Building higher education authenticity with Gen Z

17 May 2018

Rob Watts - Head of Growth and Development

Education | Views

Technology is often viewed as the exciting side of marketing. We can use bigger, brighter and more tantalising interactions to woo our audiences in evermore interactive ways. The sheer mention of the next big tech craze can capture the imaginations of stakeholders; wanting to be part of these impressive frontiers. But will technology alone attract the admiration of Gen Z?

Gen Z was the first to grow up in an always-online, tech saturated world. They are masters of digital mediums and recognise when brands are using these to sell to them. It’s not that they view technology itself negatively, it’s that authenticity trumps technology. Always.

Technology can be bought off the shelf or through any design agency. Authenticity on the other hand is like searching for gold in the Thames. You know it exists but you’re going to have to be extremely creative and wade through London’s collective hogwash to find it. Only a few marketers are willing to put the effort in.

The creativity required has another distinct advantage over technology. It costs far less. We’ve worked with a number of universities to run low-cost authenticity-building projects. The key word here is projects. Building authenticity takes time and the approach needs to be collaborative. Journalism projects like an alumni magazine lends itself well to this format.

One Piece of Advice – Arts University Bournemouth
This began as a simple illustrated gift presented to graduates. Each card featured one piece of advice from alumni. Over time it grew to become a magazine and podcast series. By focussing on the stories of alumni, including humanitarian photographer Giles Duley and architect Sir Peter Cook, the project developed into a publication with an appeal that stretched much wider than the AUB community. Later it went on to be Highly Commended by the Brand Impact Awards.

Arena – Writtle University College
After gaining university status it was crucial for Writtle to showcase their position as a serious and competitive higher education choice. A rebrand helped to update their appearance but it couldn’t develop authenticity. The publication built on 125 years of experience to document the journeys of graduates, as they traveled the planet, tackling environmental and economic issues. Arena went on to be nominated by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations for Best External Publication in the CIPR Excellence Awards.

If you want to start building your organisation’s authenticity, the first step is to begin by recording stories. Often this requires seeing the value in everyday activities. If you work for a university you may be used to yearly graduate exhibitions or weekly debates; these are in fact fertile ground for highly authentic stories that external audiences want to know about. It can help to invite others to contribute stories by theming them around an occasion. For example the University’s 125th anniversary or the launch of a new course.

Often education brands focus so much on an online or digital presence it’s easy to forget they exist as real places and people; each with their own pertinent and wondrous stories. Forget the insular tweet or fanciful sales widget and share what people are really doing.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Philip Pullman

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