I have a teenage daughter who is starting the college search. Our mailbox has been flooded with mailings from colleges and universities since she took the PSAT. I would guess that she has received no less than 50 post cards from schools who are trying to attract students. The schools vary by size and type, from schools within Indiana as well as from throughout the Midwest and the East Coast. My daughter was thrilled to get so much mail with her name on it. As a marketer, I kept noticing one thing about the post cards as they came in – they were all the same: the same photography, the same copy and of course, the same format. Some, including my alma mater Notre Dame, used a personal URL (PURL) with my daughter’s name, but otherwise, they were all “direct mail sheep.”
Then, a few weeks ago, an envelope arrived from Loyola University in Maryland. My daughter opened it to find a newspaper-like mailer that grabbed her attention. The design was unique and the copy was written just for her. Unlike the other mailers, it spoke to her in her own language. For instance, one page read, “If someone asks you describe yourself in one sentence on an application, tell them you can’t.” Another page said it is okay to “not know what you want to be when you grow up. You have time to decide.” To our surprise, we received another edition of this newspaper two weeks later. This is a school we have never heard of or considered, but these mailings quickly put Loyola in the consideration set.
It tells me a few things. Direct mail is not dead – if it is good. The other is you must stand out from the competition if you want to break through the clutter. You could have the best copy in the world, but if the format of your marketing does not stand out, it won’t get noticed. Marketers should always consider what the competition is doing, and then do something better. There is not a more competitive category than marketing colleges and universities. Students have many choices and the purchase decision can be between $30,000 and $200,000 for a four-year institution. I see many schools utilizing billboards to get the word out about their offerings, but I wonder if that is truly an effective medium when families are building a consideration set for schools? I do know one thing. Loyola University in Maryland has the right formula for success in marketing to prospective students.