January 22

5 Principles of Trauma-Informed Marketing for Higher Ed

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by | Jan 22, 2024 | Branding, Featured

It’s a sober topic. But as the breadth of the psychological damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic becomes clearer, trauma-informed marketing will not only be the smart thing for higher ed marketers, but it will also be the right thing to do.

In recent years, the concept of trauma-informed care has gained significant attention in various sectors, including education and healthcare. 

This approach recognizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery. 

It’s particularly relevant today, as we address the collective trauma experienced by young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This trauma, characterized by uncertainty, loss, and disruption of normal life, has profoundly affected their developmental years.

As difficult as it is to think about, the reality is we’re sending marketing messaging to many prospective students who watched a loved one suffer or even die from COVID-19 and/or complications. 

Seeing someone you love being hospitalized, or worse, intubated is a difficult ordeal for us as adults to experience. 

For many among Gen Z and Alpha, the trauma has been embedded in their psyche.

If they were able to get through the pandemic without being touched by death, they almost certainly were affected by the widespread anxiety caused by the then unknown characteristics of the virus.

Of course, you and I also lived through the pandemic, which is why… 

As higher education marketers, it’s crucial to acknowledge its impact on our audiences and adapt our messaging accordingly.

The principles of trauma-informed care can be creatively and sensitively adapted to the field of marketing, especially in the context of higher education for young people who have experienced collective trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By doing so, we can attract new students to our schools while also helping them heal from the past and be ready for the future. 

Here are five key principles of trauma-informed marketing I believe all higher ed marketers should consider in their messaging.

1. Convey Safety and Trustworthiness

It’s important to convey a sense of safety and trustworthiness in our trauma-informed marketing.

Leaving all politics and finger wagging to the side, it is simply a fact that many young people have lost their trust in institutions and institutional representatives. 

Understandably, there was a lot of uncertainty expressed by the health experts during the pandemic. None of us had seen anything like this before.

This uncertainty grew unchecked in the minds of many young people. If the experts don’t know what to do, how in the world are we ever going to figure things out? 

That’s why in trauma-informed marketing, we need to convey a sense of safety and stability. 

This can be achieved by highlighting the supportive services and safe environments that the institution offers. 

Trust can also be built through transparent communication about changes, challenges, and support systems in place.

Transparency is key as it shows a commitment to honesty. 

2. Offer Peer Support and Community Connection

Growing up in a global crisis, many young people today experienced long periods of intense physical isolation. 

Because this isolation had a profound effect on them, peer support and community connection are not just amenities. 

They are essential components of the healing process and a significant aspect of what students are now seeking in their higher education journey.

When we talk about our campuses, we need to emphasize the strong sense of community and the various peer support systems in place. 

In this way, we can show students that they won’t be navigating their college journey alone.

You can highlight student clubs, mentorship programs, and community events that foster connections. 

Real stories and testimonials from current students can be powerful, demonstrating how they found a supportive community and built lasting friendships. 

This kind of messaging resonates deeply with students who have faced isolation and uncertainty during their formative years, offering them a vision of a connected and supportive campus life.

3. Feature Empowered, Authentic Student Voices

One thing that was stripped away from everyone during the pandemic was a sense of control. 

No matter how hard we worked on it, the virus just seemed to spread and touch everyone, including those we loved most.

This lack of control was disempowering and demoralizing for many people, not just the young. 

But young people more than all of us need a sense of empowerment, a sense that their unique voice is needed in the world today.

By involving current students in our marketing efforts, we are not only lending authenticity to our content but also demonstrating our institution’s commitment to empowering student voices.

When we talk about the involvement of current students in marketing, it should go beyond mere testimonials. 

Higher ed marketers should give young students a platform to share their stories, challenges, and successes. 

When prospective students see their peers actively participating in creating the narrative of the institution, it can build a sense of trust.

4. Center the Narrative on Resilience and Recovery

When we create trauma-informed marketing, it’s essential that our marketing messages acknowledge the struggles of the past while also offering a vision of hope and strength

By centering our narrative around the theme of resilience, we not only recognize their trials but also celebrate their potential for growth and recovery.

To do this, we can highlight stories of students and alumni who have faced adversity and emerged stronger.

More importantly, we can share stories or data that reflect how the institution has helped students overcome challenges, adapt, and grow.

When it comes to trauma-informed marketing, it’s about shifting the focus from what they have endured to what they can achieve.

5. Take an Individualized Approach

Each prospective student has a unique set of experiences and needs, especially in the context of the collective trauma induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As marketers, our challenge is to create content that speaks to a wide spectrum of backgrounds, acknowledging the diverse ways in which the pandemic has impacted their lives. 

The aim of trauma-informed marketing is not only to attract students but also to provide them with a sense of belonging and understanding. 

By leveraging personalization techniques in our messaging, we demonstrate that we see and value each prospective student as an individual, not just a number.

Trauma-Informed Marketing Is the Right Thing to Do

It’s become a popular meme that the younger generation are growing up to be an entitled, fragile generation. 

But I don’t see it that way. 

I’ve had the privilege to work with several young people, and what I find is that they are hard-working, creative professionals. 

However, it is true that they have been marked by a historical event that my generation never had to live through. 

Making our messaging more trauma-informed is not only a smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.

By incorporating these principles, higher education marketers can create messaging that is sensitive to the experiences of their prospective students while also empowering and inspiring them to healing and strength.

Need a helping hand for your enrollment marketing needs? Contact us today!


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Featured image by Tetiana via Adobe Stock

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