Why Authenticity is So Important in Recruiting Gen Z Students

- 3 min read -

Three female teens laughing on a bench

Why Authenticity is So Important to Gen Z

How do you make your brand seem more authentic for student recruitment? You don’t. You build an authentic brand from the very beginning.

Generation Z responds to authenticity in a brand and they can quickly sniff out something fake. You can’t add sincerity to a brand. Gen Z is too media-savvy for that and will perceive these efforts as transparent pandering.

If you already have a well-defined brand, there is no need to make it “more authentic.” You simply have to be more strategic in how you share it.

Don't Mistake Authentic With Cool

Too many companies mistake the need to be perceived as authentic with the need to be perceived as cool. These are not the same thing.

There is very little chance your brand will ever be cool. That’s ok, it’s not supposed to be. You’re not trying to be their BFF, you’re trying to be their school.

If that’s the case, a bit of uncool seriousness is required and certainly expected. Be who you really are and don’t try to be cool. Give your audience real value with real information about what they’re really looking for, without trying to dress it up in Blundstones and OVO gear.

You Don't Define Your Brand Voice, Your Audience Does

Just because you’re telling people what they want to hear, doesn’t mean you’re being inauthentic. 

Giving people information in terms they can understand is just being effective. It’s the core of student recruitment. However, the water gets muddy when trying to construct that brand voice.

A common marketing mistake is sitting in an office for weeks trying to define your brand’s voice and guessing what your audience wants to hear. It’s far more effective to simply listen.

If you can’t invest in a media monitoring solution, you can still do your own market research by reading social media conversations and comments about your school and all of your competitors.

Take note of the words they’re using, both good and bad. The negative terms are the words you will use to identify your audience’s pain points, for example:

  • Annoying online portal
  • Clunky payment system
  • Brutal transit system

Now, make a note of the positive words and use them to sell your experience. For example:

  • Amazing virtual tour
  • Simple schedule
  • Brand new dorm rooms

Don’t take this too far by trying to use their slang in your student recruitment materials. This is likely too far off-brand and will be outdated by this time next year.

Develop Different Student Recruitment Personas

You will also want to avoid the shotgun method of advertising to youth. Tailor your message to the various people who may be reading it. Again, this isn’t being inauthentic, it’s being mindful of the fact that different people are looking for different things.

Chances are a local student has a completely different set of questions and concerns compared to an international student. Don’t use the same messaging to reach both audiences.

Do Snapchat and Instagram the 'Right Way'

Snapchat and Instagram are where a lack of authenticity will be called out and discredited immediately.

Don’t kill yourself trying to be too young or edgy with your videos. Would-be students don’t want you to be edgy. They want real information on your programs, facilities, and residence.

If you’re trying to convey the less tangible aspects, show them, don’t tell them. For example, nothing is more authentic than a member of your LGBT Council speaking about your campus’ diversity. This resonates more than a voiceover saying “We embrace diversity” over B-roll of the campus.

Take these videos seriously and make sure they are:

  • Professional: Clear audio and video, with a well-framed shot
  • Authentic: An informal interview, coming off as unscripted with a few talking points. Be prepared, without being rehearsed. 

Parting Thoughts

The more you try to be authentic, the more you will come off as fake. It’s cruel irony. But, if you have a well-defined brand, have the courage to stand behind it and not try to be all things to all people.

Telling people what they want to hear is not being fake, unless the information you’re presenting is fake. Tailor your messaging to match what will resonate with each buyer/customer persona and that message is more likely to be perceived as authentic.

Simply avoid trying to be something you’re not. That’s the most important step in making a genuine and authentic connection with your audience.

Contact Glacier if you'd like to hear more. 

P.S. Follow us on LinkedIn for tips, tricks, and industry updates.

We collected insights from 1,700 high school students on their media preferences for higher ed advertising. Access Report.

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