Just like any big institution, higher education has struggled to not get bogged down in an increasingly challenging competitive environment. A college education may be part of most parents’ dreams for their children, but realizing one has never proved more costly. Last year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York noted that the average college tuition had risen by a staggering 46 percent. No wonder tuition-free sites such as edX and Coursera have taken off—and no wonder that brick-and-mortar universities are trying their hardest to woo new students.
It’s an effort that caught the attention of Laetitia Radder, Jacques Pietersen, Hui Wang, and Xiliang Han from South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Medtropolitan University and got them wondering about the role an SMS campaign could play in a college’s marketing mix. The result? A paper entitled “Antecedents of South African High School Pupils’ Acceptance of Universities’ SMS Advertising” in International Business & Economics Research Journal.
Though the competitive environment doubtlessly played a role, Radder and company seem to have been drawn to the subject as much by SMS’ potential as universities’ needs. They noted that “78 percent of mobile phone users with SMS-capable handsets [which is virtually everyone] regularly use the service” and that the privacy inherent with cell usage meant that marketers could target consumers with more personalized messages. Perhaps some of this fascination owes to the team’s geographical context. Africa has the most robust mobile-usage growth rate in the world with nearly 100 percent of teenagers owning cell phones. SMS must’ve seemed a natural marketing pipeline to them.
Armed with surveys administered by high-school teachers and answers from 417 respondents, the team gathered data with which to work. The theoretical framework its members wanted to test was that “overall acceptance” in the youth demographic was “driven by attitude, social norms, and behavioural intention.” Unsurprisingly, they found this to be more or less true. Teens showed a correspondence between their own attitudes about SMS; a peer group’s belief about SMS; a general desire to seek out information; and their adoption of and disposition toward text-based marketing.
In the words of the researchers themselves, “social norms are a better predictor of pupils’ intentions to adopt SMS advertising than attitudes are [although they certainly played their part]” and that “[r]eference group influence on pupils’ decision-making processes should thus be taken into account.” Their ultimate recommendation? SMS campaigns could effectively target students considering higher education if they took teens’ social circles into account.
That’s a lot of electrons spilled to say something rather simple: Know your audience. SMS is a highly effective marketing tool, but it lends itself to personalization. A South African teen whose life teems with peers and their influence will react very differently to your message than an Army reservist from Boise or a stay-at-home mother in Manhattan or a retiree in Tarpon Springs. An SMS marketing campaign can school higher ed and any other number of industries. But always—always—do your demographic due diligence first.