How peer-to-peer marketing can help with student representation

Representation, authenticity and community are hugely important for prospective Gen Z students. Marketing that leverages current students can put these factors front and centre

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27 Apr 2022
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Nina Bilimoria Angelo speaks at Hashtag Higher Ed
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What has the biggest influence on your investment decisions? Factors such as the top speed of a new car or the number of Michelin-starred restaurants at a holiday resort might look good on paper, but they are unlikely to have the biggest influence – it’s how decisions make us feel that is really important. This applies to major purchases such as a house, but also to one of the biggest decisions that young people are likely to make: choosing their university.

During a talk at Times Higher Education’s HashtagHigherEd UK event, held in partnership with Unibuddy, Nina Bilimoria Angelo, chief marketing and strategy officer at the company, shared insights into how higher education marketers can leverage their current students to connect with prospective students throughout their decision-making process.

“We talk about Gen Z as a distinctive group, but they are individuals, too,” Angelo said. “They evaluate their decisions just like everyone else. And they’re not just comparing between universities. Higher education has competition from elsewhere, too, including apprenticeships, boot camps and private entrepreneurship. Students feel disconnected with so many options. The sector needs to take this confusion and transform it into a sense of belonging.”

This sense of belonging can be fostered by putting current students front and centre of university marketing. This helps to prioritise three factors that prospective students increasingly find important: representation, authenticity and community.

“When your marketing gives access to a diverse student body, students feel represented,” Angelo said. “You don’t leave any room for doubt about what life is like at the university. You make it clear that students won’t simply pass; they’ll flourish.”

At Unibuddy, peer-to-peer student marketing plays a vital role. Current students are overwhelmingly viewed as the most trustworthy source for prospective students. Gen Z, in particular, values authenticity, Angelo said. They look for institutions that are more than just a brand with a single voice; they admire those that are filled with people from diverse backgrounds with a common set of values.

“Higher education needs to work harder to create a sense of belonging,” Angelo explained. “A current student is someone that a prospective student can relate to, whose opinions are genuine, and who can help them find their community. Choosing a university may be the biggest decision that many young people make. Of course, they are guided by facts, but their feelings are also important. It’s about reaching ­their heart, not just their head.”

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