticity comes trust, and with trust come loyalty. Word-of-mouth (WOM) is the cornerstone of authentic marketing content and brand perception, and loyalists are the main source of it.
Social media has democratized mass messaging by providing platforms from which virtually anyone can reach large-scale audiences. Having real people speak for an organization adds to its humanity and authenticity. It is no wonder prospective students’ information searches are so heavily dominated by UGC.
Earned media is also a powerful force in establishing the organizations’ authenticity. The same logic behind social proof dictating why UGC can elevate organizations more effectively than self-promotion applies to authenticity as well. Objective, third-party entities that have experience with your organization hold weight in validating your authenticity. Your reputation is earned, inspiring trust among potential students.
Emphasizing the human aspects of your organization is another way to help convey a more authentic identity to individuals comparing higher education options. Highlighting an organization-wide dedication to giving back to the community or caring personally for your students can help enforce this reputation.
Strong relationships built on authenticity can become an asset when they weather negative attention that threatens to wreak havoc on an organization. Missteps provide the opportunity for organizations to further enforce their human characteristics—authenticity included—and create platforms for loyalists to show their continued support. This brings us back to the power of UCG in creating and sustaining organizations’ perceived authenticity.
There is No Right Message From a Wrong Perception
Higher education analytics for marketing allows organizations to more accurately target promising demographics and better connect with potential students. However, even the most targeted and specific messages will fall on deaf ears if prospective students perceive them as inauthentic.
Gone are the days of consumers taking an advertisement or company claim at face value. Organizations must now earn the trust of their audience—a process that heavily involves information search on multiple fronts. This makes it essential to ensure authenticity is a holistic part of your organization’s identity. From website and email content to social media campaigns, marketers must color every touchpoint along the customer journey with authenticity.
However, there is one caveat. Consistency is key. Going off brand in order to prove authenticity will actually have the exact opposite effect on your institution’s reputation. While establishing authenticity is essential, it is equally important to foster it within an honest and consistent organizational identity.
Are you struggling to create the authentic content that helps build trust with prospective students? Contact us to see how higher education analytics and research can help you increase engagement and better connect with your target audience.