• Marketing the Career Center: Audience Segmentation, Customization, and Differentiation

    by Gary Alan Miller
    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    September 18, 2013

    Sue Keever Watts 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 classes.

    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 career fair).

    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 resources:

    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 twitter@garyalanmiller