When the customer does not want to hear from you

While preparing a workshop on the use of social media in students’ recruitment, I came across this study on university selection, which had the following piece of insight:

Students are more likely to respond to information they found on their own, than material that was sent to them.


Hardly ideal, right? These students – our potential customers – have questions. We prepared glossy brochures, fancy websites and institutional videos with answers. But they are worth very little, because students do not want to hear from us.


In these circumstances, when the customer does not want to hear from us, we need to ensure that 1) our institutional information is findable, and 2) that we produce content that adds value.


1. Make institutional information findable

The first thing that we need to do is ensure that students can find the institutional information that we produced.


search barMost likely, students are using search engines and social media to find information. Thus, we need to ensure that, when they enter their search terms, our content will show up in the results. We do that by ensuring that our social media content uses relevant hashtags, and that our pages have the relevant keywords AND are mobile friendly.


Mobile friendliness is very important because Google’s algorithm penalises pages that are not mobile-friendly. It is important also because, very likely, students will be searching for information on their mobile phones*. So, we went to ensure that students will see our page when they enter their search query, and that they have a good experience when they land on our site. For instance, we want to consider how responsive our website is (i.e., How long it takes to load a page), and how easy it is to navigate (e.g., Is it easy to read in a small screen? Or, is it easy to press on the right link?).

mobile web ok

We may also want to consider buying ads for the relevant key terms – which is what Northumbria University and RDI have done in the examples below.

best uni

Finally, we may want to consider retargeting. This is a form of online advertising, where people that visited our website and leave to other pages, are subsequently served our ad on those pages (see here for an overview). Here is an example of an ad that I got on Facebook, after searching for travel games on Amazon.


All of these initiatives are important, but they are just an ‘hygiene’ factor. It’s a bit like offering a sugar packet when someone buys coffee from us – something that we have to do, or people will go away… but will it drive coffee drinkers to our door? No! For that, we need to motivate consumers to want to buy our coffee – or, in the case of someone choosing a university, to motivate students to want to learn more about us.


2. Produce content that adds value

To make students want to learn about us, we need to stand out from the crowd. In the case of university selection, that means being interesting and being worth the students’ time.


The other thing to keep in mind is that a degree is a credence good and, hence, a risky purchase. We want to reduce risk and tell students that, with us, they are in good hands. A great way of doing that is by being seen as the source of useful and credible information about questions that students have.


We can get insight into students’ questions and concerns, for instance, during open days (when students visit the campus), on online forums (for instance, The Student Room), by talking with staff handling student queries, and by generally putting ourselves in the shoes of our customers.



We, then, need to produce content that answers those questions. For this customer segment, visual content is very important. So, we need to think beyond written blogposts or information sheets, and invest in infographics, pictures, and videos – ideally, with an impactful start and with captions, as people may be watching videos on Facebook, where videos run on auto play and are often watched on silent.


We, then, use the principles described in the bullet point above to disseminate this content. Here is one example by ORA Prep.



Would love to hear your tips about engaging with customers that do not want to hear from you.


* UPDATE: Tim Kourdi shared  with me this fantastic article about how Chinese students search study abroad options. It states (among other several interesting and useful research findings) that:

  • 70% of prospective Chinese students use a smart phone as their primary tool for researching study abroad options
  • 90% of prospective Chinese students use social media when deciding on an institution or school

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