Generation Z has Changed the Student Recruitment Game

Generation Z has Changed the Student Recruitment Game. For. Ever.

How can you meet the expectations of Generation Z? Pay £60k and commit three years?  With market maturity, a declining audience of 18 year olds, and very public questions about the value of some degree courses, it’s fair to say that HE marketers face an increasingly tough gig, in a newly competitive landscape.

Now, throw in the fact that Generation Z (those born up until mid-00s) behave very differently to previous cohorts and, well… tough gets tougher.  The old rules of engagement just won’t cut it.

As a result, non-Russell Group HE marketers are increasingly divided into winners – those who understand and can apply the new rules of HE marketing – and those who don’t.  Don’t be a don’t!

This is our brief guide to effective, Generation Z-proofed, HE marketing.  If you like what you read, and want more, give us a shout and we’ll arrange a chat.

“Many graduates earn ‘paltry returns’ for their degrees”
– Hannah Richardson, BBC News Education reporter

Transparency matters to Generation Z.  Say hello to the Positive Realists.

‘The era of post-truth is giving rise to a tranche of consumers who are rejecting excessive optimism in favour of hyper-pragmatic realism.  Gen Z’s lives have been touched by hate and terror crimes, environmental disasters and political failures, as well as a sharp rise in mental health issues.  The experience of living through unpredictable times is causing Generation Z to gravitate towards products and services that help provide a safety net.’

Guide for HE marketers:

Be honest. Be authentic. Keep it real. Don’t make claims you can’t substantiate. Gen Z sees through hubris.
Be clear about the experiences and career results that your university delivers.

“If you’re making claims about your national or global ranking, student satisfaction or graduate prospects, make sure you practise what you teach… by backing up your claims with good evidence” said the head of the watchdog, Mr Parker.

The universities involved have argued that they have put forward accurate information – but there could be greater clarification. ‘Everyone’s in the top 10 of something’.

Guide for HE marketers:

HE operates a two-year buying cycle. So how can you provide pre-university learning experiences during this window that will capture Gen Z’s attention?  This is also an opportunity for school outreach and parent influence.  Making this happen requires HE marketers to engage faculties in the sales process.
“Stop marketing to Gen Z and start helping them.”

Generation Z want to learn new skills – so help fill their skills-gap.  Don’t just create ads, create experiences. 

Gen Zers are open to having a different kind of relationship with brands.  Some 8 in 10 Gen Zers would like brands to help them learn new skills, according to a 2015 Deep Focus study.  Brands also expose Gen Z to new music and games as well.

As a recent Forrester report advised,

“To capture Generation Z’s attention, business leaders have to go beyond thinking digitally.  They need to become customer-obsessed and deliver experiences founded on the pillars of empathy and delivering utility.”

 When in Rome.

 Generation Z…

  • …is watching 35% less TV – compared to 22% last year.
  • …worry about data collected on them from companies and expect brands to make their data efficient for them.
  • …only respond to brands and publishers that use technology to tell stories in creative ways. According to Snapchat, its users spend around 30 minutes a day on the app and visit it around 18 times a day.
  • …love to interact with brands – they are just choosy about who they engage with. 55% choose brands that are eco-friendly, while 53% select brands that understand them as an individual.
  • …think VR, AR and all things iOS are the coolest things in tech.
  • …prefer (53% of them) to communicate in-person over instant messaging and email.

Guide for HE marketers:

  • TV is expensive for this audience. Don’t let others draw you into this route. Your money could be spent more effectively.
  • Invest in a decent CMS, database and proper CRM. Personalisation matters.
  • Go to Gen Z places of choice. New media and tech matter. Without these Gen Z may feel like they could teach you!
  • Create reasons to interact. Could be linked to skills learning?
  • Be human. Create easy ways for your audience to engage with real people.

Agile Consultation

Guide for HE marketers:

  • Consider reviewing traditional application formats. Standout by meeting Gen Z on their terms.
  • Source skills that can allow you to accept alternative application methods.
  • Showcase applications (permissioned); perhaps run an interactive competition.  Let Gen Z sell to Gen Z.
“Social media is a positive. It’s shaped my career. I don’t have a CV. I use Instagram as a CV.”
– Elias Riadi, YouTuber

It’s time to re-think traditional application formats? Thanks, but no thanks.

The application process

Compared to older generations, Gen Z are eager to use:

Instagram: 59% compared to 21%

Snapchat: 56% compared to 9%

Tumblr: 17% compared to 3%

The more digital we become the more human we need to be

Traditional advertising media?  Zero ***** given

It might sound harsh, but your target audience doesn’t give too many cares for traditional ad platforms

‘Although these age groups are the most connected audiences — the Z-generation dedicates up to four hours each day online using their smartphone- they are the most difficult audience to impact through advertising: more than half use adblockers when browsing online, 70% try to skip the ads or they otherwise avoid it at all costs. They are hardly exposed to television and have no interest in traditional advertising media.’

You can read this full piece – and more goodness – from Good Rebels at

Guide for HE marketers:

  • Create budget for activities that engage Generation Z by reviewing traditional spend. Hard qualify metrics.
  • When using advertising, create a value exchange.  We’ve successfully used Spotify Sponsored Sessions for clients. 

Find a horizon beyond HE

There’s advertising and marketing, and then there’s Elon Musk.  As Mark Wnek has recently written.  You see, Elon doesn’t do advertising and marketing in the traditional sense.  He doesn’t do traditional.  Red Bull was the first to really own this space (pun intended).  But Elon – he’s gone next level.  He executes his vision.  That vision would probably sound glib if articulated –“Tesla is a symbol of human ambition and progress”, perhaps. Instead, Elon simply behaves in such a way that people ingest this truth – and it is a truth

Read Mark’s full piece at

Guide for HE marketers:

  • Think ‘values for money’ over ‘value for money’.
  • Think ‘solid, authentic, unimpeachable world position’ rather than ‘irrelevant marketplace positioning’.
  • Think about how you communicate your place in Gen Z’s world and your place in their day.

Sharing Success Stories – Make it at Bath University

Whole Picture Solution


New, bold creative for the UG 2018 campaign. Giving Bath Spa stand out in a challenging market – presented as a progressive, forward looking, creative university. To drive acquisition via Open Day attendees as well as profile raising.


The creation of a new big idea ‘Make it’ which can be rolled out across all channels, including digital OOH, Snapchat ads and filters, Spotify sponsored sessions, programmatic and social.  The development of a campaign guide and toolkit for the in-house creative team to use.


We have seen a 10% uplift in Open Day bookings.

  • Strategy and implementation plan
  • Bold new creative & toolkit
  • Dynamic tone of voice and messaging

A completely new Generation Z centric learning experience

Launching the UK’s first brand new university for 40 years

We’ve been appointed to deliver social media focused marketing strategy, creative and executions by the team behind the boldest, most radical start up in higher education anywhere in the world.

Based in Hereford, this new university (working title ‘New Model in Technology and Engineers’ (NMiTE)) will deliver 21st century engineers – catalysts for innovation and change.  With a radically new approach to learning where lectures are replaced by sprint-based, hands-on, real world projects, NMiTE will produce a generation of emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs, innovators, employees and leaders for the future.

These engineers will fill a crucial role in the continued success of UK plc:

  • The average age of engineers in industry is 57.
  • The UK currently produces 60,000 engineering graduates a year – a shortfall of 40,000 every year.
  • Only 9% of the UK engineering workforce is female, the lowest proportion in Europe.
  • 62% of engineering graduates ‘don’t have the right skills for today’s workplace’ according to engineering employers.

NMiTE degrees will be awarded by the University of Warwick.

David Sheppard, Trustee & Director NMiTE, said:

“We’ve appointed Bray Leino CX because of their proven ability to apply their understanding of Generation Z communication and experience expectations to Higher Education marketing.”

Alan Thorpe, Managing Director, Bray Leino CX, commented:

“Launching a new university is a terrific assignment – especially one that is backed by a highly motivated leadership team, that solves a genuine UK workforce problem and is to be located in a beautiful city. We look forward to working alongside David and the NMiTE team to deliver the success that we all desire.”

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