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Smart College Recruitment Targets Wisely Using Segmentation

Feb 03, 2016

Your successful students share certain traits – and you should be using that insight to drive your recruitment efforts because you want to attract those most likely to enroll and succeed. So why do so many college recruitment strategies have such vague definitions of their ‘target audience’? In the following post, you will learn of the advantages of segmentation and how a more clearly defined target audience driving your recruitment efforts will improve recruitment, retention, referrals and graduation rates.


WP - Targeting & Segmentation_2017_FS.jpg

Download this new white paper, Targeting & Segmentation.  Written by Dudley Stevenson, author of Marketing Direct: Breaking Through the Clutter, this insightful white paper offers you simple, straight-forward tips and best practices that can deliver an immediate and positive impact on your business.



Please, describe your ‘successful student’ for us.

Take your time.

But please keep in mind that we are expecting much more than “Males and females between 18 and 55 years of age.”

Just so you know, we are expecting something like this…

“Well, our successful undergraduate students tend to fall into one of three segments. The first is called “Climbing the Hill” which is an emancipated 18 to 24-year old that is renting a house with friends. They’re single, never married and tend to be Spanish ethnicity with some limited identification with Spanish culture preferring to read, write, speak and listen to English.

They are starting out, working full-time hours though most likely via 2 or more part-time jobs. And those jobs tend to be customer facing jobs in the food industry and/or retail industry.

Their financial standing is ‘rocky’ meaning they don’t have a personal savings account but they do have a checking account as well as a debit card. They earn between $20,000 and $29,999 annually. They have taken out loans in the past 12-months – typically tied to education as well as the need to cash to cover a utility bill or pay another loan.

They have changed jobs within the past 12 months and expect to change again in the next 12 months – this time into something better. And they are planning to enroll in college within the next 12 months in order to help them advanced their professional career.

They are liberal in their political outlook and they are technologically advanced – relying on mobile devices (smartphone) to access the Internet, emails as well as watch videos. They are very active on social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr) for socializing with family, friends and those that share common interests.

They accept advertising and see value in exchanging information. The instant message frequently (6 to 15 times per day) and they download movies and music to their mobile device. They listen to Pandora and watch videos on YouTube and Hulu.

They read at least one of the past four issues of Fitness, Guns and Ammo, Spirit/Southwest Airline. And they have viewed Archer, Ellen DeGeneres and the Discovery Channel at least once in the past month.

When it comes to education, they are searching for a degree program that is typically in business, healthcare or social services that can be completed in under 4-years and offers courses of 6 to 8 weeks in length with monthly start dates 12-months out of the year. They may incur some debt via student loans in order to remain enrolled and graduate in their time frame but they prefer paying their tuition as they go out of the earnings from their work. This may cause the occasional ‘stop out’ or changing from 2 courses per term to 1 course per term. They also want a college that has a positive reputation in the local market as well as a successful career center and active alumni network that will help them transition from student to a successful professional career. Because they hold one or more job, they need flexibility in their schedule so they tend to lean towards online but for certain subjects, they prefer classroom (100% and blended courses) so they shy away from 100% online programs. They are also open to courses that start at 6 am, Monday through Saturday as well as courses that end no later than 11 pm, Monday through Saturday. They prefer to have Sundays off from school so they can either work, relax or catch up on homework.

They succeed in our institution because of their earlier educational successes – they earned 3.5/4.0 GPA in public high school that is located within 25 mile radius of our main campus – and they have strong time management and organizational skills. Many are strong, active writers –most maintain an online site where they post a diary or creative writing at least 3 times per week. They keep a daily calendar that clearly marks out time for work, classes, study, and fun.

They engage with faculty at least 3 times per week – sometimes in class discussions and other times outside of class in order to share ideas and ask questions related to coursework and/or professional development. Their preferred mode of communication outside of class is email or text, but they do talk and volunteer in class.”

And then you can go on to describe the other undergraduate segments…

So Why is Segmentation Even Necessary?

As you read that description, you got a very detailed look at a person rather than a faceless group. You know where they are located, what they have accomplished, what they are accomplishing and what they wish to accomplish at your institution. You understand their motivation and where to reach them with your recruitment messages.
This helps you focus your recruitment efforts on those most likely to succeed based on shared characteristics with successful students from today and the recent past.

But getting to this level takes some work – specifically appending data to your existing student database and research in order to identify personal factors. And that is going to be an on-going process of appending data and research because it will allow you to continue to improve performance and identify changes earlier in the process so you can develop appropriate responses rather than panic and react late.

Segmentation – How do you get to this point?

The first step is to look at your data and come up with a clear, data-driven definition of ‘successful student’. For example, factors might include:

These are just a few examples – but they address all facets of the student’s experience. Rank them based on the available data then award points based on the results so that those that have the highest points have shown the most desirable and successful results to the questions.

Then rank them by total points earned and divide into quartiles or deciles – your call. Those in the top 1 or 2 groups are now your ‘successful students’.

Append data and identify segments. Take those ‘successful students’ and work with a firm like PRIZM or Neustar.   (For more detailed product information.)

Interviews and Surveys. Now that you have identified who you should be targeting, it’s time to understand them on a more granular level. And that requires an on-going research strategy that helps you understand their needs, wants, perception, expectations, and motivations.

Start with interviews and focus groups so you can get some immediate insight – then use that information to create surveys that are more effective. This requires some upfront planning in terms of identifying the questions you want and need to ask.

At the conclusion of the interviews and focus groups, you should have the insight you need to create the survey. The questions you will ask and the choices you will offer based on what you heard.

Writing the Persona

After the data has been gathered and analyzed, you can begin to create the detailed persona. The persona should have the following information.

Background. Key information about the individual in terms of demographics and psychographics and geographic factors.

Goals. What are their primary and secondary goals in terms of personal and professional achievements?

Challenges. What primary and secondary challenges do they face in terms of personal and professional achievements?

Solutions. How you can provide them with unique, valuable solutions to overcome those challenges and achieve those goals.

Quotes. Actual statements captured during the research phase that help readers of the persona understand and related to that persona.

Common Objections. Actual statements and observations based on the data captured during the research phase that helps the readers understand what this persona is most likely to raise during the recruitment process.

Marketing message. Specific responses your organization will use to present your solutions to this persona in order to address their wants, needs, expectations, and perceptions as well as overcome the objections.

Elevator pitch. A clear, concise presentation of your solution(s) that everyone in the institution will use when addressing this persona’s wants, needs, expectations, and perceptions. Keep this benefit rich (What’s in it for the potential student) rather than feature-rich.

Final thought.

The solutions presented here need to be an on-going part of your operations – it is not a ‘one and done’ project. It’s a way of life.

If you have questions about anything presented in this post, please share them in the comment section or feel free to contact me directly.

Tags: Student Acquisition, Student Recruitment, Student Retention, Market Segmentation, Personas
Category: Higher Education Marketing

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