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Getting Personal with Potential Students

University Business, Jun 2008

E-mail is dead, long live Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Social networking sites are all the rage, and we should just go ahead and discard any of the old working models ... or so the prognosticators of teen communication culture would have us believe. While it is true that the trends are pointing away from "traditional" methods of reaching prospective students, it doesn't mean that your educational institution should completely forsake the old reliables: direct mail and e-mail. So, as recruiters waiting for someone to figure out exactly how to use newer media, you would do well to stay on top of existing techniques.

In a report titled "E-Expectations: The Class of 2007 Enrollment," management consulting firm Noel-Levitz confirms what you may already have suspected. This national survey found that 56 percent of high school juniors would rather look at a website than read fancy brochures sent through the mail. At the same time, 64 percent reported their preference for receiving information from a college on their list by print rather than e-mail. The reason for the apparent contradiction? E-mail is viewed by today's teen as less convenient than web browsing.

Marketers can bridge this divide through the use of personalized landing pages (PURLs). Already familiar with social networking sites, students who visit your site will be quite comfortable logging into their own personal landing page. From there, you can capture such information as major selection, classes they are interested in attending, social interests that coincide with on-campus organizations, etc. Their PURLs can, therefore, be tailored to reflect their interests, and further be used by your institution to learn more about what the student looks for in terms of campus life. Data culled from this process can be used to develop detailed variable data printing offerings that start a one-to-one relationship with a potential student. Also, once established, a PURL relationship begun during recruitment can continue throughout the student's enrollment, span such changes as school transfers and graduation, and even extend into the important alumni years.

All students who express interest in attending your institution are a treasure trove of collective information, but they still need to be treated as individuals. Most print marketing tends to address prospects as just another face in the crowd, so what better way to speak to prospects as individuals than through variable data printing technologies? Take your basic course catalog, for example. Depending on the size of your institution, catalogs can run hundreds of pages and list hundreds of classes. Send this to an overwhelmed high school senior and watch the eyes glaze over.

So, when a student visits your website, make sure he or she leaves enough personal information behind to drive a VDP project tailored to his or her specific areas of interest. That way, you can send a catalog that looks less like a phone book and more like a sleek brochure-a catalog that contains only the things in which the student expressed interest. Designed around the major of interest designated during the website visit, the catalog can lay out one, two, or four years worth of courses required for a student to graduate with that major. Partner that with an offering of related campus activities and you have the makings of a persuasive creative package.

With web-to-print processes, the marketing department creates, edits, and posts online templates that contain approved text and graphics. Individuals with access to this area of the website can order the templates from inventory, or, better yet, have copies printed on-demand. The templates may have static content, but, with new technologies, the printed piece can include elements of VDP, too. Custom-created web portals make it easy for recruiters to mix and match targeted promotional materials online. At the same time, control of web-to-print orders always stays where it belongs: in the hands of the marketing department.

Once students visit your site and provide some information about them, VDP applications can kick into high gear. A school with multiple campuses can, for example, utilize web-to-print effectively. A student who visits the main website and inquires about courses or programs can be sent a VDP piece tailored to their geographic location. Academic institutions with multiple locations-for example, community colleges or distance-learning centers-might use the address from an online inquiry form to point the student to the nearest campus.

When you set up templates that can be accessed by your entire recruiting department, targeted packets get promptly dispatched, streamlining the process from inquiry to mailing of personalized information or application packages.

Most current high school students belong to a secret society, impenetrable by parents or recruiters-the brotherhood of the flying thumbs. Witness your prospects feverishly sending text messages to each other and feel daunted at the notion of trying to use this popular communication tool to reach them with an institutional message. But schools are quickly learning how to use the power of this pervasive and persuasive communications device.

Students who visit your site can be offered the option of receiving cell-phone text alerts regarding the status of applications. Students can receive text alerts as their inquiries move through your system, for example, as deadlines approach or pass for recruiting events or other areas of interest. A text messaging solution can work hand-in-hand with print strategies to trigger mailings and track click-through rates. Text alerts also can be used to disseminate PURLS and other customized website options.

To make it all work smoothly, be sure to consult with an experienced direct marketing production company. Variable data printing, PURLs, and web-to-print can be a bit complicated. You'll need well thought-out workflow charts and razor sharp details to go with each list that will be used to drive variable elements. Rely on the advice and counsel a good production partner can offer.

The current prospective student is a multi-tasking marvel-texting, browsing, and chatting--with a level of complexity and self-assurance that is marvelous to behold. These students need to be spoken to in a language they understand, and that involves tailoring your communication to the way they want to receive messages. To this age group, print is not dead, just seemingly stodgy and quaint. Bring your print strategy to them on their terms and reap the recruitment rewards.

<em>Crystal Uppercue is the marketing manager for EU Services, a 385-person direct marketing production facility based in Rockville, Md. EU Services offers customized solutions for both web to print and VDP, including integrated direct mail, e-mail, and personalized response url (PURL) campaign planning and production. For a free white paper detailing the best practices in Variable Data Printing, visit Contact her at</em>