Revolutionary Advances: Higher Ed Marketing Trends for 2023

Out with the old, in with the new.

If you’re still marketing your higher ed institution using the same strategies and tactics you were using even just a year ago, here are some higher ed marketing trends to consider for 2023 (and beyond).

You already know the importance of listening to your audience, and relying on your personas to craft a message with the most impact. Empathy has always been a hallmark of great marketing. And your listening skills are more relevant than ever before.

Why? Marketing is evolving quickly. As Artificial Intelligence tools drive growth in the education industry, higher ed marketing teams like yours need to use everything you’ve got to drown out competitors. Otherwise, you’ll be playing catch-up, or worse, be left behind.

We recognize it takes a ton of time to research ongoing marketing trends, so we’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you. Here we capture what we consider to be the top higher ed marketing trends and opportunities happening today.

The Kids Are Alright: Think Like Gen-Z

This goes at the tippy-top of the list. Marketing to millennials is officially cringe. You need to appeal to a new generation using tactics that are going to make the strongest impact. And let’s just say the rules have changed in recent years.

For one thing, Gen Z has grown up with screens in an increasingly saturated and competitive digital landscape. That means you’re always going to be vying for their attention. It also means that however you market to them, the message needs to be short and sweet — not to mention original.

Short-form Content is King

Take Tiktok or BeReal, for example. These are quintessential Gen-Z apps because they meet the user where they are. The most effective content is short-form content, and the most popular videos and photos are those that evoke simplicity and authenticity. In fact, one of the most popular TikTok hashtags is “GRWM” (“Get Ready With Me”), where users simply take their viewers through a morning routine, or a day in their life. Can you imagine all the ways you can use this trend to market student life at your higher ed institution?

We’re not necessarily advising that your institution start a TikTok or a BeReal account (although even President Biden used BeReal to encourage young people to get vaccinated — for real). But we do encourage you to storytell using short-form content to appeal to a Gen-Z audience.

Meet Them Where They Are — Literally.

Placement is also huge. For example, at Rowland, we worked on a project that required us to brainstorm locations where a student might have enough idle time to notice an ad. Spots where students were more inclined to glance up from their phones would be prime real estate. Eventually, we decided on an ad campaign that would appear on the sides of buses.

Where it got tricky was convincing our client to pare down the story they wanted to tell. For one thing, there was simply not enough ad space to mention every little detail. The ads needed a hook (and a little personality) in a few words. A short testimonial from a student would be the ticket. The client could nail their messaging by speaking to their target audience in their own language. Placement and structure went a long way in meeting the persona where they were, both literally and figuratively.

SEO is Back

In fact, it never left. The big difference now is that with recent developments in Google’s algorithm, the search engine can more accurately measure engagement.

Anyone can add key search terms to their website’s content, but if they aren’t strategic about their SEO, it won’t necessarily lead to user engagement. To make sure only the most quality websites show up at the top of SERP, Google is measuring how certain keywords and search phrases correlate to website clicks and subsequent engagement.

What does that mean for your marketing mix? It means that if you’re not using SEO already, you should be. It’s an opportunity to increase engagement and your SERP ranking. Here’s the caveat: don’t use SEO unless it’s strategic. With the new Google update, if it’s not quality, it’s DOA.

Lean into AI and Machine Learning

As previously mentioned, developments in AI and machine learning are breaking new ground. This applies to SEO because website crawlers are better equipped to measure engagement. But it also means that the marketing tools available to you can also drive engagement.

For example, chatbots have started replacing pop-up ads on websites. Why? They are more interactive (read: engaging). And contrary to what you may think, most fully automated chat systems can meet users’ needs just as well as people can — if not better.

Let’s say you operate a large university website, and a prospective student visits it to compare degrees. While they’re clicking around your site, they might have a question about class requirements. If it’s a relatively common question, it will be included in the chat bot’s knowledge base. Even better, when the student’s question gets answered, it creates an opportunity for the bot to collect their information and automatically feed your sales pipeline.

You can also use AI to assist with ad creative and content copy. For example, a few prompts in AI can create a hero image. And with just a little information, AI can write an entire article or ad. You may have to clean up the hero image in Photoshop or adjust the copy, but AI is nevertheless a major assist — and time-saver.

Try Your Hand at a Variety of Content Types

Short-form videos will hook your Gen-Z audience, but when it comes to generating content for a variety of audiences, make the most of your marketing mix with an array of content types at your disposal.

For instance, there are interactive features on social media that are designed to stop users from scrolling through your page and actually engage with content. Twitter polls, Instagram stickers, and 3D photos on Facebook are just a few ways you can get your audience’s attention.

Here’s another content suggestion: podcasts. Yeah, we know. Everyone seems to have one these days. But there’s a reason for that. The fact of the matter is that people (young and old) enjoy content they can consume while doing other things, like driving to work, working out, cleaning the house, etc. Podcasts fit the bill. Even better? Many podcasts hosted by industry leaders provide video recordings of shows, in addition to standard audio. And because videos rank in search engine results, a podcast recording is yet another opportunity to enhance your SEO. Win/win!

And for the record, it’s not enough to just create a podcast, or create an Instagram sticker. The key is consistency, not just in your brand messaging, but the frequency with which you update your marketing mix with new content. This ensures a high website ranking, because it creates more opportunities for engagement.

Speak Up

This generation expects more — not just from corporations, but also higher ed institutions as it relates to social responsibility. Young people in particular demand that organizations take a stand against injustice, and higher ed institutions are uniquely positioned to show leadership when it comes to issues such as racial inequities, gender inequities, and climate change. When you stake a claim, you can communicate your values and demonstrate their alignment with your audience’s. And these days, purchasing decisions are inextricably linked to your institution’s values.

Partner with a Higher Ed Marketing Team

Okay, okay, we may be fudging the data a bit here. But we believe that the best way to set your institution up in the new year is to partner with a team of marketing experts to approach these higher ed marketing trends and opportunities.

Interested in learning about how a higher ed marketing team can help your institution navigate these new marketing waters? Let’s chat.

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At Rowland we take pride in being knowledgeable, experienced, and accessible. We're ready to talk about how we can help you meet your higher ed marketing goals.