Student Recruitment: Openness and Marketing to Millennials

Millennials taking a selfie

George Orwell once said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” True, he was probably talking about the corrupt acts of a totalitarian government, but the sentiment still applies to marketing.

The recipe for successful advertising has changed in recent years. We live in a globalised society, in which it has become impossible to present an unrealistic image of a company without someone finding out about it.

Mobile phone showing the Earth's connectedness

This connectedness has given rise to a new, honesty-based approach to marketing to millennials. As brands have begun to recognise the benefits of this new tactic, adoption has grown.

The hashtags #AbsoluelyHonestMarketing and #HumanisedMarketing have both emerged in recent years, popularised by the rising number of companies approaching sales in this way.

There are a number of reasons people respond to honest marketing, but particularly it’s the impression that if a company (or university) is willing to embrace its faults, then the company’s advertised strengths will be true also.

It’s what’s known in psychological terms as the ‘Halo Effect’ – someone’s view of something being coloured entirely by one positive aspect.

Along with honesty, audiences are also looking for a human side. With YouTube stars like Zoella and PewDiePie achieving international fame, and the increasing popularity of rating apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor, normal people have become what’s influential.

Female Vlogger Recording Broadcast At Home

Here are the main reasons you need to embrace this honest, human marketing technique to improve your marketing to millennials and through that increase student recruitment.

Honest marketing is appealing

People respond to honesty far more than hyperbolic promises and exaggerations. Take a look at the advert from Oasis below:

Oasis campaign poster

Not only is it brutally honest, it’s very relatable. Everyone who works understands the pressures of targets, reports and evaluations, so not only does this add a humorous side to the campaign, it also allows us empathise with them on a personal level.

Honest marketing is effective

People aren’t stupid and millennials are the most connected, plugged-in demographic on the planet. It’s inevitable that false promises and overkill marketing won’t convince them to buy into a product, or indeed a university, when they can find out the truth at the touch of a button.

So, play to your strengths.

Take this example of a hostel in The Netherlands:

Hans Brinker Hotel campaign poster

The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam deliberately advertises itself as “The Worst Hotel in the World”, and their marketing focusses not only on what the hotel provides, but what they definitely don’t provide.

This honesty works for three reasons:Sunrise over Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Firstly, because people staying in a budget hotel in Amsterdam generally aren’t looking for luxury
anyway, so they’re immediately cutting out anyone who wouldn’t be interested in visiting.

Secondly, because branding themselves in this way actually makes staying there appealing to their key audience. It emphasises exactly what their target market are looking for.

Thirdly, because it means the hotel always beats the expectations of the guests. Mostly guests don’t leave with black-eyes or fat lips, in comparison to the advertisements, what the hotel offers is great.

It’s a win-win, making it a destination of choice for young people looking for an interesting stay in the wonderful Dutch city, and a perfect example of what successful marketing to millennials should look like.

Accepting your mistakes is respected

Anyone who counts themselves as an experienced debater knows that the best way to disarm someone mid-rant is to agree with them. There’s nothing that stymies an argument faster than that.

Empty notebook on wooden table with crumpled papers around

It’s also a great technique in marketing to millennials. If someone has a genuine, justified issue with your institution, accepting the criticism and trying to rectify it is a much better course of action than just ignoring it.

Dominoes is a great example of a company who are confident enough to admit they need to improve.

They have faced a lot of criticism about the quality and taste of their pizzas and whereas other restaurants, especially those with the size and influence of Dominoes, may have just ignored these criticisms, this company decided to face them head on.

Take a look at the video below to see how they altered their methods to rectify the complaints made by customers:

Adopt this approach before your competition

The conclusions of the Voxburner report reiterate the importance of cultivating an open persona. When you’re attempting to attract savvy, connected and intelligent prospective students, patronising or misleading campaigns just won’t work.

“Standout future content should be witty, thought-provoking, and above-all intelligent.”

The simplest and least brutal way to approach honest recruitment, especially for those less keen on going all out as the above companies have, is via your current students and alumni.

Personal testimonials enable you to share out reliable, truthful information about life on campus, making the most of the “human touch” most sought after by millennials.

Young people are shrewd enough to see through gimmicky marketing campaigns for products and commercial brands, so you they’re definitely shrewd enough to see through gimmicky university marketing campaigns.

After all, there’s a lot more at stake pursuing a degree than ordering a Dominoes.

For more student recruitment advice, check out which social media sites your prospective applicants favour around the world, (hint: it’s not necessarily Facebook and Twitter).

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