3 Ways to Sell Your College’s Story Using Video Marketing

By Kaley Shorter on July 25, 2016
Higher Education Video Generation Z

It’s 2017. Generation Z is your incoming undergraduate cohort. How much do you know about using video to market your higher education institution to them? In this post we’ll explore three ways to structure storytelling college marketing videos to capture Generation Z’s attention, hearts, shares, and enrollment.

Want to learn more about Gen Z and who your institution’s ideal prospective students are? Use the step by step student marketing personas method we use to great success with colleges across the nation.

If you’re not using video marketing effectively or at all in higher education marketing to your ideal students, you may be struggling.

Video is the number one medium preferred by Generation Z for learning, exploring and making purchase decisions. Your institution experience is one of the biggest purchases they’ll ever consider, and they (and their parents) know it. Justify the investment, relate to your particular audience of Gen Z prospects engagingly using video, and they’ll enroll.

Before you grab your GoPro or drone and start skateboarding around campus, consider that your video campaign needs to do more than show “campus life.” It needs to speak deeply to your ideal audience’s dreams about their future. It needs to be authentic to your college while also reflecting the way your particular audience sees their world. It must captivate and connect with your audience emotionally, in order to motivate them along to the next step in your marketing funnel.

One of the best ways to tell a college’s story is through a mindfully-crafted vignette. This can include footage across your campus featuring students in action, or an interview with just one student. Rather than a random collection of footage set to hip music, the vignette should tell a compelling and relatable story in less than two minutes: the story of this student, and those like her, engaging in what matters to them. Like we learned in middle school composition class, the story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should move us effortlessly along its journey, so the audience feels changed – and MOTIVATED – at the end.

Here are three ways to structure any video vignette about your college so that it captures Generation Z’s attention, hearts, shares, and as many inquiries as possible.


Scripted Narrative

In this type of video, your branding agency works with you to write a script, which is performed by a voice-over actor. Footage that looks impromptu but may be directed using actors or actual students is mindfully edited and curated. Everything from the words, to the scenes and action, to the voice, to the phrasing and delivery of the words, is carefully directed, usually by the agency’s creative director.

Despite all the heavy planning and direction, if done well, this video should still feel inspired and captivating. It should relay a basic story that warmly reflects your institution’s values, culture, and results.

As an example, take a look at this short video we did for Santa Fe College Career and Technical Education. The voice-over is written and directed to sound like one of the students: thoughtful, engaged, and motivated:

A MOMENT / Santa Fe College CTE by Parisleaf


Natural Narrative

Tossing a detailed script to the wind, a very natural video storytelling effect can be achieved by interviewing current students, alumni, faculty, staff, local influencers involved with the college, etc. In this method, your branding agency will actually interview the subject for the narrative sound byte. By giving the interviewee points to cover and some guidance in how to answer, your agency’s creative director has the ability to control the feeling of the responses, while allowing candidness in having someone answer questions and prompts earnestly. Video directing during the production can control the subject’s inflection and tone, to give maximum effect of “off-the-cuff” responses that are still closely engineered to resonate with your institution’s ideal audience.

Here’s an example we did for Unity College, where a scholarship recipient tells an astounding story about how how her life was changed by the scholarship and her studies at Unity. Evident from the first sentence is exactly what the Unity College opportunity can mean to many Generation Z students today- which we know resonates deeply with them:

Unity College: Your Dollars at Work by Parisleaf



Sometimes the power of images and music is all you need to tell a compelling story. In this type of video vignette, you could portray a day in the life of one of your students, using music and natural scene sounds to help develop the story. Since the ear won’t have a narrative to follow, it will ingest a large amount of the story from the music and any on-scene sounds included in the footage.

After the footage is thoughtfully curated and laid in order, the music is developed and lined up to accent the footage in ways that “move” the story along. For instance, pausing the beat brings focus to a moment. Starting it up again stronger, or adding another instrument to the mix, adds a layer of development to the story- maybe introducing a new character, new emotion, or underlining the moment of results. As you can imagine, the mood, instrumentation and speed of the music is critical for the feel of the story, too.

A narrative-free video vignette is a great way to literally show the essence of your institution without telling– one of the most powerful ways to communicate and influence. From sunup to sundown, don’t just show your students at work and play- otherwise you’ll be like any other college marketer. Tell a story of who your students are and how they are making a difference. This is what Gen Z is looking to identify with. Here’s an example we did for Unity College, which won a W3 Award in 2016:

Unity College: Academic Exploration by Parisleaf


No matter which video method you explore, be sure to start with your ideal audience in mind, find meaningful stories to share, and be purposeful with how you curate and present the footage and sound. You’ll capture the imaginations and dollars of Generation Z prospects dreaming of a college like yours, where they can help make a difference in ways most meaningful to them.


READ RELATED POST: How To Use College Video Marketing to Save Enrollment

Want the step by step version to discover your student personas?

 Update your student marketing personas with our free eBook, How to Build Student Personas.

About Kaley Shorter

A creative in her own right, Kaley has tapped years of journalism, CRM management, inbound marketing and customer experience shaping to launch Parisleaf’s blog to international recognition in less than four months. Kaley still makes it home in time for dinner with the family, disc golf and rocking out on stage at the piano.

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