June 22

Marketing to Multiple Generations


With every generation, education marketers must consider changes in culture. Especially when marketing to multiple generations, you’ve got to mark the cultural differences well.

For years, Millennials have dominated the minds and strategies of education and enrollment marketers.

They are a large generational cohort, and so there have been enough of them to market to as traditional undergrad students as well as adult students.

But now there’s a generational shift happening. The first members of Gen Z are coming of high school and college age.

And this has significant implications for how enrollment markers should approach their brand messaging to traditional undergrad students.

But adult and online students who are returning to finish, further, or begin their higher education will still be in the Millennial generational window.

This generation gap will force enrollment marketers to begin marketing to multiple generations for the next four to five years.

Marketing to Multiple Generations Begins with Personas

If you haven’t gotten serious about identifying your marketing personas, now is the time to do so.

Well-defined marketing personas will help you and your team create laser-focused content for both your Gen Z, traditional undergrad (TUG) students and your Millennial adult and online students.

In my experience, the best marketing personas go beyond raw demographic data.

Take your stats, like “45 – 60 year-old female,” and craft something more personal like…

“Sally, a stay-at-home mom who worries just as much about her children now in college as she did when they were home—maybe more.”

Although “Sally” is fictional, this kind of marketing persona allows your creative team to create relevant, compelling content for audience members in that demographic.  

Personas like this help us put a face to the data so that we can create emotive, or emotionally compelling, narratives that draw our target audience into our content.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when creating your TUG and adult student marketing personas.

Gen Z: What We Know

Unfortunately, we don’t know very much.

But we do have a few insightful studies and observations showing some emerging trends.

Digital Natives

The digital world is so embedded in the daily activities of a Gen Z prospective student, it has become essential to their experience of the world and their expression of themselves.

In particular, social media is very important to Gen Z because it is the digital equivalent of social life.

Getting serious about social media by creating a social media marketing team will become more and more necessary for education marketers to stay relevant with Gen Z prospective students.


They are the only generation not to know what the world was like before 9/11. They’ve never known a day without a 24-hour news cycle.

They’re also growing up in homes that were significantly affected by the Great Recession that started in 2008.

All of this means that you need to keep your messaging grounded in the realities of life so that it doesn’t come across as inauthentic.


Having grown up with the wonders of the Internet, Gen Z prospective students are not used to relying on any kind of institution for help.

If they need to know how to fix something, they don’t go to the hardware store, they go to YouTube.

If they need to study, they don’t go to the library, they go to Wikipedia.

This kind of knowledge independence means that Gen Z prospective students are looking for private colleges and universities to provide them something different.

Mentorship, character-building experiences, helpful social networks – these are just a few of the  benefits of higher education that Gen Z will be more attracted to.

In short, don’t compete with Google in your marketing.


Gen Z is looking for security.

They want you to reach them digitally, because that is the world they know and are comfortable with.

Their realism can sometimes border on pessimism, leading them to distrust any messaging that is too optimistic or cheery.

And their independence can be caused by their distrust of institutions rather than a pioneering spirit.

In other words, they’d rather find out for themselves because they don’t trust that traditional institutions are going to give them real answers.

When crafting your messaging for Gen Z, it’s important to show them how their investment in their education at your institution will bring them a return.

Present information like job placement rates, alumni stories, and career-oriented programs to Gen Z students so they know that choosing your educational institution is a rational choice supported by real data.

Millennial Adult and Online Students

When you market to adult and online students, Millennials, you’ll have to approach them a little differently.

Marketing to Millennials as adult and online students is different than marketing to Gen Z prospective students for two main reasons:

  • Millennials are a different generation with different behaviors, and
  • Millennials have responsibilities like raising children and careers that shape their fears, needs, and desires.

So here are the main characteristics I recommend for your Millennial marketing persona:

Digital Immigrants

Older Millennials remember a time without high-speed Internet and instant connectivity.

Their childhood saw the beginning of computers in classrooms, the rise of the big social media platforms, and the shift towards digital content marketing.

Like Gen Z, make sure you’ve got your digital marketing covered. However, there will be a few differences.

For example, consider increasing your presence on more career-oriented social media sites like LinkedIn.

Professional Millennials are also active on networking sites like Meetup, so make sure you are posting events for adult and online students there.


Location-independent. Flexible. Freelancer.

Millennials have been breaking the mold of what it means to have a career in today’s modern economy.

When marketing to adult and online students, be aware that many of them are not going to be looking for traditional, 9-to-5 jobs.

Many of them will be coming back to school or continuing their studies because they want to do work that brings them freedom for their lifestyle.

Show the lifestyle freedom your education programs can bring by emphasizing flexibility in your messaging.

Enforce this freedom motif through images and video that show Millennial professionals taking their work around the world.


Millennials are famous for their entrepreneurial spirit.

Most of them are optimistic about the future, and they want to carve out their own identity and future.

Stress the aspects of your business and professional programs that can help Millennial adults achieve their entrepreneurial or startup dreams.


Millennial adults are beginning to feel the weight of their responsibilities like never before.

Many of them are becoming parents for the first time. Others are changing careers. Others are facing mortgages and hefty student loan debt.

No matter what generation we’re a part of, growing up will always make its way to us at one time or another.

When marketing to your adult and online students, don’t forget to touch on the fact that your program is an investment, not a cost.

They are investing in their careers and their families.  

Use all of these areas of responsibility to show how your Millennial prospective student can make an investment that will pay off dividends in the future.

Your adult and online students understand that life’s not all about them.

Now their personal desires are starting to involve more and more people like their spouses, children, churches, and communities.

So your marketing needs to touch on these important themes when reaching out to your adult students.

Times are a’changin’…

As an enrollment marketer, these generational shifts are important.

And when marketing to multiple generations, it’s even more critical that you understand the nuances between how your TUG students and your adult students think and feel.

Have any questions you’d like to ask about these changing generations? Need assistance with your education marketing? Feel free to contact us. We’re here with proven results.

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