The other 99%: Why your enrolment and reputation depend on marketing to the every-student. The other 99%: Why your enrolment and reputation depend on marketing to the every-student.

Did you ever get that lightning-strike moment? The one that gave you goosebumps and conviction simultaneously, because it gave you the answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Most mid-career professionals aren’t lucky enough to know the answer (and follow through with it), let alone an 18 year old that’s applying to university. Your prototypical (and less celebrated) student will choose one path of study. But their life trajectory will take them on a wild, wonderful ride in a completely different direction.

These students are not the exception. They are the rule. And they arguably need to be championed right alongside your Rhodes Scholars. Maybe even more so. Because face it — your enrolment goals, revenue, and reputation depend largely on them.

In your marketing campaigns, find those hidden gems, dust them off, and watch them shine. For your institution. For example, the alumnus who started off as a history major and is now designing award-winning modern furniture. The former residence hall assistant who started a nonprofit for shelter animals. Amazing students who didn’t win any grand awards or prestigious grant money. And now look at what they’re doing.

You’re sitting on a goldmine of inspiration and you may not even realize it. But once you do, your eyes will widen at the wealth of reputation-fortifying material in the form of the students who chased an unexpected dream. 

And the prospects who relate to them.

Why only marketing your highest achievers hurts recruitment.

Focusing attention on your Rhodes Scholars and Nobel Laureates in your marketing is tempting. But quite frankly, it’s a little too easy. Of course you want to highlight these high achievers. OK, and maybe pat yourselves on the back. 

But it may be hurting your ability to case a wider net of potential students you can reach. We’re talking fewer brainiacs and more average Joes. And that’s going to be most of your student population.

Your typical prospective students aren’t likely daydreaming about writing dissertations. What they are dreaming about is a higher education experience that will foster their growth as a person. Not just a student. They are dreaming about an experience that will help them answer the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The Summa Cum Laude students already know that answer.

People don’t relate to institutions. They relate to other people.

So when your ordinary prospective students only see star alumni in your marketing material, they have a harder time picturing themselves there. How is someone like them going to fit in? And where’s their seat at the table?

Yes, the best and brightest belong. They exemplify the fullest possible higher ed. experience, and provide an example of what’s possible at your institution. They build your reputation with donors and the community. They matter, and shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed.

But they’re exceptional for a reason. And their exceptionalism could make them more difficult to relate to, for the every-student. Not all of us will (or aspire to) win awards for what we do – but that doesn’t make what we do less valuable or important or impactful in our own corners of the world. Market that.

Higher ed. experiences foster more than a degree — and that’s priceless to your prospective students.

There’s more to your students than the awards they receive or their GPAs. They’re multifaceted, with interests that provide rich colour to the fabric of their lives. You already know this. It’s why you offer more than lecture halls and an academic workload on your campus. The coveted higher ed. experience is about more than class and homework.

And it’s well known that trajectories change. Most students start their higher education intending to study one thing, and graduate with plans that have gone in a different direction. Maybe you were this student. 

Take, for instance, the photography student-turned-music venue owner. While studying photography at university, he became a DJ on the side. Not a bad side hustle for a college kid. Through this, he made contacts throughout his city. Eventually, he was successful enough in DJ-ing and networking, he built his brand in live music venues across the region. His focus shifted from photography to owning and operating a live music venue. His venue has added rich growth and opportunity for musicians and those in the performing arts in his community.

The photographer-turned-venue-owner is still a photographer, by the way. That passion didn’t go away. His career looks different than the one he pictured when he started university. And that’s because of his higher ed. experience. Not in spite of it. 

Attending your institution is a formative experience in one way or another, for every student on campus. Your institution provides them a place to evolve, in and out of the classroom. Bonds are formed that last a lifetime. Connections are made that wouldn’t happen anywhere else. This is all priceless. And the storytelling that can come from any randomly picked alumni may give you a run for your money.

Help prospective students see themselves in your story by highlighting diamonds in the rough.

In order to find these students that are lacking in prestigious awards, it’s important to have a finger on the pulse of what is going on outside the classroom. That goes for alumni, too. And it’s easier now more than ever, thanks to social media. So do a little digging. Another good idea is to reach out to different student clubs — non-academic organizations.

If you find an art student has a large number of followers, that should intrigue you. Dig around and you might discover they have a podcast on a subject area that has nothing to do with their major or faculty. Of course, be sure to vet them and make sure they don’t have any skeletons in the closet. But if they check out, reach out. Their story could be a game-changer to a prospect who sees themselves in that narrative.

People don’t relate to institutions. They relate to other people. When you’re wanting to reach new prospective students, you want to be the choice of tastemakers. You want to be the choice of influencers. You want to be the choice. Instead of going out and looking for the hidden gems, they’ll start to find you.

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