How to Reach Gen Z, Part 2: Messaging

This is part 2 of our 3 part series on Gen Z, where we share trends, key takeaways, and actionable insights from our research on Gen Z. 

Last month we shared tips for higher ed marketers to ensure you’re maximizing your digital efforts to reach—and resonate—with Gen Z prospects. Now that you’re equipped with the right strategies for your paid media, it’s time to focus on ensuring you’re communicating the right message in your higher ed marketing strategy.

1. Price Sensitivity and Return On Investment

In recent research studies we’ve conducted, the top factors influencing Gen Z students in choosing their ideal college or university— and often selected by 90%+ of respondents—are strong career preparation and job placement rate.

This continues the trend that Gen Z live pragmatically— especially in comparison to the more idealistic Millennials– as a result of the tremendous impact the recession of 2008 had on their childhood. Millions of Gen Zers remember their parents being laid off or losing their childhood home, and the implications continue to push Gen Zers towards job security and economic stability.

Messaging Strategy for Gen Z Price Sensitivity

Being detailed and transparent with outcomes are pivotal in helping Gen Zers understand the value of higher ed. When they’re searching for schools they’re not just looking at academic programs and admissions requirements; they’re looking for where your graduates are getting jobs, how quickly they’re landing them, and how much they’re making. It’s not enough just to have an “employment report” somewhere on your site, this information needs to be front and center– and brought to life. 

Gen Zers are more likely to follow influencers than celebrities on social media, so start thinking of your alumni as micro-influencers. Consider a rotating carousel on your website with stories about recent alumni and how their experiences at the institution helped them get to where they are today. And have some fun with it! This is your opportunity to bring those statistics to life and allow prospective students to imagine themselves in an alumnus’ shoes.

2. Diversity is Table Stakes

One of the most significant benefits to Gen Z being digital natives is that diversity comes naturally. So much so, they feel they can better identify with people their own age on the other side of the world than with people more than a generation older in their own community. When conducting research with Millennials, we often saw the diversity of the student body, faculty and staff as key points that increased interest in an institution. With Gen Z, we often don’t see diversity as a top motivator in school selection simply because it is something they expect because they’ve never not had it.

Messaging Strategy for Gen Z Diversity

This doesn’t mean that you can simply place a button on your website for the office of diversity and multicultural affairs or have some staged “diverse” pictures in your admissions materials. Remember, the average person views more than 5,000 ads every single day, and Gen Zers spend more than 10 hours looking at a screen every single day. To say they’re experts at discerning authenticity in the blink of an eye is an understatement. To tell your institution’s story authentically, you first need to understand the value that diversity plays on your own campus: How diverse is your campus, really? Is it a strength or a weakness? How is your school set up to support diversity? Not just racially, but economically, religiously, and with diverse genders and sexualities? If it’s a weakness, own it and talk about what your institution is doing to improve it.

3. Gen Z is Independent and Competitive

Gen Z likes to work alone and believes that if something is going to get done, they need to do it themselves. In fact, about 75% of Gen Z would prefer to work for themselves. We also know that many more Gen Zers want to be entrepreneurs than Millennials. Our own research findings indicate that Gen Zers want to be judged on their own merits and develop their own leadership skills to set them up for future success.  

Messaging Strategy for Gen Z Independence

When you’re collectively talking to hundreds or thousands of prospective students about the benefits of your college or university, it can be easy to think of them and speak to them as a collective group. But Gen Zers aren’t just highly independent; they’re also used to having content explicitly curated for themselves. A one-size-fits-all messaging strategy won’t just fall flat; it’ll feel inauthentic and disengaged. Instead, you need to have data-driven persona development so that you can focus your messaging strategy on talking about their passions, their interests, and their potential outcomes. 

Remember, the result of your marketing efforts is only as good as its execution, which is only as good as its strategy, which is only as good as its research. Building on thorough market research will help you to not only identify and target your prospective student populations, but also inform the messaging with their aspirations, goals, and motivations and align them with where your institution performs well. 


Stay tuned for part 3 of our series where we share our final thoughts and insights from our research with Gen Z.

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