The future of education marketing: Does it start with behavioral Psychology?

October 18, 2022

Jayde Robertson

Marketers have always been interested in understanding how to influence human behavior. In fact, many of the earliest marketing textbooks were written by psychologists who were trying to understand how people made decisions about buying products and services.

The first edition of Dr. Neil Borden's Principles of Marketing textbook was published in 1948 and focused on consumer decision-making using insights from behavioral psychology, which was just starting as a discipline at that time. Since then, marketers have used various tactics like advertising and branding to shape public perceptions about their brands or products, but they have typically believed that these efforts must be based on rational thinking—that is, if you tell people something often enough or repeat it over time with consistency, they will believe it's true because it seems logical.

Where does behavioral Psychology fit in?

Human behavior has always been a guiding force for marketing, but the growth of behavioral Psychology as a science has provided a new way to understand and influence it.

This is an emerging field of study that looks at how human beings behave in response to their environment. This can include social interactions, cultural influences, and situational factors. Behavioral Psychologists aim to uncover unconscious actions or processes by observing conscious behaviors and using this information to (somewhat) predict future actions.

The applications of behavioral Psychology are wide-ranging across all industries: marketers use it to develop products we think will meet our needs; doctors use it to treat illnesses; lawyers use it at trial; military strategists use it when planning operations; advertisers use it when crafting messages for consumers based on past preferences etc...

How does it inform marketing?

Behavioral science can be used to help marketers understand consumers and what prompts them to act or change their minds. This, in turn, informs effective campaigns,
Behavioural Psychology can provide a framework for understanding how we make decisions and why.

We have three tiers of decision-making. They are deliberate reflection, where we carefully consider our options; intuitive deliberation, where we draw on past experience to guide our choices; and automatic practices involving habits that we’ve developed over time.

Deliberate reflection is the most conscious tier. It involves a great deal of effort and active thought, including the consideration of consequences and other relevant factors in order to make a decision. It is also slow: it takes time for us to go through this process before coming up with an answer or way forward that feels right for us at that moment in time – particularly if there are many things to consider or weigh up against each other (i.e., numerous options).

Our second tier is intuitive deliberation – a sort of ‘fast thinking’ version of deliberate reflection where people tend not to think about their decisions beyond what feels natural or instinctive for them at that moment in time: they simply reach for whichever option feels right without much hesitation in between thoughts. This makes intuitive choice seem like automatic behavior because it happens so quickly without any apparent effort involved - but it's worth noting that while this might feel automatic (because there isn't much forethought), it still requires some degree of awareness: someone who chooses an option based purely on intuition may not realize why they did so until afterward when they reflect upon their choice more deliberately.

The last tier is important for marketers because it is the most significant one for changing consumer behavior.

The last tier of the model is made up of two elements:

  • Habits are hard to break – this means that when consumers are in a routine, they are less likely to change their behavior. This can be good news and bad news depending on how you look at it. (Much like everything else!) The good news is that if you have already built a habit with consumers and they stick with your brand, this could mean that your brand loyalty is quite high and you should therefore see some steady sales growth over time! On the other hand, if consumers don’t like something about your product or service (e.g., taste), then trying to persuade them not to buy from another competitor may be difficult due to their habits being so strong!
  • Change needs motivation – one way that education marketers can encourage behavioral change from their students would be through offering incentives such as tuition discounts or free classes; however, these incentives alone aren’t enough. There needs to be an internal desire within people which drives them towards changing behavior patterns (e.g., wanting to speak English fluently to apply for a job in another country).

Marketers need to first understand that habits are hard to break, so their best strategy will be to change habits by creating new ones instead. This can be done by capitalizing on the small moments of our day where we are most likely to perform the action we want: that's when our prospects need something from us.

Seeing it in action, as an education marketer.

  • Simple steps require little effort on the prospect’s part. I.e., making it easy to apply for enrollment, so that the student doesn’t need to actively remember too many details about the institution. (Creating new memories can be difficult, much like forming a new habit).
  • Facilitating the creation of a new routine that makes it both easy and automatic for students (or parents) to think of, refer to - or visit an institution, either online or in person. This could be in the form of webinars, podcasts - or open days.

The best way to do this is by crafting messages based on how people actually behave rather than how they may behave if you make certain assumptions about them.

A great place to start would be behavioral Psychology.

For example, if you want to persuade someone to attend an open day in your city, behavioral Psychology tells us that the most effective way of doing so is not by focusing on the benefits of attending the open day itself (i.e., “we have awesome speakers lined up and we're going to talk about some really cool topics!”) but instead by focusing on how attending will change them (i.e., “attending our event will give you insight into what our student life is like, as well as what you can expect once you graduate”).

For marketing tactics to be effective, marketers need to accept that people don’t always act rationally and that behavior is often motivated at least as much by emotion as by logic.

Because of our inherent biases, marketers must accept that people don’t always act rationally. People are motivated by emotion as much as logic. Acknowledging these facts will allow marketers to develop more effective tactics for the future of education marketing.

Approaching student enrollment holistically

Holistic marketing utilizes the philosophy of holism. This means that the business and its parts are viewed as one unified entity, and all of its activities are attuned to one specific goal. Put simply, the student is as valuable as the marketer - and vice versa.

Holistic marketing attaches value to your business and creates a purpose for everyone. Customers and employees are a part of the journey instead of the business working solely towards sales and profits.

The Psychology of marketing is complex and constantly changing. It’s up to us as a society to decide how we use technology and other advancements to market our ideologies, products, and services and what we determine to be ethical and unethical as we move forward.

When you approach student enrollment holistically, you look at the entire student journey. You look at all the touchpoints—the different channels, interactions, people, and stages that make up that journey.

You need to know what that whole process looks like in order to understand how you can best support your students through it.

So, where does that leave us?

We are more likely to act upon our impulses than we think, but that doesn’t mean marketers can’t guide our behavior. Behavioral science has given marketers a new framework for understanding how humans make choices and why. It also gives them an opportunity to understand how they might persuade us to act more in line with their own goals and objectives.

Marketers are in a unique position to use this knowledge to guide consumer behavior toward the products and services they’re selling. However, there is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation. You can’t trick someone into buying something they don’t want or need just because you know how to nudge them into making that decision.

Marketers who are looking for ways to increase their effectiveness should look no further than behavioral science. By understanding how people think and make decisions, marketers can create better messaging and more compelling offers that resonate with buyers on an emotional level.

Are you a marketer curious to learn about the aspects that affect our industry?

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