Narcissistic. Pessimistic. Tech-savvy. These are three of the most commonly-used terms to describe the Generation Y target, also known as Millennials. While there is inherent truth in all three, successful web marketers look beyond such generalizations to gain a more nuanced understanding of the target audience that will make up the lion’s share of their recruits.

Let’s examine each of these labels individually:

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Stereotype 1: Millennials are narcissistic and entitled.

As kids, they all got trophies just for playing. Their helicopter parents have indulged them their whole lives. Every photo they take is a selfie. All of this is evidence of an entitled, what’s-in-it-for-me generation, right?  Not exactly. Remember that self-centered isn’t the same as selfish. Millennials also form deep connections, they are team players and they seek the collective good. So while it’s true that making this target feel special is important, they are also a product of the new marketplace we’ve created in the digital economy. These young people have grown up in an age of one-on-one marketing in which brands encouraged their participation in brand conversations. They design their own sneakers. They produce ads for snack chips. Their world is fully customized. From the music on their iPod to their signature drink at Starbucks, Millennials have always been able to have it their way. Why should their choice of a college – and the way they develop a relationship with it – be any different? Your web presence must capture their attention and imagination. Emphasize authenticity. Develop a voice that feels real and is rooted in your brand. Don’t fall into the trap of sounding institutional – they won’t be able to relate to it. They want to feel like they have a personal, direct interaction with the brand. Give them lots of opportunities and encouragement to take part, and they’ll advocate and endorse your brand in return.

Stereotype 2: Millennials are pessimistic, and they have no brand loyalty.

In reality, Millennials are no more negative than their predecessors, but they can be harder to win over. In part, this goes back to the concept of customization and wanting things to be just so. But they also question the status quo more strongly than their parents did. Millennials are constantly rethinking and reviewing the brands that are in their sphere, seeking out the ones that resonate the most and feel unique to them. The internet has made the world fully accessible so that Millennials have nearly infinite choices, which opens their college consideration set to unprecedented options that are only a click away.

It’s essential to understand that Millennials are highly social, and the opinions and experiences of friends, family and peers are important to them. This generation is constantly looking for evidence to reaffirm their decisions, so incorporate things like testimonials, videos, student blogs and other student-generated content. Make sure your content is shareable. And be specific about these “proof points” so prospective students will know what they can expect if they attend your school.

Stereotype 3: Millennials are supremely tech-savvy.

As digital natives, today’s high school students and recent graduates live their lives enabled by technology. But while they’re comfortable with technology, they don’t tend to be especially technical, and they don’t have much patience for things that don’t function quickly and seamlessly. They don’t want to work too hard to get what they need – remember, they have many other choices at their fingertips. The pace of web interactions and transactions has sped up enormously, and institutions that don’t follow suit will be left behind, literally and figuratively. Make forms clear and straightforward. Tell them what to expect in advance, what to have ready, what information to be armed with. Avoid big blocks of text. Not only will they not read them, they will likely abandon the page and maybe your site altogether.

Finally, a word about mobile: Use of smartphones and tablets is growing almost exponentially, so be sure that your website performs optimally across all types of devices. We can’t state this more emphatically.

Your website’s engagement factor depends upon your institution’s ability to interpret these target nuances in ways that are meaningful for your brand. It’s not an easy task, especially in this digital age with ever-changing technology and the evolving interests of this young demographic. However, by focusing on a few key, strategic areas, you can significantly improve your reach with this prospective audience. For help in refining your approach, including real world examples of some of the themes discussed here, we encourage you to sign up for our upcoming webinar, ”Breaking Through: Web Strategies to Win Over Millennials”, December 3rd, 1-2 pm ET.