higher education marketing Archives - d.trio marketing group

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

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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


Being smart about college marketing

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In the U.S. alone, there are thousands of colleges, universities and trade schools. The exact number depends on many factors. Add to that, the number of educational institutions around the world, and one starts to wonder how on earth a prospective student decides where he or she will go for higher education.

In the digital age, it seems there are no boundaries for those dreaming about college. The Internet makes the task of researching any college in any corner of the globe a virtual breeze – a task that was once only possible by making endless long-distance phone calls and requesting packets of information via snail mail.

Schools large and small, specializing in both mainstream and niche programs and degrees will come up by the hundreds in a Google search. Just click, and all the information you need will be right there.

College of What?

How then, if you happen to be in charge of marketing your school or program to new students, do you cut through the clutter to get them to notice you?

I have a coworker whose daughter is currently considering her choices for college. She receives new communications every day from colleges pining for her attention. When I asked how she decides which ones to even look at, my coworker said “she only opens the ones she’s heard of”.

According to collegestats.org, schools are trying all sorts of new tricks be “heard of”. Thanks to technology developments and social media, schools are trying, and having success, with things like interactive and virtual tours, short films and viral videos, Groupon Promotions, podcasts, text marketing, hosting chat groups, mobile websites and apps, and business partnerships.

Cleveland State University is placing online ads and videos on streaming radio sites. Their vice president of marketing cites research showing that 70 percent of teenagers listen to streaming radio, 25 percent are mobile-only online users and 90 percent watch online videos.

With their online ads, CSU was able to test messaging and learned that an ad that mentioned the amount of savings a student could earn under its freshman scholarship program was more effective than stating the savings percent. This allowed them to adjust their ads on the fly and get the most marketing bang for their buck.

The University of Akron is also using videos to promote their school, along with hiring a firm to take over the task of responding to applications and scholarship offers in a timely manner.

Why? Because consumers today expect quick and effective communications from businesses—especially those that they’ll potentially be spending tens of thousands of dollars with. It only makes sense to give any prospect the personal attention they deserve.

Getting past the gatekeeper

While attracting the attention of those easily-distracted teenagers is an important goal in college marketing, be sure you’re speaking to their parents too. Parents attention spans will be longer and they’ll be asking questions their kids haven’t thought of or may not be concerned about. After all, it’s parents that are most-likely footing the bill for all or part of the expenses.

Traditional mass marketing like billboards and print ads might work for some parents, but many parents today, especially those of millennials, are just as internet savvy as their kids. So while it’s okay to use some of the same tactics to reach them, it’s important to tailor the content to them by including information about campus health and safety, school ranking and costs they will face.

The same, but different

So, what is the difference between college marketing and any other marketing? In broad terms, not a lot. Find your audience. Communicate the features and benefits of your product. Get them to take action. And follow through on your promises to keep them happy. But this is not a widget—it’s one of the most important decisions a family will ever make. The challenge of getting the right students enrolled in your school or program is great, but the reward for both of you will be even greater.

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.” http://www.enrollmentbuilders.com/2012/01/22/the-top-5-differences-between-traditional-and-online-student-recruitment/

“Serving Adult Students: Five Key Areas That Can’t Be Ignored” http://www.stamats.com/resources/white-papers/serving-adult-students-five-key-areas-that-cant-be-ignored/