To see why student testimonials are powerful higher education marketing tools, imagine needing a new car. There are lots of options, coupes and vans, turbos, and EVs. Based on ads alone, there are dozens of cars that might be good options. Then, Stan, the graphic designer, says, “My car gets amazing gas mileage, and it’s super reliable. I haven’t changed the oil in three years, and she still runs like a champ!”
Suddenly, whatever Stan’s been driving seems like a top option, although someone should probably have a talk with him about proper vehicle maintenance. The point is that a personal statement of value from someone relatable can influence decision-making. It works for car buying, and it works for students making decisions about where to enroll.
Of course, as with car ownership, getting the best from student testimonials starts with making smart choices. Who the testimonial comes from and how it’s used makes a big difference. Here’s how to make smart choices about testimonials so your higher education marketing campaign runs “like a champ.”
Elements of Powerful Student Testimonials
Student testimonials make a brand more personable and relatable. They show that real people have had a positive experience in a program. Ideally, this experience is one potential student can relate to or envision for themselves.
Powerful Student Testimonials are:
- Relatable stories
- Genuine, authentic, and personal
- Chosen to reinforce a brand message
That last point bears further examination: A testimonial should reinforce the marketing messages or brand promises a higher ed marketing campaign is trying to convey. The best testimonials come from students who can talk about experiences that provide concrete examples of brand promises in action.
While reinforcing the brand, testimonials can also spotlight programs and opportunities or show how students met real challenges with the support of the university, college, or program.
These don’t have to be simple talking-head videos. Smart marketers get creative to make testimonials that are both interesting and authentic.
- Play with setting: at graduation, on location during a campus event, in the student’s home or neighborhood…
- Orchestrate interactions: a married couple that includes a student and their supportive spouse, a student and their professor or advisor, business partners who met in class…
Remember that alumni can also be a valuable source of testimonials. When used sparingly, testimonials from professors can also help paint a picture of the program and its offerings.
Relatable Stories Help Potential Students See Themselves in the Program
Chasing the most unique stories can backfire. While a unique story may be objectively interesting, it doesn’t always support core higher ed marketing goals. Prospective students may not be able to envision themselves within the story being told.
This can be especially true when the story is sad or emotionally heavy in some way. Yes, it’s comforting to know that the program can support students dealing with a death in the family, a chronic illness, or another major catastrophe. Yet, those heart-string-tugging stories may not contribute to the overall marketing strategy.
The same caution extends to stories about students with unique academic challenges or victories. Highlighting the student who triple-majored or the one who won a prestigious national award might make a great story, but it may not be relatable for students with more conventional academic ambitions.
Aim for an 80/20 ratio. About 80 percent of the stories you collect should be evergreen and widely relatable. The remaining 20 percent or so can be more niche or emotionally charged.
Sort Students Into Segments When Seeking Testimonials
Every student has a story. Deciding which ones to share comes down to both the content of the story and the person telling it. Students providing testimonials should be representative not just of the program but of the audiences that the program is trying to reach. Segments might include:
- New high school grads
- Career changers
- BIPOC Students
- Members of the LGBTQIA+ community
- Continuing ed students
- Returning students
- First-generation college students
Ultimately, potential students should be able to see themselves in the people providing testimonials. Testimonials help to legitimize marketing messages and brand promises. They show that real people are willing to step up and share their real, positive experiences.
Toward that end, the most powerful student testimonials use real photos of their students. In every test we’ve ever run here at EDDY, real student photos and videos outperform stock images. There’s even value in self-recorded student testimonials.
The Unique Power of Self-Recorded Student Testimonials
A self-recorded video naturally feels authentic and genuine. It’s a perfect compliment to a social media campaign or could even be the centerpiece of one. Of course, a self-recorded video still needs to be of high technical quality and support a brand message.
Help students make better self-recorded testimonials by:
- Leveraging the student’s voice
- Providing questions and prompts
- Offering technical guidance and creative direction
- Asking the student to send you the review before they post it
Encourage students to share the testimonials they put together so you can leverage their network as well. There’s a lot of overlap between students who give testimonials and influencers who help create marketing material, but they’re not the same. The true power of a student testimonial is that the authenticity of a personal story shines through.
How to Use Student Testimonials
Marketers most often collect student testimonials as part of a specific marketing push, but having a robust testimonial library is valuable too. By cataloging and categorizing a library of testimonials, smart higher ed marketers ensure they always have the one they need to support their message.
A single testimonial can be repurposed to fit many purposes and formats. Including:
- Pull quotes
- Social media
- Website landing pages
The big takeaway is that the most powerful student testimonials are relatable stories that highlight a specific brand promise or marketing goal. Identifying students with brand-supporting stories and collecting and cataloging those stories takes good judgment and brand awareness.
At EDDY, our marketing experts help programs find relatable, brand-aligned student stories. With the support of our full-service, in-house creative team, we turn those stories into powerful testimonials for all kinds of formats. Just don’t ask us to change the oil.