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Victoria Hoshal

Direct Mail for Admissions Marketing – 5 Ways to Stand Out From the Crowd

By | Higher Education | No Comments

My colleague’s 17-year-old daughter is a college-bound, and for over a year she has been deluged with college admissions materials. Deluge is an understatement! Sheryl kindly saved them for me as a representative sampling of the current market.

Diving into the pile served as a great reminder of direct mail best practices, particularly in regards to college marketing.

There were five colleges in the stack of over 40 – whose materials stood out from the crowd.

They conveyed their unique value and collegiate brand clearly and memorably in a distinct voice that also fit with the target audience. Their approach provides good direction for recreating this effect for your own institution:

Edit, Edit, Edit
What are your key messages? What outcomes do you want to achieve? Let this be your guide when creating copy. A two or three page letter package loses its readers before they even begin. Don’t expect your direct mail copy to cover everything. Rather, create a desire to learn more and drive them to a landing page and/or your website for more content.

Consistent Branding Drives Great Recognition
Our favorite pieces had polished, consistent branding and messaging with cohesive copy and design. Since most admissions campaigns occur over a series of digital and print communications, this consistent branding was essential to creating and maintaining recognition and momentum.

Clear Call to Action
What action do you want your prospects to take? Make it easy to respond, and preferably include several response channels (online to landing page, phone, BRF/BRE). If you are successful in garnering your prospective student’s attention, make sure you get them to the next step. Otherwise, you’re wasting your marketing dollars.

It’s Always About the Audience
Think about what’s most important to your students, and their parents. Be creative about reaching each audience. For example, you may decide to address the main copy to students, but include an insert targeted to parents.

Invest in Design and Production
When you are planning your campaign pieces, work with a skilled designer or agency who knows your brand and who has proven their ability to create engaging work. Make sure you allow ample time for concepts and multiple rounds of revisions – after all, those last few tweaks can make a big difference. Similarly, spend a bit more for good or better paper stock and quality printing. You’re asking prospective students and their parents to invest a lot in their college education. Flimsy card stock and poor quality printing won’t reflect the quality of your institution.

Some other considerations include:


In the current scene of variable data – how much is too much? Use personalization well by making sure your data can support the required variable fields for flawless execution. If your data can only support limited fields, cut back accordingly.


Over 90% of the 50+ letter packages I reviewed offered some kind of free document to prospective students – most commonly a guide to topics such as selecting a college or a major.   Challenge yourself to develop an offer that uniquely represents your institution and it’s strengths – vs. a generic, counseling-style resource. This will help ensure you attract quality leads that are truly interested in your school.

For more direct mail best practices, here are two articles by Summer Gould that we thought were helpful (see links below).

Our next blog will cover creating the optimal mix and timing of mail and digital tactics.

Stay tuned!!!


Additional Resources:

Fall in Love with Direct Mail All Over Again, By Summer Gould, April, 2015

Direct Mail: A New Perspective, By Summer Gould, May, 2015


What We Learned From This year’s Higher Education Marketing Survey

By | Higher Education | No Comments

Our 2014 survey results are in — and with it, several key insights into the highs and lows of higher ed marketing. This year’s audience included admissions, enrollment management and marketing professionals from 39 states. We increased our survey reach by over 60% and the number of respondents jumped up accordingly — by almost 300%!

Grading Your Digital Marketing

This year’s survey focused on the state of digital marketing in higher education. Questions were designed to uncover a peer perspective on both successes and challenges. We asked a range of questions such as: Is your digital marketing working as hard as it could? How does your website compare to others? Are you missing key opportunities to strengthen your brand and attract more students?

What did we learn? Apparently, when it comes to digital marketing, higher ed institutions still have a lot to learn. While the possibilities of this versatile medium keep expanding, colleges and universities just haven’t kept up. As the center of any institution’s digital presence, websites emerged as the main theme.

Websites Need Some Extra Help

The majority of respondents (over 85%) agree that websites are more important today than ever before. They’re an essential recruitment tool, source of in-depth information, and an important way to connect the institution’s community and express its personality and brand voice. Yet in spite of all this, websites are not receiving the attention they deserve.

More than two-thirds of respondents (67.3%) said their institution’s website didn’t measure up to the competition. About the same number (65.7%) said their institution missed the mark in terms of expressing their brand identity.

According to over 85% of our survey respondents, websites are more important to their student recruitment efforts today than two years ago.

The ability to attract and serve a diverse audience with the information it needs is an important requirement – our survey respondents said this is a mixed scenario.   The prevailing response is that websites are better at providing information to traditional-age students than adult or non-traditional students and other audiences.

Less than a third (32.3%) of participants said their institution’s website was excellent or good at providing information to non-traditional students.   The growing impact and presence of non-traditional students at U.S. colleges and universities suggests this should be a priority element of website development.

SEO and Mobile Optimization – Optimizing websites for lead generation, Search Engine Optimization, and mobile devices is also lacking. Significantly less than half (38.2%) feel their institution’s website is effective in generating new leads — causing many schools to miss out on a huge opportunity to reach new students.

Small Budgets Are A Big Factor – About half (49.9%) rated their budget for website development and maintenance as either inadequate (30% or more below what they need) or minimal (10 – 29% below what they need).

Clearly, website budgets are inadequate, particularly in respect to website development and maintenance. Institutions that understand their website is their most important brand element — and who fund and staff it accordingly — are ahead of the competition.

For more Survey Results, visit our Snapshot. Survey participants have exclusive access to the entire survey – so we hope you’ll participate in 2015!! 


Additional Resources:

The Landing Page Checklist

By | Higher Education | No Comments

Is your institution in need of a landing page overhaul?  We can help.  Last month we talked about why landing pages are needed and the tangible benefits they offer.  In this blog we’ll cover the key elements of effective landing page design.  By keeping these in mind throughout the design and development process, you’ll end up with efficient, attractive pages that reflect your brand and turn prospects into leads.  d.trio employs these standards in designing successful landing pages for our education clients; we know they’ll work for your institution as well.

Make the Call to Action Prominent
Make the call to action button or link easy to see and repeat the request if necessary. The point of your campaign is to generate responses to fill events or programs so make it easy for your audience to respond.

Continue the Conversation Seamlessly
Landing pages are designed to serve as a logical and seamless next step for traffic generated by paid search, SEO inquiries, email campaigns or other promotions.  To that end, make sure your landing page clearly continues and pays off the message and/or offer begun in the ad or email you deployed, to make the most of the opportunity.

Simplify Navigation
Whenever possible, minimize navigation that doesn’t take the user further along the path to conversion. For example, if you can remove your institution’s standard navigation header from your landing page, do so. Keep your logo on the page though – your brand is one of your most important assets.

It’s All About Audience
Speak to your target audience and make your messaging relevant.  Know the profile of your prospective visitor and make sure your program or degree’s benefits are communicated with clarity. Create an offer that is also relevant – and compelling – whether it is dinner on campus with a noted speaker or a digital view book.  We recommend having separate landing pages for different degree programs and/or information sessions (this also helps you assess response by program). Setting up a multi-step lead form* can also help you qualify candidates before they reach you (for instance if they must have a bachelor’s degree prior to applying for a program).

Create Engaging Creative
Minimize copy, keep it benefit oriented (see above), specific to the topic and make sure it highlights the call to action. Use images to engage the visitor, but keep them relevant. If your offer involves a free brochure or an event with a noted speaker – show them. Otherwise images of happy, attractive people often resonate best with viewers. Your institution’s branding should be clearly visible implemented correctly and the overall look and feel should be consistent with the original ad or email that got your visitor to your landing page in the first place.

Make it Easy to Opt-in
Once you’ve engaged a visitor and they’ve clicked through to your landing page, make it easy to sign up by including a form ON your email page if possible, vs. clicking through to another layer.

Make it Easy to Learn More
Use videos or links back to your website to handle more detailed program or degree information.  Landing pages with video can increase conversion significantly.*  Plus, timing is important.  You want to capture your visitor’s interest immediately.  Make it easy for them to find and view more information, whether or not they opt-in.

Reporting & Analytics
Thinking ahead about your results reporting will definitely pay off.  Combine your email-delivery tool’s front-end performance data (opens and clicks) with Google Analytics to measure patterns and response on the back end.  Use creative and messaging tests to help maximize results.  Use an industry-standard conversion formula (such as Marketing Sherpa)** to consistently analyze your results.

Lastly, be sure to optimize your landing page for SEO, using your Paid Search keywords and/or adjusting them slightly. You may need to update your keyword research and/or keyword map on your website.  SEO optimization of your landing page is another opportunity to maximize conversion.

Happy Landings!

 Additional Resources:

*4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Landing Pages
**Case Study: How One Degree Program Increased Their Lead-Flow by 902%
Best Practices in Landing Page Design
Email Marketing and Landing Pages for College Student Recruitment

New Business Development Tips

By | General | No Comments

by Victoria Hoshal – d.trio’s director of business development

Best practices for new business development hold true across multiple industries – whether you are a marketing agency selling your services or medical device company selling in the B2B space.

I found a good overview on today’s challenging new business environment:

Although focused on the agency world, another article with great thinking is:

I liked the tactical and organized approach to organic growth via existing clients and customers, as well as the idea of going after the customers/accounts you really want.

Here are some additional tips, based on my experience selling marketing agency services and before that, starting and running a small business.

When you are thinking about your organization’s new business opportunities:

  • Balance holistic thinking with focused tactics.  For example, the ability to assess (holistically) your universe of potential sales is necessary to any new business development.  However, within that view, focus on your best targets.  Better to have 5 highly-vetted, “good fit” targets than 20 “maybes.”  As per the Mercer Group article, find and pursue the customers YOU REALLY WANT.
  • Sell to your strengths – the best way to win a new customer is to show them where you truly outshine your competitors in either expertise or product.
  • This is also a way to filter customers that may not fit with your services. If it seems too much of a stretch, it probably is.  Your time and reputation are important – don’t waste them.
  • Don’t ignore your current or past customers.  Current customers can be a great source of referrals. Plan on visiting with them at least once a year for a “catch-up.”   Thank them for their business and ask for more. Ask them for referrals to other divisions or colleagues and other companies.
  • Plan a similar meeting with former customers. Recapturing a lapsed customer is typically MUCH faster and more productive of your time than acquiring a new client.
  • Interview your sales team for consistency of key messages and pitch points.  It’s important for everyone to start with the same brand story, regardless of needed versioning.  You might be surprised at what you learn.

When pitching a prospective customer:

  • Say “thank you for your time” at the beginning of the meeting.  Manners are important AND appreciated.
  • Remember it’s all about the customer.  Consider their business, their needs, tailor your approach accordingly.  This means paying attention to how much you talk about your company/your team, etc…..You’ll need to balance your sales pitch accordingly.
  • Conduct your due diligence and research ahead of the meeting so that you can plan discovery questions and stay on track.
  • Be able to articulate your competitive advantages, clearly and concisely.  Be sure you’ve tailored your value proposition to be relevant to the prospect.
  • Say thank you again at the close of the meeting.  Make the last impression a positive one. A further follow-up with a hand-written thank you note creates a longer-lasting impression.

Happy Hunting!

Generational Marketing: How to Reach Boomers

By | General | No Comments

by Victoria Hoshal

It’s no surprise that Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), are the most important demographic within the U.S. consumer base. They are the largest generation in American history. d.trio researched a range of industry resources to define the most relevant and timely advice for those marketing to Boomers. Here’s our re-cap.

Boomers and older consumers (born before 1965) are the single, largest consumer group in America at over 100 million. They are the wealthiest, best educated and most sophisticated purchasers. With more disposable income than any population in America, they are, the “New Customer Majority” (David Wolfe).

Boomers represent over 29% of the U.S. population. They hold 70% of U.S. wealth and control over 50% of the U.S. discretionary spending powers. Boomer women wield significant buying power; making or influencing 80% of household purchase decisions. Boomers are:

  • Health care influencers – purchasing over 61% of all over the counter medications and 77% of all prescription drugs
  • Travelers – 80% of leisure travel are boomers
  • Health conscious or dealing with health issues – 39% of Boomers are clinically obese; over 80% of Boomers research their health issues online.

Some channel observations for marketing to Boomers:

  • They are still influenced by television advertising
  • Print media is still alive – they are traditional print readers
  • They also like reading online and respond well to electronic books and publications
  • Boomer women are more open to change than GenX or GenY
  • Their online behavior is consistent – over 91% use email, 88% use search engines and 74% receive news online.

Boomers are early adopters of technology, and in fact, created the technology we enjoy today. Think Steve Jobs/Apple, Bill Gates/Microsoft, Larry Ellison/Oracle…you get the picture. Boomers have spent most of their working lives using technology – they are tech savvy. Statistics show that Boomers will quickly adopt technology that meets their needs, and this adoption rate is increasing every year. For example:

  • Boomer women appear to own iPads or tablets at four times the rate of the general public;
  • Boomers spend more money each month on technology than Gen X or Gen Y – an average of $650 per month
  • Boomers spend 15 hours online per week, compared to teenager’s 13 hours per week
  • 45% of Boomers downloaded more than 10 apps in the last year
  • 33% read QR codes on their smart phones
  • 35% download movies from Netflix or other streaming providers
  • 46% buy music by downloading it from a site like iTunes.

Because Boomers are early adopters of technology, we conclude that they are somewhat channel agnostic. The message is more important than the medium. If marketers develop the right messages, they can engage Boomers, regardless of channel.

Life transitions are often at their peak for Boomers. According to an article by Nancy Shanka Padberg, marketers can build their brand by understanding this change and offering understanding and product solutions:

  • We make your life better.
  • We make your life easier
  • We understand you.

From health and wellness to luxury travel or wealth transfer, opportunities abound for marketing to Boomers. However, success will be driven by authenticity, individual connection and relevance.

Numerous blogs from Media Post ( informed this article:
Life Transitions Create New Opportunities for Marketers, Oct. 17, 2011
Who’s Buying All Those IPads? Boomers Become Earlier Tech Adopters Every Year, Dec. 12, 2011
Social Media – It’s Not About Technology, Dec. 5, 2011
A Boomer State of Mind, Nov. 21, 2011
Other sources include Experian Marketing Services and

Bank Marketing Trends for 2012

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by Victoria Hoshal

We’ve seen significant changes in how consumers view and use banks and their products over the last year. These changes will no doubt continue to evolve in a dramatic fashion for 2012. They will drive how banks define their brand and market themselves. d.trio suggests the following four trends as important to track in the year ahead:

Shifting Payment Dynamics
Increasing federal regulations have permanently dented debit cards and paved the way for new forms of payment tools and systems. Debit cards and their reward programs are declining. Credit cards are coming back, albeit with new restrictions and more wary consumers. Demographic groups such as the Millennials and Generation X contribute to the demand for non-traditional payment methods. Pre-paid cards and their usage will continue to grow in 2012. New cards and payment products will be offered by non-bank entities (i.e., Suze Orman and her Suze card), which will alter the competitive landscape of banks and Financial Services. P2P (person-to-person) payment products such as Zash Pay offer a way for young consumers to facilitate direct payments and avoid using cash .

What is the net result for 2012? Traditional payment dynamics will be changed forever and banks’ hold on the payment system will loosen.

Mobile Banking Advances
Mobile banking will ramp up in 2012, driven by the increased saturation of smart phones and tablets. Less than two years ago, smart phones represented approximately 17% of the U.S. market. This increased to 44% by October, 2011, with 64% of cell phone owners ages 25 – 34 using smart phones.* Banks have not kept pace:  A recent mobile banking study revealed that 75% of consumers who use mobile banking did not hear about it from their banks but rather sought it out and tried it on their own!  Clearly, many banks that have been slow to market their mobile programs will look to catch up quickly in order to save face and business.

*Smartphone penetration skyrockets in 2011, Dec. 15, 2011,

New Branch Paradigm?
Bricks and mortar provide a community face to bank brands, they offer credibility, geographic convenience and a human connection. Today’s consumer still wants a branch bank – but how they use it is changing. The increase in online banking, mobile and other interactive services means that consumers may not require a teller as often but will more likely want to engage with a banker. Consumer demand for consultative, individualized services and financial education will require changes in the physical interior design of a branch (the teller line may no longer be front and center). These changes in service will have important implications for staff hiring and training.

Banks must also continue to rethink best branch locations: Where does it make sense to have a branch? Is it best within a grocery store or other high-traffic retail environments?


Product Innovation
It’s not hard to see that product innovation is being forced by the above shifts in the banking industry. With the effect of daunting new regulations and non-bank payment system vendors coming into the market, banks must become product innovators in order to stay competitive.


From pre-paid card alternatives to P2P payment solutions, the consumer is demanding new products, and is willing to buy them from a credible, non-bank entity if necessary. Banks must confirm a commitment to developing or purchasing new products that work for their customer or desired customer.

The pace of change in banking for the coming year will continue to be driven by all of these substantial market forces. Although this may seem radical for the average bank and financial institution, the opportunity for growth may be greater than ever before. Stay tuned.

The Art of Social Marketing

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by Victoria Hoshal

As consumer-facing companies struggle to refine their media mix, they may or may not understand the delicate balance of how much is too much – or not enough, within their social marketing channel. We suggest that marketers keep in mind the following basic principles in order to maximize and leverage their social media marketing activities.

5 do’s of social media

  • Follow your brand & products on all social media channels & listen on a daily basis
  • Create original content that will lead customers to actionable areas of your website
  • Create a business public profile, which allows you to separate your personal and professional online lives, for yourself on relevant social channels
  • Take action when negative/positive comments are made – even if it is to send up a red flag to the appropriate person in your organization or agency
  • Use your SEO keywords in your social media messaging and update as needed

5 don’ts of social media

  • Respond to posts & comments with boilerplate language
  • Send a spam direct message “thank you” to Twitter users following you or your brand – unless there is a relevant offer/tip attached
  • Share personal information on Facebook & Twitter unless it is part of brand building (personal or company)
  • Use trending hashtags on Twitter unless they directly relate to your brand and are non-controversial
  • Use canned content from other websites to fill your social media messaging gaps

Lastly, marketers should remain vigilant and sensitive to consumer privacy and consumer attitudes and preferences. Understanding that consumers desire the opportunity to give a company feedback on their products or services, but may not want to be targeted via their social profile. In a study recently released by the Insight Strategy Group, nearly 64% of participants stated they “hate” being targeted by a company via their social networking profile, and 58% agreed that social media marketing is invasive.

Smart marketers will find other ways to carefully utilize consumer preferences and behavior data generated from the social channel. Click here to read the complete story from MediaPost News – Study:  Consumers View Social Marketing As Invasive.

Online Retail Marketing – Holiday 2011 Review

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by Victoria Hoshal

Despite the recessionary outlook, online retail sales for the Holiday season exceeded 2010 levels by 15% and reach historic levels. Consumers spent $35.3 billion online, according to market research organization ComScore.

Email and online channel growth was highlighted by a YOY 9% increase to the top 500 retail sites during Peak Week alone (Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday). Other specific increases in email-generated revenue and digital marketing include the following, as cited by Experian Marketing Services:

  • Average order values increased by 4.4%
  • Email volume rose by 19%
  • Unique open rates remained positive for most verticals
  • 26% of subject lines featured and offer
  • Dollars off offers were most popular, vs. the percent off strategy used in 2010

Driving the sales was a welcome increase in consumer confidence, which rose to 64.5% in December 2011. This was a 10 point increase from November of 2010 (Conference Board).


As we reviewed the results, strategies and tactics employed by online retailers in 2011, several trends emerged:

  • The last minute shopper has more options than ever before, as E-gift cards and certificates sales boomed. Most major retailers offered e-gift cards and e-gift certificates that can be purchased online and delivered digitally via email or cell phone. See our list of resources at the close of this article for a list of retailers and their terms.
  • Mobile gift cards can be stored on consumers’ cellphones or smartphones and redeemed in-store at checkout (see resources to click to complete article).
  • Another morph is the “Virtual” gift card distributed via Facebook. For example, gift card notification can be other posted to a friend’s wall or sent to their Facebook message box, as designated by the giver.
  • Gift cards as an overall category (all channels) accounted for 18% of all purchases, a 3.4% increase from 2010.

Retailers are becoming savvier each year in integrating online and bricks and mortar purchasing to maximize sales. A tactic that is becoming more prevalent is “Ship-to-Store.” This option allows customers to buy online and pick up their purchases at a local store, at their convenience. Benefits to customers are savings in shipping time and shipping charges.

The good news continued past Christmas, when consumers continued to spend:  $7.1 billion in sales on December 26th. This represents a 25.% increase over 2010. Of special note is that 11.3% of these sales came from mobile devices, compared to 4.3% in 2010.

Resources quoted and utilized in this article include:
2011 U.S. Christmas Holiday Retail Data, Statistics, Results, Numbers Roundup
Peak Week Sees Email and Online Channel Growth
2011 Holiday Season Email Snapshot
Retail Stores Selling Virtual Gift Cards Through Facebook Social Media
Mobile Gifts Cards – Complete List of Largest US Retailers With Mobile Gift Cards
Best Online Last Minute Gift Shopping Options – E-Gift Cards and Certificates
Fast and Free Shipping Option From Online Retailers with Ship-to-Store Options