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The Millennial’s Choosing Methodology: 3 Ways the College Search Has Changed

Inbound marketing was born out of the changing needs of the current generation. It only makes sense that in choosing higher education, these tech savvy, creative prospective students need to be shown thoughtful, targeted information to meet them halfway in their search.

Note: This article was originally published on the Pepperland Marketing Blog, and has been republished here with permission.

Yes, millennials will be found on your college or university’s website and on social media – but that’s not nearly the only difference. They are also going to be scouring online reviews and asking everyone they know for honest, detailed information about your school.

In the same way that they have the power and selectivity to heavily research their next pair of headphones or the cheapest hotel for the best price on their senior trip, they will consider every angle of your school according to their specific needs.

Fifteen years ago, prospective students didn’t have social media or college websites to assist with their search for the right school. The decision process was mostly influenced by information provided by representatives at college fairs, brochures received from a guidance counselor, or what they heard from a friend of a friend.

Today, students have much more control. Instead of waiting for an admissions counselor to come calling, students turn to Google, YouTube and Facebook, where they now complete over 75% of their research. Outbound methods are, as you might expect, increasingly driving millennial consumers away. According to a study by The McCarthy Group, as of 2014, 84% of millennials have clicked off of a website because of annoying outbound ads.

Luckily, through inbound marketing practices, your school can be transparent, helpful and invested in the individual experience of each prospective student. But, in order to create the correct marketing approach, you’ll need to understand the millennial’s choosing methodology. Here are three ways the college search has changed.

Millennial Skepticism

The aforementioned study by The McCarthy Group also revealed that, in addition to distrusting traditional media, millennials have a high distrust for ads. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest and five, the highest), they gave their trust of traditional advertising (cold calls, paper ads, pop ups) a 2.2.

This group desires real figures and findings. But most tellingly, they reportedly hold opinions of close friends in the highest regard. In essence, millennials are skeptical of “fluff” in marketing – especially when making serious financial decisions like where they’ll go to school and what career path to pursue. In fact, their collectively practical approach seems to be affecting college marketing from start to finish.

Recently, there has been an influx of desirability in trade-like programs. Rather than getting a broad liberal arts degree, millennials are showing heavy interest in STEM and other fields that traditionally offer all-encompassing education combined with real-world job training, solid internship programs, job security and high pay.

The Anonymity Concept

Although millennials can be accused of “over sharing” on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, many businesses have found that long customer surveys in which they are asked for very personal information (birth dates, billing addresses) they are reluctant to self-identify. The more anonymous that they can stay in this regard, the better their shopping and review experiences. This is very much in line with the college search.

The bright side? When millennials do show interest, it’s usually sincere. According to a recent study by Google, 73% of people who request information on a mobile EDU site actually want more information. This puts higher education marketers in a great position to provide pointed, enticing content offers for the next stage.

The Necessity of Nurture

The above statistic does refer to the mobile experience, because according to the Nielsen Company, an incredible 98% of millennials own a smartphone. This is likely how they are accessing your .edu where they will hopefully click to grab that extra information or content offer.

Knowing this, you can suppose that prospective students are providing their email from their smartphone so that they can read more information about your school later when they switch over to a desktop computer or laptop. They also could be reading directly from their phone – whatever the case, the same study by Google found that 3 in 4 people who request information on their phone will continue researching.

So what does that imply? It implies that lead nurturing should begin here. If they are clicking through various college sites to build up a list of research material to compare and consider, send them something interesting and helpful to win them over.

The inbound methodology for higher education is a thoughtful system of steps, based on data and validated by the successful student experience. The college search process has certainly changed, but implementing inbound marketing practices can remove the intimidation factor, and understanding this process can help to ensure that your higher ed institution is matching the savvy of its prospective millennial students.

Knowing when and where to nurture your leads is key since this target group is known to be skeptical and non-committal in the early stages of your new marketing method. So, keep these factors in mind and let them help guide you in the next sections which focus on the definition, creation, and fine-tuning of your ideal student persona.