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Adult Learners Prefer Motivational Phrases

Prospective students want to know what’s in it for them
Tim Trull, Chief Strategy Officer | Stephen Heitz, Chief Innovation Officer

This article is a brief abstract of our exclusive study that takes the guesswork
out of education advertising and marketing.


Download LAVIDGE Education Marketing Research and Insights, Volume 1.


Marketing rule No. 1: Don’t imply to prospective students that they might be ignorant—unless you’re Harvard University. Bok’s Law, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” generally attributed to former Harvard President Derek Bok, could be construed to do just that. (Maybe Bok should have taken a poll before borrowing the phrase from the conclusion of an Ann Landers column which ran in October 1975.)

Regardless, the quote has become quite well known and Harvard is not exactly short on student applications.

Our study respondents, however, ranked it dead last for effectiveness in a field of 14 marketing phrases. It turns out education-seekers are far more attracted to motivational phrases about how education can enrich their lives. In short, they want to know the upside of what’s in it for them.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Preparing students for success in a changing world (40%)
  • Knowledge is power (39%)
  • Education is a path, not a destination (36%)
  • Where students come first (35%)
  • Learning today for a better tomorrow (35%)
  • Opportunities for lifelong learning (35%)
  • We enter to learn, leave to achieve (31%)
  • Making your world better (30%)
  • Education is key, if it’s success you wish to see (29%)
  • Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know (25%)
  • Quest for excellence (25%)
  • Touching lives forever (25%)
  • Where learning begins (22%)
  • If you think education is expensive, try ignorance (20%)
Adult learners prefer motivational marketing phrases.

Age, gender & more influence education seeker preferences

It pays to know which demographic groups your educational institution’s programs are likely to benefit so you can craft effectively targeted marketing messages.

Adult learners prefer motivational phrases.If your target audience includes seniors, for example, you’ll want to include messaging tailored for their more mature needs and discerning tastes.

Our study revealed that respondents aged 55+ (49%) and retired (46%) prefer phrases that refer to education as a journey such as, “Education is a path, not a destination.”

Females tend to prefer more empowering statements, by ranking “knowledge is power” higher (43%) than males (34%). Females also ranked “preparing students for success in a changing world” higher (44%) than males (34%).

Finally, “Where learning begins” ranked higher with those who had high school or less education (35%) and those who had children in the household (27%).

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