Engaging Prospective Students: How to Craft Higher Ed Messaging that Compels

April 4, 2024

Engaging Prospective Students: How to Craft Higher Ed Messaging that Compels

tag higher ed messaging | higher education brand strategy
Engaging Prospective Students: How to Craft Higher Ed Messaging that Compels

Consider this your guide to creating higher ed messaging that will make your prospective students stand up and take notice.

We’ve covered why messaging matters for your higher ed brand, but how do you bring your higher ed messaging to life? What do you say to make your brand stand apart and above the others? How do you engage right-fit students with words alone?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula or simple combination of words that will make your messaging resonate with your prospective students. If there were, marketing your brand would be much easier… but then you’d sound just like everybody else (and nobody wants that). 

However, there are steps you can take to craft compelling higher ed messaging that’s authentic to your brand and engaging for your right-fit students. And we promise, following them is definitely worth the effort. 

1. Know thy audience.

First and foremost, know who you’re talking to really well. We don’t just mean simple demographic details, like age, gender, and location. To write engaging higher ed messaging, you need to understand your audience on a much deeper level.

What are they looking for in an institution? 

What are they trying to avoid?

What are their hobbies, interests, and unique skills?

Who do they want to be when they “grow up?”

Why are they continuing their education?

What kind of support do they need to achieve their goals?

These questions are just a start, but take the time to get to know your audience as real students versus profiles on a page. And you don’t need a fancy marketing research campaign to do it! 

Just get out on campus and talk to your current students. Eat in the cafeteria, and strike up a conversation with a nearby table. Hold a weekly or monthly group session at your on-campus coffee shop where you can discuss various topics with different members of your student body. 

Keep going out and gathering feedback until you know your prospective student audience (and how to talk to them) like the back of your hand. 

2. Know thy brand platform.

If you have a brand platform, consider it the North Star for your higher ed messaging. (If you don’t have one, we can help with that.)

Your brand platform serves as a guide for all things marketing, including how you present your brand through your words, content, and actions. It outlines everything you need to write and speak for your brand, including your:

  • Brand Pillars: The unique attributes that collectively combine establish the foundation of your brand
  • Brand Promise: A short statement summarizing what your institution can offer that no one else can
  • Reasons to Believe: Tangible proof points that support your brand pillars and your brand promise
  • Brand Persona: Characteristics that define how your brand presents itself to your different audiences
  • Brand Story: A summary of your brand essence, combining all the above elements to reflect the heart and soul of your brand

So if you feel stuck when writing higher ed messaging for your institution, turn to your brand platform. The foundation of creating compelling messaging is there, and it could be the spark you need to write content that resonates with your right-fit students.

3. Call your audience by name.

Your right-fit students are special. So make them feel it with personalization and messaging tailored to their interests and goals.

It may seem like a small step, but think about it: Your prospective students receive dozens of pieces of content (if not more) from multiple institutions across the country. All vying for their attention. All touting similar benefits and features and reasons why their institution should be the top pick.

But if you call your student by name, you’re showing that you took the time to get to know them. That you already consider them as part of your community. That you care. 

And if the content they receive goes beyond generic information and reflects details about the subjects and programs they’re actually interested in, then you earn even more points and credibility. 

Now you’re not just saying that your institution offers a personalized experience for every student. You’re living it.  

4. Be true to your institution.

In the world of influencers and viral marketing gimmicks, authenticity reigns supreme. Students these days (especially Gen Z) can sniff out a fake or phony right off the bat. And if you try to pass off your institution as something for everyone, then you’re fighting a losing battle. 

Instead, focus on what makes your institution truly unique, and don’t shy away from elements that you think may not appeal to a mainstream crowd. 

  • Embrace your location, whether it’s rural or inner city or somewhere in between. 
  • Celebrate your size, whether it’s thousands of students or less than a few hundred. 
  • Wear your values on your sleeve, whether they’re academics, faith, service, innovation, athletics, all the above, or more.

Because *those* will make your institution stand out from the rest, even the others that are sort of like you. 

Own who you are, and be proud of it. The right-fit students will follow. 

5. Stay consistent.

Consistency is key when it comes to effective messaging. It builds credibility and trust with your audience who have come to expect what your brand looks and sounds like. That’s why it’s important to ensure that no matter where your brand shows up, its messaging is always consistent. 

Seems simple, right? Well, keep in mind that a lot of people are going to be writing and talking on behalf of your institution: 

  • Marketing team
  • Enrollment office
  • Admissions
  • Department heads
  • Student leaders 
  • Tour guides

So how do you mitigate a department going rogue? A solid brand platform and shared brand guidelines can help ensure that your entire team (not just the marketing or enrollment office) is on the same page when representing your brand. 

Collaboration among the different departments can also increase consistent messaging across different campaigns and platforms, working together to create a cohesive experience for your prospective students. 

6. Execute. Evaluate. Refine.

Your marketing efforts can’t live and die on one campaign alone. Your brand and higher ed messaging should always be evolving and improving. 

Once you execute a campaign, gather feedback from your various stakeholders and audiences. Track and analyze results. Test and evaluate. Then identify different areas of improvement for your next campaign or content piece, whether it’s word choice, consistency, compelling calls to action, etc. Rinse and repeat.

Remember a good marketer’s work is never done, and every new campaign is an opportunity to make the next one even better. 

The Bottom Line 

A little effort goes a long way when crafting higher ed messaging for prospective students. With these six simple(ish) steps, you and your team can create content that will attract and resonate with right-fit students.

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