Understanding the Millennial Generation: Marketing Your Services

By Julianne Scibetta, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia

A colleague of mine once told me of a marketing campaign he ran to attract more students to his tutoring center for an open house. He blew up balloons and attached neon colored index cards on them announcing the center, drawing particular attention to the availability of free food. These were then displayed en masse around campus. He was baffled that no one showed up.

It seemed like the tried-and-true equation. Bright colors. A gimmick (balloons). Food, a sure-fire staple of attracting students. What happened?

My colleague questioned students about this bizarre backfiring. "Didn't you see the balloons around campus?" "Yeah." "Why didn't you come?" "I didn't know it was for me."

Whoop, there it is.

We can talk until we're blue in the face about the values of our services to both our tutors and tutees. Increased confidence in material, meeting new people and practicing your interpersonal skills. Money in your pocket and a great line on the resume. The satisfaction of having helped yourself or someone else in the name of the greater academic good. Naturally that's what we all aspire to, but it's not getting the response we're looking for. Because students don't know we're looking for them.

What I recommend is counterintuitive to the world to which we’ve grown accustomed, or the world we were warned/promised technology would bring: a robotic, mechanical, conformist society in which everyone can be categorized. The difference is technology has only brought us more options for individuality, not fewer. It has brought us the globalization of business and trade as well as the ability to create alter-egos with limitless bounds. Such personalization and individuation is directly in response to the fear of conformity. Don't let me get lost in the shuffle; I am not just a randomly assigned number.

Why should we treat our students like a random email address generator? Be deliberate in your advertising and play to our students' individuality. Names are incredibly powerful things; use them and they will come. Mail merge in office software packages make it easy to customize mass messages quickly and effectively. In my email tutor recruitment letters, the difference in response from one year to another using the same exact letter was nearly 50%, partially attributed to a personalized salutation versus a general one.

Other language in messages and advertising can signal to students that you are speaking directly to them. Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of Millennials Rising and several other books explaining modern generational issues, state that more important than individuality to today's students are their egos. We're looking for the best and the brightest. We're looking for the crème de la crème. Our services are focused on your unique needs. Use any positive qualifiers and categorizations that you can, and you will find an increased reaction and interest - buzz - from the student body.

Individualization is one small step in a larger marketing plan. As far as I know, my colleague hasn't tried using balloons with "Hey Johnny, look here! An important message for you!" But maybe instead of "Center for Student Excellence Open House Today - Free Pizza!" he could have categorized the information to speak to each individual and used, for example, "Physics II Study Group Today - Free Pizza!" I encourage you to apply small tweaks of detailing and personalizing to your current outreach campaigns and to share with others your ideas of creating marketing to today's students.

Questions or comments? Contact the author at j.scibet@usip.edu.