All marketers in college admissions want to know what direct mail and email tactics really influence a high school senior’s college decision. Does personalization or variable data print mean anything to them? Before completing her internship with our marketing department in the fall, Hannah Cupples shared with us an insider’s view into a high school senior’s mind as she makes this big life decision…
Direct Mail from a High School Senior’s Point of View
These months are a very stressful time in the lives of high school seniors across the nation: it’s time to start the daunting process of applying to colleges. Each individual student, including myself, is starting to narrow down their lists of prospective schools and figure out where exactly they want to apply. So how do we narrow that list down? I can tell you one thing: direct mail plays a part.
It usually starts shortly after you take the PSAT; your name, address, and email go on a list, and before you know it, a massive amount of mail from a variety of colleges is arriving at your door step. Some colleges are starting as early as the fall of sophomore year. By the time you’re a senior, you can only imagine all of the mail you’ve received over the years. Take it from me, it is an awful lot.
Amid all the letters, brochures, pamphlets, and post cards, certain pieces do stand out. It’s not that they are printed in flashy colors or have beautiful pictures all over, it’s the fact that some pieces are personalized. They have my name somewhere else besides the address, and some even mention my interests. It’s as if they are trying to reach out just to me.
Students of this generation are often viewed as narcissistic, so it only makes sense that personalized mail pieces strike a chord with us. Just the other day I received a birthday card from a college. My address and name were even hand written on the envelope! I may not be interested in that school, but it was still a really nice gesture that definitely made an impression. If the school had done this last year when my list of prospective colleges was open to additions, I may have taken a good look at what the school had to offer. That one piece sent out at a birthday or holiday can speak volumes with a student.
Taking stock of my piles of college mail, it’s clear most colleges and universities send similar pieces. They may have different looks, but the offer is the same. There is nothing distinctive about a bunch of letters that all say how unique the respective school is.
In order to make one direct mail piece stand out from the others, it has to be set apart somehow. The message could be different or, once again, personalized.
Several case studies show that direct mail yields higher response rates than other avenues. But better yet, if it’s variable content direct mail, the response rates increase dramatically. I know first-hand why that is. When the mail piece is tailored to my interests or from a school that offers something catered to what I want in a school, I am more likely to look at it. If I like what I see from information presented, I will go online and look at the school. And I know I’m not the only one.
This also ties into email as well. At the Stamats TeenTALKS a few years ago, a group of college-bound students all agreed that personalized messages resonated more with them. The students reported that email was not a preferred method of recruitment because it is not personal and is clearly a form of mass communication. It makes the student feel as if they are just another out of thousands in a college marketing effort.
It basically comes down to this: colleges have just as much of a challenge trying to sell themselves to students as students do trying to sell themselves to colleges. Using a strategic direct mail campaign can be beneficial to both sides. Getting the right message to the right students could generate high response rates and possibly more applications for the college. Likewise personalized messages resonate with the student and can even make their college search a little easier.
It’s an overwhelming time for us high school seniors. Colleges can do students a favor while achieving their marketing objectives at the same time by taking advantage of variable data print and personalized direct mail.
Hannah Cupples is an intern at Compu-Mail. She is currently a student at Lewiston-Porter Senior High School and is enrolled in the Academy of International Business and Finance. Her high school curriculum has included several AP and honors level courses as well. Hannah plans on studying chemistry and business in college, starting in the fall of 2014.