College Marketing 101: Intro to Gen Z, Generation Audio

10 min read

Millennials may have been at prime ages to adopt the internet, but Gen Z takes the term digital natives to a whole new level. Born between 1997 and 2015, they're the first generation of Americans brought into a world full of mobile and smart devices already at their fingertips.

Gen Zers are also among the same cohort that will be making decisions about their college education right now and for many, many semesters to come.

So if schools want to compete for their future, they're going to have to understand that the same marketing techniques that might've worked for generations past won’t cut it for this next crop of students.

And one of the biggest lessons today's educational recruiters would be wise to learn is that Gen Z loves their audio.

Follow along and we'll teach you some more basics about this incoming class of audiophiles, as well as some proven strategies from our own college advertisers that could also help your school with their enrollment goals.

Be authentic: Gen Z may be young, but they aren't naive

In many ways, Gen Zers are the savviest consumers around. Raised digitally, they’ve been exposed to more advertising than any other demographic group before them.

So, don’t underestimate how smart and alert this generation is to the tricks of the trade. They’ve watched YouTube videos and Netflix documentaries about subliminal messaging. They’ve been inundated with Instagram and TikTok videos of people talking about the perils of student debt. 

Frankly, some of them are skeptical about ads for higher education. But, there is an easy way around this: by being authentic.

To do that we suggest you ditch the flashy, promotional language and try to present your school's value proposition in a way that is truthful and compelling. That's always the simplest way to get your message heard.

Hook them quickly: you have less than 10 seconds to impress

Getting hit with advertisements is as natural as breathing for Gen Z. Consequently, they've become fiercely protective of their time.

So if your ad doesn’t resonate with them immediately, they’ll instinctively tune you out.

In practice, you have about 8 seconds to grab their attention. For context, the average watch time for a video ad is roughly 10 seconds.

But one of the best things about audio advertising is that you usually have about 30 full seconds to make your school's case, since 98% of streamers will listen to an ad all the way through.* Still, that won't guarantee their interest.

Our advice is to focus on getting that initial hook right first, and we're sure you'll get your message across just fine.

*according to AdsWizz internally reported data, the industry average for listen-through-rates is 98%

Use micro-influencers: the best way to market Gen Z is through Gen Z itself

Today's students are much more interested in what their peers have to say about a topic than whatever their favorite celebrities get paid to.

This ad here is actually a really good example of this type of social proof and word-of-mouth marketing that works on them.

If you want to, we can also create a similar ad experience for your school as well. Just visit our in-app studio, request to have one of our young voice talents read out a student testimonial, and we can turn around and have that message recorded the next day.

Use family members: they trust them more than anyone else

According to a McKinsey survey, some 82% of Gen Zers trust their family (and friends) over any other source. That may come as a shock to some of you parents of Gen Z children, but conversations about college have always been a family matter anyways.

For that reason, it could be helpful to target parents as part of your school's recruitment program too. After all, it's their influence that can weigh heaviest on these types of important life decisions.

Tailor your message: it isn't a bonus, it's a must

Personalization is another key ingredient to any Gen Z marketing campaign.

Nearly half (46%) of college students polled say they purposefully like, comment, or share things to 'train algorithms' to give them content or ads they find relevant to their lives. While over two-thirds (69%) of Gen Zers even say they welcome targeted advertising.

Lucky for you, AudioGO was specially built with some powerful targeting features to help with that, like: 

Device targeting - seeing how 98% of Gen Z owns a smartphone, we've seen our fair share of college campaigns that will selectively, and exclusively, target just mobile phone users.

Behavioral targeting - is a great way to reach students by a particular subject or passion they may have, like 'politics' or 'arts & culture,' etc. Options like 'high school graduate,' households with children,' and 'student' are popular picks for obvious reasons too.

Zipcode targetingperfect for marketing the locations where most of your student body comes from.

Podcast targeting - this chart breaks down Gen Z's preferences in podcasts.

Music targeting - this chart will give you some more insights into what kind of music kids are listening to these days.

Just keep in mind your listeners will be hearing your message during scheduled breaks. So if you do choose to go with a background track for your ad, try to make it sound similar to the music genres you’re targeting. Don't kill the vibe.

Communicate value: Gen Z is suspicious about ROI

Gen Z witnessed their parents and family members go through the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.

They’ve also watched their peers carve untraditional careers and make small and large fortunes in social media, eSports, cryptocurrency, and the online gig economy.

It might even sound ridiculous, but colleges will have to compete against these industries - none of which require a degree - for their interest.

Where children in the past used to aspire to become astronauts and doctors, now 86% of young people list influencer as their dream job

Older generations may scoff at this notion, but much of the motivation there has to do with Gen Z simply wanting to avoid massive debt - along with a desire to set themselves up in a world that increasingly rewards social currency over hard work.

Say what you will, but this is their reality.

And if you're going to try to compete on this type of playing field, you're really going to have to showcase the tangible value of a degree now more than ever. 

Appeal to their big ideas: Gen Z has bigger goals than saving for retirement and buying a house

The climate crisis, soaring housing costs, gun violence, creating their own startup business, the next pandemic, colonizing mars - these are some of the topics that preoccupy a normal Gen Z mind.

Failing to appeal to these big ideas will only make it difficult to connect with this class of big thinkers.

Sure, they're still concerned with practical things too, but in the end, schools can’t afford to ignore the fact that a lot of them share a need to make a difference in the world around them.

For Gen Z, purpose can be more important than a paycheck. Balancing and appealing to this priority is vital.

Pair audio with social: if you want to breakthrough to Gen Z on their phones

We know Gen Zers are social media power users. You're probably marketing them on Instagram as we speak.

But what you might not know is how much more effective your mobile marketing can be when you combine social and audio ads together.

For proof, take a look at this case study about a college that added AudioGO to a month-long Facebook recruitment campaign that netted a 775% return on their investment.

Despite this not being a school, you'll also enjoy reading this story about another advertiser that found a lot of success leveraging the combination of social and audio ads in a multichannel marketing campaign.

Here's the simple fact of the matter, though - if you're already marketing students on social apps because they use it all the time, then there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be marketing them on audio platforms as well.

Especially since audio is the #1 (78%) daily activity Gen Zers spend most of their time with on the phone!

Audio is essential: as Gen Z is emotional

Let's face it, Gen Z is emo(tional).

Incidentally, the source of a lot of their stress and sensitivity stems from their heavy use of social media. According to a recent survey:

  • 48% of Gen Z say social media makes them feel anxious, sad, or depressed
  • 58% are 'seeking relief' from social media
  • 24% consider quitting social media due to negative self-esteem

On the flip side, these polls show how that the vast majority of Gen Zers will turn to music streaming and podcast apps as their primary outlet for happiness (59%) and inspiration (67%).

Both of which are well-known prerequisites to lots of positive ad engagement.

And so long as you do well to follow the other lessons we've outlined in this post for creating effective audio campaigns, it should be fairly easy for you to drive enrollment among this next generation of motivated listeners for many, many semesters to come.

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