The Power of Direct Mail to Attract Higher Education Students

Years ago, there was a Public Service Announcement spot on TV showing a young man letting a store owner know he’s there to buy a wallet. The store owner asks him if he’s celebrating high school graduation and he responds: “No, I dropped out”. She leans over to speak with her co-owner and they both begin a conversation in another language as the kid looks on – clearly confused. She hands him a wallet only slightly larger than a postage stamp and the spot ends with him asking: “Isn’t this a little small?”
This PSA spot ran several years ago – in fact we looked for it with no success. But for those of us who remember it, the message lives on – never underestimate the financial benefits of an education. In parts of the country, there is uncertainty, on the part of consumers, when it comes to knowing what kind of higher-ed programs will be most beneficial career success. Perhaps jobs have dried up where they live, and residents need a way to adapt to a changing labor environment. Or perhaps, like the young man in the Public Service Announcement, life got in the way of finishing high school and they are realizing now that they’d like to finish what they started.
Whatever the reason is, the reality is there are many schools all over the country offering the instruction needed to start a rewarding career, and sometimes all that’s needed is a nudge or two to get prospective students thinking about their career goals and how to go about taking the first steps. For marketers working in higher-ed, how can you reach these future students and help nudge them in the right direction? Let’s find out.

What Occupations are Growing?

We looked to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics to find out what occupations are growing the fastest over the next ten years. We found that many of the occupations on the rise are centered around renewable energy, healthcare, and math/IT.

What’s interesting about these occupations is the degrees that are typically required for them. Looking at the chart below we see that only one of the top 20 does not require a degree or certificate of some sort. A quarter of them require a master’s degree, while the second largest percentage requires at least a high school diploma or GED.
For higher-ed institutions, there is plenty of opportunity to promote every program from GED, to Associate’s, to advanced degrees using targeted messaging. Helping future students understand what occupations are growing, what they require, and how they can get in on the action is a great way to not only build brand awareness, but also nudge them – especially when career uncertainty may seem a bit overwhelming.

Using the Right Marketing Mix to Reach Prospective Students

So how can higher-ed institutions reach the right people with this messaging? It starts with your marketing mix. For college tuition buyers, one of the most effective ways to reach this audience is ads in the mailbox. In fact, 64% of college tuition buyers saw an ad or coupon in the mailbox in the last year that led them to take action.There is another survey group made up of adults in the United States that want to take a college course – and 59% of those individuals said an ad or coupon in their mailbox led them to take action as well in the last year. In recent experience, we did a case study where a local community college received over 7,000 applications for their Fall semester. It was so successful that they repeated the mailing for both Spring and Summer semesters.

Combining Predictive and Client Data for Greater Return on Advertising Spend

The opportunities to get the right message in front of the right audience are nearly limitless – and with targeted data services , you can really precision-target the households and customize message however you like. For example, if you do not see the benefit in mailing a retirement community advertisements for cyber security career training programs you can use data services to know where these communities are and avoid sending ads their way. It’s a lot like targeting with digital media, except tangible and with consistently higher response rates . Ads can also be personalized to the recipient and tested against message variants – so you are not stuck with one message for all your mailings.
Another thing to consider – we like to encourage higher-ed institutions we work with to allow us to integrate their client data with other types of data, such as demographics, consumer expenditures, behavioral data, geography, etc. This approach takes the guesswork out of knowing who they need to mail to. It also provides direction on which households, carrier routes, zip codes, or markets they should target. Another plus is that institutions can use this model to target not only existing contacts, but also potential students in the marketplaces that are very similar to current contacts. This method increases response rates and thus increases overall return on advertising spend.

Keep Nudging Your Prospective Higher Education Students

Choosing to go back to school, to start a new program, or know where to start are decisions that are not always easy. Not every prospective student has the benefit of a school guidance counselor to help direct them. Some prospective students may be the first in their families to earn a college degree – and so the whole college experience may be very unfamiliar. Therefore, it’s important that your marketing mix isn’t just about reaching prospects around enrollment. It’s about creating a series of nudges that help them decide and know what to expect. Sometimes it’s about planting a seed or an idea with someone who may not have ever dreamed about graduating college – or even having the confidence that they can. For these reasons, we recommend a strategy of continuous nudges using targeted media – and direct mail marketing is a great addition to the mix. For more information on how we have helped higher-ed institutions with their marketing strategy, check out these success stories.
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019
2018 AudienceSCAN