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Generation Alpha - How To Engage Them

August 24, 2021

Let’s recap what we learned about Generation Alpha from part 1 of this article/podcast. In some ways they are amplifications of developing trends through Millenials and Gen Z. 

They can detect inauthenticity quickly, are not impacted much by ads, don’t believe the marketing slogans and prefer to crowdsource the real deal. They are information literate, grew up in fake newsville and have known from day one that not everything is as it seems. 

Diversity, inclusion and social responsibility are all part of the fabric of a Gen Alpha. They are parented in a way that encourages them to forge their own paths with greater agency and independence, almost coming full circle from the so called “latch key kids” of the 60’s but for different reasons.

Prudent with money, but with huge potential spending power amidst the most numerous generation the world has ever seen. They shy away from big financial commitments, and prefer the sharing economy to ownership. So the question is, what does all this mean for our colleagues in education marketing and recruitment?

All this may seem distant, but people didn’t just radically change on 1st January 2010. Generations are not an exact science at all, and we are going to see the alpha effect growing among new students in just a couple of years, 

How do we prepare for this generation to pop up on our screens, asking us to give them three good reasons why they should study with us. Three is apparently a mythical number for Gen Alpha. 


Rule number one: Be authentic and build trust

We totally invented that thing about the number three, and a gen Alpha would have caught that in a second, messaged their friends, figured out that it was nonsense, and never darkened our door again. 

Gen Alpha are not the generation who see a meme on Facebook that says something that is clearly untrue with “share if you think this is a disgrace” at the bottom, and reaches for the click. In fact, they aren’t even on Facebook at all. 

Alphas are growing up in a world where the airy rhetoric of politicians and the flashing slogans of the big name brands are just noise. They can find the truth in a second.  The days of getting away with unethical behaviour are over. Gen Alpha want trust and authenticity. 

If you talk the talk (and you should), then walk the walk. CSR is no longer a “nice to have” and diversity makes a great photo but without proper work on inclusion behind the lens, the whole thing rings hollow and everyone will hear it. 

Rule 2: Speak to them about what matters to them, not just business as usual.


Gen Alpha are more likely even than Z’s to be aware of the importance of wellbeing. Talking about academic support is one thing, but they have been raised in an era where wellbeing and mental health is on every agenda. They will expect you to have meaningful support beyond the school counsellor, and to show how you support wellbeing in your day to day operations. 

Physical wellbeing is also high on the agenda. The snack machines full of sugary drinks, and the dining room with no plant-based healthy options will not go down well. This is the most health conscious generation yet. 

Showcase the diversity and inclusion of your institution, your net carbon zero plan, and your safeguarding policies. Workshops on consent, LGBTQ+ societies and an active institutional voice in equity and equality issues. The days of remaining “neutral” on such things are long behind us, and there really was no such thing as neutrality anyway if we are to be honest. 


Rule 3: Peer recommendations and social marketing, not top down comms. 


Social marketing is about influencing behaviour, not raising awareness. Showcase what you care about and they will do the rest. The top- down approaches don’t work with Alpha, as they need to be in control of the decision and are more likely to reject the word from on high. That means really understanding who they are and what they care about, so that you can meet them where they are. 

Much of the new approach to engagement with this generation is truly about letting go. Sorry, but the testimonials on your website are great, but Alpha’s are not buying it. “Daisy from Dortmund” might say the Bachelor in Business Studies or the IB programme was amazing, but the Alpha’s don;t know Daisy and, truth told, might not believe that it is genuine in the first place. Video testimonials are much better, but the inevitable truth is that Alphas want to ask their peers on their terms, not yours. 

There is just no way to control this, so embrace it. Though student ambassador networks like Intead and Unibuddy are great, and still have a place, understand that they will contact others on their own, and seek out reviews through organic search. The furthest we would go is recommending that they contact the alumni network on LinkedIn. 


Rule 4: Up your tech game

They are called screenagers for a reason, and if you want to reach them you have to be on those screens. Alphas are very comfortable with AI and gamified learning, so use that. 

For those with the resources, build a gamified virtual campus if you have the resources, or open a campus in Minecraft! Visual, video, AI, gamification: these are the tools that will land on the right screens. Even using gamified lexis such as “unlocking new skills” to progress to new levels of mastery will resonate much better than “passing exams”, which was always a ridiculously abstract concept anyway. 

Rule 5: Education must adapt

What a big one to save for last, but it needs its own space. Alphas are not only a new generation emerging from unique and unprecedented circumstances, they are also going into a whole new landscape of work as employees. We’ve written extensively about the liquid future of work, the volatile and uncertain shifts in industry as climate change hits and technology matures. 

We have seen a lot of articles advising Education Marketers to “emphasize the financial security that the course of study will bring” but we have to say that it goes beyond that. It’s not about a degree giving you security, but empowering alphas with the skills they need to create their own security. They already know that degrees are not the golden ticket anymore, and they want skills above all else. From K-12 to university, show them how they will develop as people, not products of a system that was designed for those who came many generations before.  

There is time, but not a lot

Prep starts now. In the list above we can see that these are not things that change from one academic year to the next. They are systemic, and they will require strategy. That’s why now is the best time to start preparing, because catching up last minute is just not viable. As always , for any support and advice we can offer, we are right here, in your corner. Just reach out , and let's prepare together. 

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