How integrated marketing can connect with next generaton of college students

How integrated marketing can connect with next generaton of college students

For sure, you’ve heard it before. The term “integrated marketing” isn’t new anymore. But what does it really mean for those of us in the higher education marketing world? And why is it so important anyway? Isn’t it enough that we’re already communicating with prospective students via direct mail, email, websites, and other channels?

Although many institutions are engaging prospective students across multiple media channels, many of those efforts are not very well integrated. The result is that students are bombarded with multiple messages, invitations, promotions, and program announcements, but without having a sense that these multiple communications are part of a cohesive theme or brand.

However, the problem is not that there are too many messages. It is not a problem of being overwhelmed that results in the lack of direct response. It is a problem of being “under-whelmed.” Today’s students live in a world with an immense amount of media messages thrown at them across dozens of marketing channels. It is no longer important just to use these new marketing channels, such as social media, QR Codes, personalized landing sites, variable-data printing, and SMS text, just to name a few. Rather, it is how you use them together in a coordinated campaign. The prospect must be able to notice that each message is related to another message that he or she has seen elsewhere. The messages within the marketing campaign need to integrate with the other channels you’re using and should contain the same (or similar) call-to-action.

Here are some powerful facts from some recent reports from Nielson, the Direct Marketing Association, and the USPS about current trends among American consumers:

  • DIRECT MAIL: 78 percent of Americans read their mail over a trash can.
  • SMARTPHONE PENTRATION: In 2006, just 6 years ago, only 3.2 percent of mobile subscribers owned a smartphone. Today, nearly 50 percent of mobile phones are now smartphones.
  • SMARTPHONES BY AGE: 25-34 year olds represent the highest usage of smartphones (64 percent), followed by 18-24 year olds (53 percent), and then 35-54 year olds (47 percent).
  • QR CODES: QR Code scans increased 700 percent by the end of 2010, and then another 800 percent by the end 2011.
  • SOCIAL NETWORKS: In 2009, Social Networks became the top online destination (accounting for 21.3 percent of internet time today), passing the former category, which was email.
  • VIDEO VIEWING: 165.9 Million people watched video content on a computer by the 3rd quarter of 2011, with an average of 4.5 hours per month.

Now is the time to start thinking about engaging your next generation of students, and the next generation is already familiar with the following types of communications: scanning a personalized QR code on a direct mail piece to RSVP to an event; seeing a friend promote a specific school program/event on a social network; clicking the link in that viral promotion and viewing a campaign-specific promotional video (probably on their smartphone!); receiving a direct mail package that has highly personalized copy and images related to programs that the student is actually interested in; receiving a follow-up email to a direct mail package with the same PURL link that was in the letter they received the day before.

At the same time, it is important to keep all of these statistics in perspective and not get overwhelmed. These trends do not mean your office needs to be communicating across every available media channel. Instead, take a look at what formats you are already using and consider the current trends – do you think an average prospective student – young or old – would notice your communications in today’s multi-media world? Whether your institution is small, medium, or large, there are probably one or two additional direct marketing tools you can take advantage of that would augment your existing campaign, and without breaking your budget.

Once you have determined the proper mix of traditional and digital marketing channels, the next step is to integrate those efforts so that you are truly engaging in “cross-media marketing.” Even if you only plan to use 2 or 3 different media channels to communicate with students, if you incorporate an integrated cross-media strategy that is consistent and relevant to your unique audiences, you will maximize the effectiveness of your campaign.

Here are some tips to consider in 2013 and beyond as you integrate your student recruitment marketing communications across multiple channels:

  1. CALL-TO-ACTION: Use the same call-to-action across all channels that are promoting your campaign, and don’t distract from that CTA by providing other “distracting” CTA’s (e.g., “sign up for this event by clicking this link…but you can also learn more about the program at that link…and here’s our website to distract you even more!”).
  2. QR CODES & MOBILE OPTIMIZATION: If you are planning on using either generic or personalized QR codes, be sure the landing site they direct people to is optimized for mobile devices. Mobile optimization requires a landing site that uses less text, has big buttons, is vertically oriented, and doesn’t require a lot of “work” to move through. If you aren’t prepared to have a mobile-optimized landing site (and this does NOT need to be your website), you’re better off not using QR codes at all.
  3. PERSONALIZED CONTENT: Use the information you already know about your prospective students to communicate with them in a highly personalized manner. Yes, this means more segmenting of your data, creating more messages and content, and ultimately more work on the front end of your campaign…BUT the payoff is worth it, and commonly results in significant increases in response. TIP: have your graphic designer setup the variable content in separate layers in InDesign, then use Variable-Data Printing to make this easier!)
  4. LIST ACQUISITION: Look for lists that rent matching postal and email records. They can be hard to find, but it is well worth it. Multi-channel records are typically 2-5x more responsive when compared to single-channel records in the same segment. (Note: go back and read point #1 again)
  5. TRIGGER-BASED RESPONSES: Consider using SMS Text and/or Emails that can be setup to automatically respond/remind your inquiry pool of prospective students based on how that person responds to your campaign. This can used for thank you messages, event reminders, confirmations, application deadlines, etc., and can be helpful in converting interested prospects into completed applicants.

In the end, although technology keeps advancing and trends keep changing, recognize that the principles of direct response marketing remain true. For example, much of what works today is simply a digital version of the old salesman’s motto: “The sale is usually made on the 5th try…” (or some variation of that). We used to do this with just direct mail, and today we use multiple “touches” in a cross-media campaign to make the same point so that the students recognize our message above the multi-media noise that has become the new normal.

Tony Fraga is director of client services at at Direct Development.


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