Generational transitions have a massive impact on higher education marketing. In this post, we highlight early characteristics observed in generation alpha, the next generation of college students.
The Pew Research Center groups “age cohorts” in segments of “people born over a 15-20 year span.”
While that seems like a lot of time, it’s incredible just how fast the time goes!
With all higher ed marketers have to deal with, it seems 15 years is just about the time it takes to master marketing to one generation.
So by the time you get good at reaching your traditional undergrad prospective student generation, it’s already fading away!
That’s why I think it’s important for us to start looking ahead to the next big shift coming – generation alpha.
If you go back and listen to my talk with Kristi Lafree (or read the blog post here), Butler University is already cultivating future college students with communication flows designed to reach 8th graders.
While that might sound like throwing your money and time away, if you think about it, those 8th graders are going to be prospective college students in just four to six years’ time.
For me, the best time to prepare for Generation Alpha is now.
Those in Generation Alpha will be your prospective students within just 6 – 10 years. Think of the difference it would make if you could have your marketing personas, messaging, and campaign strategies already mapped out by the time this next wave comes.Click to tweet
That’s why we invited social researcher and demographer Mark McCrindle on to The Higher Ed Marketer podcast to talk about what his research group has observed in Generation Alpha’s tendencies and behaviors so far, even as young as they are.
Mark is one of the foremost experts on Generation Alpha, and the name that keeps coming up in these discussions.
You definitely don’t want to miss out on what this researcher has to say.
So here are some of the highlights from our conversation with Mark McCrindle.
Generation Alpha is the largest cohort of prospective students… ever.
If planning this far ahead doesn’t excite you, think about what Mark says right out of the gate in our conversation:
[Generation Alpha] will be the largest generation globally in the history of the world.
[They are] the most digitally supplied generation ever. [They’re also] the most materially endowed. [They constitute] a massive, rising middle class all around the world, and [they are] the most formally educated generation ever. Understanding them right now is pretty important!
This means that when Generation Alpha comes of college age, they will be the largest cohort of prospective students ever in the history of higher education.
Not only that, more of them will have the financial means to pursue an education with your institution.
It pays to think global.
One thing that struck me was how Mark couched this statement in global terms.
Not every region will see the massive generational shift, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in other parts of the world.
By leveraging digital marketing, you can take advantage of this shift no matter where you’re located.
In an earlier podcast, we talked about increasing your geographic marketing scope, even as a small college.
In them, Dan shares how he was able to triple admissions for Bethany Global University, a small Christian college focusing on training missionaries by going global in his scope instead of regional.
Non-written content marketing will resonate even more with Generation Alpha.
Can we predict the strategies and messaging that will resonate with generation alpha when right now they’re barely pre-teens?
While we don’t have a lot of hard data on their buying or social behaviors, Mark shows us how demographers are already shaping the profile of this burgeoning generation.
It’s about understanding their context, the times that are shaping them. That’s really going to help us get a good understanding of them.
[It could be said] “Well, you know, we’re also living in these times of digital media and global connection in social media. [So what’s the difference?]”
But the age at which you’re exposed to a new technology, or a transformative event, determines how embedded it will become in your psyche and lifestyle.
And so for this generation, living through COVID, adapting to digital, connecting on social media, being influenced through these new channels, it’s a different experience for them, and it will impact them profoundly.
Yet as generation alpha becomes prospective college students, it’s likely that we’ll see them gravitate and respond all the more to digital content, especially video content.
Peer influencers will have more sway than experts.
The COVID pandemic has pushed us all inside.
But try to think of what this years’ worth of lockdown and no school has been like through the eyes of a ten-year-old.
To the mind of a child, each of the voices and faces they see have the same level of influence, whether they belong to a peer or to an expert.
What we are talking about is a generation that are social in terms of the influence channels of their life.
It’s not just what the authority figures or the experts tell them, but their peer group. They are global in that connection [with their peers]. They’re digital in the tool [they’re using]. They’re visual in how they consume that content. [It is] not just the written form anymore.
Right away we can see just how important video content will be in the future.
But you can also see how future prospective students will place more weight on what their peer influencers say about their higher education decisions than what the experts tell them.
How can you leverage that fact?
I really think this is an area for marketers to explore and be creative.
One strategy I believe could be fruitful is to start cultivating relationships with social peer influencers now in order to create collaborative video content work in the future.
Also, it will be interesting to see if cameo videos grow in popularity over time. If so, it might be worthwhile to increase your cameo budget.
Mobility will increase with Generation Alpha.
This was a fascinating quote from Mark during our conversation.
[Generation Alpha are] mobile in lifestyle [in regards to] where they are working and where they will study. So those characteristics are at a new level compared to even the generations that are just a little bit older than them. And we see these same traits all around the world.
Of course, I don’t think that increased mobility means that this coming generation will be doing more traveling, per se (we’ll have to see what travel is like after COVID).
However, Generation Alpha should be more flexible with respect to their study location.
More of them will expect to work or study from home, wherever that is, rather than coming to a campus.
Now, I don’t think this means that campus life will disappear.
But I do think this is a big sign that the opportunities of marketing online programs have yet to be fully explored.
Online study programs have grown in popularity, especially among graduate students with busy personal and professional lives.
But your online student marketing persona might begin to include younger, undergrad students as Generation Alpha comes of age.
Discover more when you listen to the podcast!
Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.
Listen to our interview with Mark McCrindle to get even more insights into:
- Unique characteristics of the Alpha generation
- The projected career trajectory of an Alpha
- Educating a generation for an unformed working future
- What the Alphas have in common with the Greatest Generation
Don’t want to miss a future episode?
Subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer podcast today!
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