by Gary Alan MillerSpotlight for Career Services ProfessionalsSeptember 18, 2013
Marketing is a consistent challenge for career centers, and
is often an area in which we have little formal training. In this
series of articles about marketing your career center, I will cover
several important marketing concepts to help you get the word out
about your programs and services. You'll read about marketing
analytics, channels, storytelling, calls to action, and the
importance of consistency. This first article focuses on audience
segmentation and differentiation.
A marketing mentor of mine once said to me, "If you're talking
to everyone, you're talking to no one." By this, he meant that
generic broadcast messages are less effective than personalized
"narrowcast" messages. Consider how much personalization we
experience now in our daily lives. Amazon.com knows your purchasing
habits enough to make recommendations. Facebook has an algorithm
that shows you friend posts based on how likely they are to be
interesting to you. You probably don't even want to know
how much your Internet surfing habits are informing advertisers!
Austin Peay State University has even created a course
"recommendation engine" called Degree Compass that recommends
classes to students based on their performance in previous
Given all that, it's no surprise that our students are turned
off by e-mail blasts from their career centers that don't take into
account their own interests and preferences. Audience segmentation
and customization is one solution to this problem.
Audience segmentation is a fairly simple concept. The idea
behind it is that different populations are driven by different
motivations. Do the same things appeal to a traditional-aged,
female first-year student as they do to a male, nontraditional
senior? This isn't to say that you need to create a unique message
for every possible audience. But, you do need to consider who your
target audiences are for a given program or service, and then ask
yourself if that audience needs to be further segmented to allow
for custom messages that speak to their needs or motivations.
Let's use a career fair as an example. You may have a pretty
wide audience to which you are marketing your fair. But, will a
business major be motivated by the same companies as a political
science major? Maybe the answer is yes, maybe the answer is no. So,
you may need to dig deeper. Would someone who attended your
"careers in the public sector" networking event be interested in
the same companies as someone who attended your "Fortune 500"
networking event? The examples could go on and on. But, what is
certain is that the more you can logically segment your target
audience, the better you can speak to their unique motivations and
desires, and hopefully drive them to action (i.e., attending that
We may not currently be able to customize in the same way that
Amazon, Pandora Radio, or others can. However, we can take simple
steps, like merging data into our messages to include student
names, programs they attended, their majors, and so forth. Try this
simple experiment to prove the point. Send one e-mail to a group of
students using the salutation, "Dear students." Then send the same
e-mail to a different group of students using the salutation, "Dear
[first name]," where you use their actual names. If you track link
clicks from those messages (which I'll discuss in a future
article), you will see the difference!
A concept that is somewhat related to segmenting and customizing
is differentiation. This applies more to you than to your audience,
but it is still rooted in the language choices you make in your
marketing messages. Although we don't necessarily think about our
services in this way all the time, we do have competitors for the
services and programs we provide. Whether it's the student who
chooses to do an Internet search for resume advice or the student
who uses the many online platforms available to help locate and
secure an internship, we do have to compete for our students'
attention. So, it behooves us to differentiate.
What makes your office special? What can you provide that your
competitors cannot provide? Maybe it's specialized regional
knowledge. Maybe it's your employer relationships. Maybe it's the
personal touch you can provide. Or maybe it's a million other
things. You should be sure to understand what factors are
differentiators for you-and more specifically what differentiators
your students care about-and use language that emphasizes those
differences to your audience.
While these concepts are not complex, when combined, audience
segmentation (identifying what is unique about them) and
differentiation (identifying what is unique about you) can have a
notable impact on your marketing efforts. When you then add on a
layer of customization or personalization, you can have a
meaningful impact on your results.
I look forward to sharing more marketing concepts in the coming
months. In the meantime, if you'd like to read more about audience
segmentation and differentiation, here are a few additional
Gary Alan Miller is co-founder of the Innovation Forum for
Career Services, is director of external relations and
communication for SoACE, and currently serves as senior assistant
dean for academic advising at UNC Chapel Hill. Find him on
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