Higher Education

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:

Grading your digital marketing: Survey results

By | General, Higher Education, Newsletter | No Comments

Our 2014 higher ed survey results are here! Over 180 college admissions and marketing professionals from 39 states took part in our annual marketing survey. Their responses tell us they’ve expanded their digital toolbox to the saturation point. However, mastering the challenges of channel mix, tactical execution and analysis is another adventure. To find out more, visit our survey snapshot.

Three Simple Ways to Make your School’s Videos More Effective.

By | Higher Education | No Comments

By Gary McVey

While higher education marketers have more tools than ever to communicate their messages, the good old-fashioned medium of moving pictures is still one of the best. Video has always been a powerful way to express emotion, authenticity and a sense of place. By combining it with today’s digital tools and social media networks, marketers are realizing that video can deliver more impact while reaching larger target audiences.

Following are three proven techniques for producing effective videos:

1. Know the Story You Want to Tell

Whether it’s a highly polished, scripted video or more of an authentic documentary, it’s important to know what story you’re telling. Without a cohesive storyline, you’ll be left with a series of unrelated snippets that fail to connect with viewers.

Take for example, d.trio’s recent video for the Master’s in Strategic Communication program at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism. Program Director Steve Wehrenberg wanted to show how this graduate degree program transforms the lives and careers of its students and alumni. “We decided that an authentic documentary-style production would be a more effective way to tell our story, rather than a slick, scripted approach,” he said. “But even though it was more of a documentary, d.trio led us through a story-boarding process that was very effective.” Having a storyline drove everything, the location, the cast, the tone and the overall format.

2. Three Words: Location. Location. Location.

Why do A-List Hollywood directors travel halfway across the world to film their movies? They know how important it is to ground their stories in the right setting. For the U of M video, we filmed on campus, in the same buildings and classrooms used by students.

“Some of our competitors offer classes in newer, generic-looking office buildings,” Wehrenberg said. “We thought it was incredibly important to do the filming on our historic campus, and to visually communicate our close proximity to downtown Minneapolis by using the skyline as a backdrop. This is the place where we transform lives, and it had to look and feel authentic to that.”

3. Consider your cast

With the right people to tell your story, your video will engage and connect with viewers.

For the University’s video, we worked with program directors and staff to choose the right people to feature, including those who spoke directly and passionately about how the master’s program had transformed their lives and careers.

The video is already having an impact for the program. In just a few months, it’s been viewed over 260 times, with 55 percent of views originating from the microsite d.trio created and promoted through direct mail, digital and other tactics.

“It’s by far the best video we’ve created, and it really made a difference to bring in the professionals,” said Sarah Howard, Communications Manager for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “They helped us tell our story much more effectively than we could have on our own.”


See the “Turning Point” video d.trio created for the Master’s in Strategic Communication program at the University of Minnesota.



-Gary McVey is a guest blogger for d.trio. He is president of McVey Marketing Inc., a marketing, research and brand consulting firm based in the Minneapolis area. He has worked with more than a dozen colleges and universities, and previously served as chief marketing officer at Hamline University in St. Paul and for the Minnesota Private College Council, a 17-college consortium.


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

Landing Pages – When Do You Need Them? Why They’re Worth It!

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By Victoria Hoshal

In our last blog post we talked about the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) as key elements of your front-line digital marketing program, especially for enrollment marketing.

This month we’re exploring the other end of that equation – the viewer or customer experience once they’re interested. When prospects reach your site you will need quality, relevant content to engage them, and an easy way to request their e-mail address, so you can begin permission-based marketing.

If a prospect clicks through to your home page, you risk creating a disconnect between the specific reason you’ve driven them there and the broader content on your website. It’s less likely a prospect will respond if they are forced to go searching through your website for the content that initially piqued their interest.  Also, if your home page needs updating, and isn’t immediately relevant, again – you’ll lose a potential lead.

The solution is a custom landing page that provides immediately relevant content and helps convert a prospect into a quantifiable lead. It is the vehicle of choice for marketers using response marketing tactics such as SEO, SEM, email or direct marketing.  Landing pages are designed and written to serve as a logical and seamless next step for the prospect or visitor. Remember, you’ve encouraged them to take action already, so focus on making the next interaction as easy for the user as possible.

In the world of higher education marketing, how do you decide when a landing page is needed vs. sending visitors to your home page? What are the benefits of an effective landing page? Here’s a quick overview to help you decide:.

When Do I Need A Landing Page?

  • Are you running Paid Search (PPC) programs?
  • Is enrollment marketing underway or being planned? Do you need to generate leads of prospective students?
  • Are you conducting email campaigns or other digital marketing?
  • Is there a program or degree launch that needs visibility and feedback?

If you’ve answered YES to any of the questions above – you need a landing page. 

What Are The Benefits?
Because a landing page is purpose driven and audience-centric, it provides response and cost metrics for online or print advertising as well as direct and other marketing campaigns. Landing pages use a specific call to action, such as an information session or campus tour, to create a sense of urgency and drive engagement. A well-designed, transactional landing page can:

  • Improve traffic and engagement – effective landing pages can increase lead capture and conversion by significant percentages.* Be sure to send any paid traffic to your targeted landing page(s).
  • Provide response data – landing pages allow you to measure specific, segmented results that go far beyond general traffic levels so you can evaluate which tactic is most successful.
  • Maximize your marketing investment and campaign performance – by establishing AND improving the return on investment (ROI), again via results data. Use an accepted landing page conversion formula.*
  • Bridge the gap between offline marketing and online marketing by providing an easy online link.
  • Give you flexibility in content management and updates – it’s a relatively quick process (or should be) to update your landing pages for purpose and audience. Best practice recommendations are to conduct regular A/B testing (creative, copy, calls to action) to refine your metrics.
  • Customize your message by audience and purpose – use your landing page to do what your website may not be able to, such as supplementing your current website with focused, incremental information about individual degrees or programs, including specialized videos.
  • Benefit your website as a whole – improve overall SEO by demonstrating relevant content for targeted topics.

Engagement and results can be measured by the different levels of responses – from email opt-ins and information requests to event registrations and of course, student enrollment.  Also keep in mind you want to set up your campaign tracking and tests up front, with dedicated campaign URLs to landing page versions, so you can analyze the success of each medium and tactic you employ. We encourage you to read the articles below for additional, very helpful information.

We’ll continue this conversation in next month’s blog. After you’ve decided you need a landing page, what are best practices for design and development? What are the best engagement tactics? Those topics and more will be covered in upcoming blog posts.

Victoria Hoshal is the Business Development Director at d.trio marketing group. She has over 15 years of non-profit advancement and marketing experience (much of it in higher education), prior to her agency background. At d.trio she provides digital and direct marketing strategies and list sourcing expertise for the agency’s higher education clients.

Additional Resources:
*Case Study:  How one Degree Program Increased Their Lead-Flow by 902%

Email Marketing and Landing Pages for College Student Recruitment

4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Landing Pages

Three Tips for Marketing Your Online Degree Programs

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By Gary McVey

Our January blog post focused on how online learning programs greatly expand a university’s recruitment footprint, and how this impacts college marketers. Now let’s move into tactics for effectively marketing online programs. Since all of our options won’t fit in one blog post, let’s focus on three critically important tactics for marketing online programs.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of web-based content and media to attract, engage and acquire customers. The content can be presented in many formats, including news articles, photos, video, e-publications, blogs and others. Rather than focusing on selling, content marketing communicates timely information to prospects in ways that consistently build awareness, engagement and, ultimately, loyalty.

Let’s say your university is launching a new online bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. You want to show students that you understand what’s going on in business, so they can picture the degree preparing them for the real world. Your content marketing could include: a blog on your website where business professionals and professors take turns addressing the latest business trends; a Q and A session with the dean about how the degree program keeps up with new demands affecting business leaders; and a video interview of two corporate leaders serving as program advisors discussing how the degree helps launch successful careers. You could also post photos and testimonials from students who have already enrolled in the program’s first class.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Research and past experience tell us that a large share of your online learning prospects will find you through an online search. We’re well past the days when optimizing your web site with a few meta-tags will be effective. With Google, Yahoo and other search engines frequently changing their protocols, you need highly skilled SEO expertise. Most colleges simply don’t have the in-house SEO talent needed for success in today’s rapidly changing digital landscape. If they do, that individual is often overwhelmed with other IT projects. This is an area where it pays to retain outside expertise. Effective SEO helps ensure your prospects will find your newly enhanced content.

3. Search Engine Marketing (Paid Search/Pay-per-Click)

Search engine marketing, including Google Ad Words and other pay-per-click advertising options, is one of the best and most cost-effective ways for reaching prospective online students. Unlike traditional marketing, pay-per-click advertising allows you to easily test different keywords, and to evaluate which messages are most effective. And because you can set a budget cap, and only pay when a prospect clicks your ad, it’s easy to control costs.

By using geo-targeting in your paid search campaign, you’ll ensure you’re reaching your best prospects. Keep in mind, paid search is an evolving tool that is all about flux; it requires frequent evaluation, testing and updating. As with organic search, it pays to use a Google-certified, outside expert that can launch and manage a campaign to your needs and budget.   Media costs are typically pass-through, so any consultant fees typically cover set-up and ongoing management (including weekly or bi-monthly reports).

Once you’ve driven prospects to your site, be sure you have quality, relevant content to engage them, and an easy way to request their e-mail address, so you can begin permission-based marketing.

What tactics have been the most effective for marketing your online or hybrid programs? We’ll appreciate your input.

-Gary McVey is a guest blogger for d.trio. He is president of McVey Marketing Inc., a marketing, research and brand consulting firm based in the Minneapolis area. He has worked with more than a dozen colleges and universities, and previously served as chief marketing officer at Hamline University in St. Paul and for the Minnesota Private College Council, a 17-college consortium.

Additional Resources:
“Mature Market for Online Education”
 “Tips for Marketing Your Online Education Program on a Budget”

Has Online Learning Changed Your School’s Recruitment Footprint?

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Expanded Market Areas Raise New Challenges for College Marketers

By Gary McVey

The growth of online learning programs, including hybrid, low-residency and other variations, has created new opportunities and challenges for many colleges and universities, as well as higher education marketers. The part-time adult student market is now one of the largest in higher education, and much of its growth in recent years has been fueled by the untethering of students to buildings, and more and better options for online learning. Of the 20 million people enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, nearly 8 million attend part time — the majority of them adult students.

Perhaps like you, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the early days and steady growth of online learning, to participate in college cabinet meetings where the futures of such programs were decided, and to experience how they continue to change higher education marketing.

Without a doubt, one of the most significant new challenges online learning programs create is that, virtually overnight, your geographic marketplace suddenly gets much BIGGER. For many colleges, a majority of enrolled students have traditionally come from within 100 miles of their campuses. Launching a fully online program, or adding an online component to an existing program that makes remote learning possible, greatly expands and alters your school’s recruitment footprint.

What does this new and larger recruitment marketplace mean for college marketers and admissions officers? Here are some of the most critical implications, along with corresponding recommendations:

1. Your competitive set changes. No longer will prospective students be comparing your institution and its academic offerings with an established peer group within 100 miles of campus. With online learning programs, your toughest competitor may now be 1,000 miles away. And, typically, the more specialized a program is, the larger geographic market pull it will have. You need to undertake a new competitive analysis of who your competitors are, what they offer, how they go to market, and how you can effectively differentiate your school and its offering.

2. Their computer or tablet screen is now your campus. For many online learners — even those in hybrid programs that blend face-to-face and online instruction — your beautiful campus landscape and stately buildings mean little, if anything. Their campus environment, and how they perceive your institution, is based on what they see in pixels. Your online learning platform — like all of your other marketing materials — needs to effectively communicate and accurately reflect your college’s mission, vision and values, as well as its brand promise and identity. And just like your physical campus, your cyber campus should reflect a strong sense of place, be easy to navigate, and offer a successful learning environment.

3. Your marketing plan needs an overhaul. Now that your recruitment footprint has changed, so should your marketing plan. Let’s say part of your marketing mix aimed at prospective adult students has included mass media advertising within 100 miles of campus. Chances are you’re not going to have the budget necessary to conduct similar campaigns in dozens of metro markets. Likewise, campus visits and information sessions that often helped seal the deal with local prospects, aren’t likely to be compelling to more distant targets. This is where the development of first-rate customer profiles (written about in previous d.trio blog posts) can really pay dividends. The profiles, including key demographic and psychographic details of various types of prospects, can be invaluable in guiding new marketing strategies and tactics. They’ll help you determine the types of prospects most likely to enroll in online programs, where and how they live their lives, what motivates them, and how to deliver the right message, in the right way, at the right time.

In next month’s blog post, we’ll focus on strategies and tactics for effectively marketing your online learning programs.

-Gary McVey is a guest blogger for d.trio. He is president of McVey Marketing Inc., a marketing, research and brand consulting firm based in the Minneapolis area. He has worked with more than a dozen colleges and universities, and previously served as chief marketing officer at Hamline University in St. Paul and for the Minnesota Private College Council, a 17-college consortium.

Additional Resources:

“The top five differences between traditional and online student recruitment.”

“Serving Adult Students: Five Key Areas That Can’t Be Ignored”

Finding the ballerina who wants to go back to school.

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Adult students look different, react to different opportunities and are found in different places than traditional students. They might be a ballerina who’s looking for her career after life on stage, or a civil engineer looking for the RIGHT graduate program.

After all, non-traditional students are the driving enrollment force for U.S. colleges (a recent statistic states that 55% of all undergraduates can be defined as non-traditional*). This huge shift changes how we think about undergraduate AND graduate students.

At d.trio marketing group, we help our clients find and recruit their unique non-traditional students.

Here are ten tips from the d.trio team for successful recruitment marketing.   It’s all based on knowing your students in order to find more like them and engage them.

#1 Create a current student profile if you don’t have one. Click here for a sample.

#2 Segment your non-traditional students from your traditional undergraduate population and study their characteristics.

#3 Study your non-trad demographics as a whole – and then within specific degree programs. Remember the ballerina!

#4 Use current data, the last 3 – 5 years of admissions records, if possible.

#5 If you have 5 years+ data, create an FORMER profile and compare it with your CURRENT student to see how trends in population and higher education are affecting your institution.

#6 Update your profile(s) yearly. Create multiple profiles for individual programs or degree levels as needed.

#7 Uncover the Pyschographic elements of your profile – including AIO (activity, interest, opinion), attitudes, values, and behavior.   You can begin to gather psychographic data by building it into enrollment information or admissions surveys.   Or, plan a focus group to find out.

#8 Use the profile to build your marketing strategy.  From creative and messaging to SEO and SEM keyword development, social media or direct marketing strategies/tactics, your student profile becomes your guide to more targeted, effective recruitment marketing.

#9 Test marketing channels and tactics. Based on your student demo, you may find email and online advertising are more effective than traditional tactics. You want to contact students through the channels that they pay attention to and prefer.

#10 Test creative and messagingThen measure.  Then refine.   Remember, knowledge is power and the beauty of marketing is its tangibility.

Once you have your student profiles created, you can build more relevant marketing messages and create more effective campaigns for ongoing recruitment efforts.


*Education Department Data:


Related articles we like:

Back to the Books:  A Profile of Non-Traditional Students,

Number of the Week:  ‘Non-Traditional’ Students Are Majority on College Campuses


I hope you will call or email me with questions on this blog or suggestions for additional topics.

Victoria Hoshal