Aug. 17, 2021
1 month, 1 week ago
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Psychographic Segmentation Is the Future of Student Search and Enrollment Strategy

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I remember when segmentation became a thing in higher education. A decade or two ago, we started sending variable data postcards and emails that would insert custom fields for a prospective student’s name, area of academic interest, specific info based on academic performance or geographic location, or something else that would show the students we knew something about them. At the time, that was pretty sophisticated stuff. 

All of it, though—every single data point—was demographic in nature, and most often binarily segmented, meaning students were either in-state residents, or not...high achievers, or not...minorities, or not...you get the point. Binary and demographic. And that stuff was great, but honestly, it was pretty easy, and it’s just not enough anymore. 

Something like 100% of us agree that personalized consumer experiences are superior to generic, and in order to provide prospective students a more personalized consumer experience in 2021, you have to move beyond demographic segmentation and speak to who they really are as people and what will appeal to their emotions. That’s why psychographics are at the core of Carnegie’s portfolio of services and should be the foundation of your strategy for Student Search and enrollment strategy. 

Generalized vs. custom psychographic segmentation 

First, understand there are two ways we do psychographics for audiences at Carnegie. Our Psychographic Darts blend big demographic analysis with qualitative and quantitative psychographic research to create custom segmentation that’s unique to each and every school we serve. This is as sophisticated and advanced as segmentation gets in higher education and greatly increases your chances of delivering the right message to the right students. On the flip side, the Carnegie Motivator is generalized segmentation based on our comprehensive research across college-bound student populations, which tells you which of three motivational buckets is most likely to resonate with a particular student. 

While Darts and Motivators differ in methodology and potency, the one thing they have in common is they are much more effective than simple demographic segmentation.

Applying psychographic segmentation

The key to successful segmentation is cross-channel application. Let me say that again: The key to successful segmentation is cross-channel application. What I mean is that if you’re going to create a segmented communications plan, you have to truly commit to it and carry that segmentation across channels, from email to print to digital advertising to your landing pages and website user experience—even your campus visits. You have to think about it in terms of how the audience is going to experience the messaging. It has to be seamless. Think of it like the synchronized swimming we were just marveling at during the Olympics. It’s somewhat jarring when something or someone is off beat, right? 

But remember, you’re never going to segment your entire comm-flow. That’s impractical and too much work. You want to identify strategic points in the prospective student decision journey to deliver these highly personalized communications, and it starts with Student Search. 

We’re all familiar with the changing demographics of prospective students, and we know that the pool of college-bound students is shrinking, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. So to sustain and/or grow enrollment, you can’t just buy more names. The math just doesn’t support it. Rather, you have to increase conversion of students at every point of their decision journey. Again, it starts with Student Search and delivering more personalized communications early in the process. Applying Carnegie’s Darts or Motivators to Student Search campaigns—segmenting your email and print and digital advertising—can increase engagement and positively impact conversion rates while delivering a larger pool of high-quality inquiries to yield.

Learning from psychographic segmentation

As valuable as Darts and Motivators are as a communications tool, they’re equally valuable as a reporting tool to learn about your different populations of prospective students and inform future communications and enrollment strategy. Think about how you would alter your approach knowing you convert some personality types from prospect to inquiry or admit to enrolled at a much lower rate than other types of students. How would that change the way you communicated with and recruited them? What if you could analyze your Clearinghouse data and know that you're losing students of a certain personality type to School A and students of a different personality type to School B? How would that change the way you tried to differentiate? What if you knew that students of a certain personality type were much more likely to retain and graduate on time? That would be invaluable information for shaping future prospective student pools. 

Start using psychographic segmentation to boost enrollment

The bottom line is today’s prospective students don’t just want personalized communication—they expect it. Tomorrow’s prospective students will demand it, and leveraging psychographics is the key to delivering it. 

The team at Carnegie is excited to lead the way. Contact us to get started with psychographic segmentation on your campus.

Eric Page is Senior Vice President of Enrollment & Marketing Strategy and host of The Quad. With more than 15 years of experience leading and executing cutting-edge communications and marketing strategy in higher ed, Eric has expertise in strategic planning, organizational dynamics, higher education enrollment and marketing, media and public relations, digital marketing, social media, website design, storytelling, and content marketing strategy.

Follow and engage with Eric on Twitter and LinkedIn, where he shares content and opinions on marketing and enrollment strategy, student recruitment, and retention.

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