January 20

What Does the “Gig Economy” Mean for Enrollment Marketing?


by | Jan 20, 2020 | Enrollment, Blog, Featured

In the last thirty years, there’s been a gigantic change in the way people work – the “gig economy.” Despite the challenges it brings, there are a lot of advantages for enrollment marketers.

At its core, enrollment marketing is the process that education institutions use to create new relationships with prospective students and motivate them to make the decision to enroll.

Since we’re defining marketing in the context of relationships, that means that it will change depending on the people in the relationship.

Who are the people in this relationship? Your school and your audiences.

You already know that both parties in this relationship are constantly changing. 

But your institution probably isn’t changing as much or as quickly as your audience. 

In the last thirty years, I’ve watched a huge shift occur in the marketplace. It’s called the “gig economy.” 

It’s a change that I’m excited about and have taken advantage of over the years. 

Unfortunately, many private colleges, universities, and independent schools don’t understand the gig economy and all the changes that are happening because of it. 

If enrollment marketers don’t get this right, we’ll continue to see poor enrollment numbers as the gig economy is one of the defining features of Gen Z prospective students.

The Gig Economy Is Here to Stay

So we need to understand it and make it work to our advantage. 

The gig economy is made up of three parts:

  • The Freelancer 
  • The Consumer 
  • The Connector

The freelancer is the person who gets paid by doing a gig. A gig is just the cool name for a project or a task.  

The consumer is a person, company, or school that needs a service done which the freelancer will provide. They might need a ride to work, a design created, or a fundraising letter written. All of these services – and many, many more – can be performed by a freelancer.

The connector is a company that connects the consumer and the freelancer. Most often the connector uses an app to facilitate the transaction. Think of companies like Uber, Upwork, and 99designs.com

The idea of someone getting paid for “doing gigs” has been around for a while.

“The gig economy is not new – people have always worked gigs… but today when most people refer to the “gig economy,” they’re specifically talking about new technology-enabled kinds of work.”

Ms. Molly Turner, Lecturer, Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley
Former Director of Public Policy for Airbnb

The difference is that now millions more people are starting to work in the gig economy rather than in traditional employment roles.

According to researchers Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger, the number of people working gigs jumped from 10.1 percent to 15.8 percent from 2005 to 2015. 

In 2017, leading accounting software company Intuit’s CEO had this to say:

“The gig economy [in the U.S.]…is now estimated to be about 34% of the workforce and expected to be 43% by the year 2020.”

– Brad Smith, CEO Intuit

That may sound sensational, but imagine the amount of data Intuit has collected on their 50 million accounting software customers.

If Intuit has their numbers right — that’s a huge shift in the way people work!

Without a doubt, this affects the way you should craft your messaging.


Because this change in the way people work is being caused by a change in the way people think about themselves and their work.

“The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.”

Louis Hyman, School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University

This isn’t a fad. This isn’t some new tech that’s here-today-gone-tomorrow. 

The gig economy is here because your audience has changed in the way they see the market, their place in the market, and how they want to work. 

How Enrollment Marketing Should Adapt

Because your audience has changed, your messaging must change to adapt to their needs, desires, and challenges.

young man freelancing in a gig economy

1. Recognize that more and more students are gig workers.

The very first step is to recognize that your audience has changed. 

More and more students are working in the gig economy as Uber drivers, graphic designers, web developers, etc.

Even as young as they are, prospective students will be more oriented toward this new way of working than former generations.

It may be time to tweak your marketing personas to include people who will most likely participate in the gig economy at some point in their lives

2. Showcase flexibility in your programs.

Some have said that we’re in a knowledge-based economy where what you know is what makes you valuable. 

That may be true, but it’s also a time-based economy. Time is more precious than ever before.

When I order from Amazon, I want to see the package tomorrow. 

When I request an Uber, I want to see how far away my driver is, who they are, and how long they’ll be to get me. 

Time is of the essence. 

Traditional programs that lock students into a rigid schedule drive gig workers away because the time commitment hinders their ability to keep work coming in.

Your students’ clients want their gig worker available quickly, sometimes within minutes.

So if you have flexible class schedules, nights and weekend programs, or online classes, make sure your messaging promotes them well so students see clearly how your program fits their needs in the gig economy.

3. Promote your technology.

The gig economy is app-centered.

In almost every transaction, there’s an app that facilitates the agreement, work, and payment. Freelancers in the gig economy are wired to look for an app that makes things happen.

You can take advantage of this outlook by showing off the way your school uses technology in education. 

Show them the “apps” you use. 

4. Show them how you shield them from the risks of the gig economy.

When you’re a traditional employee, the company takes on much of the risks involved. 

Health care benefits, retirement, paid leave – almost every employer has these for full-time employees. 

Freelancers don’t have any of these benefits. They take on all the risks.

They have to provide their own healthcare and retirement plans – and when they’re on vacation, they don’t get paid.

But the biggest risk they take on is getting new work. 

This is where getting an education at your institution can really help them. 

It’s more likely for freelancers to get new and better work if they have more skills and more credentials.

That’s where you come in. So make sure you show prospective students in your messaging how you can help them mitigate the risks of self-employment.

5. Market how you give students experience that serves them in the gig economy.

Another reason people hire gig workers is because of the experience they have, but a lot of freelancers struggle to get experience. 

Studying at your school can give them the experience that they need to get new projects and better pay.

While in school, freelance students can work on projects, research, and internships that they wouldn’t have otherwise. 

In your messaging, promote your practical experience opportunities and show how they help freelance workers get new clients and projects through the experiences they gain while at your school.

Benefits vs. Features

The bottom line is this: your messaging should lead the prospective student to see how your programs will benefit them and support their dreams.

You’re probably telling them about your online programs, the flexibility, and hands-on experience that you offer. 

But are you showing them how that works out in the gig economy?

That’s the real question. 

Are you showing them the benefits rather than telling them about the features of your school?

For help sharpening your messaging for a Gen Z, freelancing audience, get ahold of us today. The consultation is free, and there’s no obligation.

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Featured image by skyNext via Adobe Stock
Freelancer image by Svyatoslav Lypynskyy via Adobe Stock

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