Communicating with prospective college students at the most strategic time

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A photograph of a mailbox, which represents a prospective college student  receiving marketing communications from your campus.

Delivering your messages to prospective college students at the right time is crucial to the success of your direct marketing.

Part two of the series, Five principles of a successful prospective student direct marketing campaign

Read part one: Building the right list for campus direct marketing

Is student search an event or a process?

More than a few campuses still treat it as an event. They send out one search mailing a year, often taking the admissions travel brochure, reformatting it as a self-mailer, and sending it out during the fall semester to whatever mailing list is handy.

That may have worked when colleges drove the enrollment process, but today, students drive that process. The advent of “secret shopping,” with students looking at your institution but not self-identifying or making contact before applying, has made search an ongoing process.

With that in mind, here are three direct marketing strategies that colleges and universities should consider when deciding when to launch campaigns and when to start recruiting high school students.

1) Conduct campaigns during fall, late winter, and late spring

The demands of today’s students mean that you can’t limit your direct marketing efforts to a single event or even a single season. You must campaign throughout the year. We recommend conducting three campaigns a year—fall, late winter, and late spring. This ensures that you’ll be in touch with prospects year ’round.

Note that campaigns does not mean just sending out a mailing or a blast e-mail three times a year. Sending a single communication, or even just two or three, and expecting to make an impact is not realistic with today’s students. Successful campaigns use multiple contacts through multiple mediums—mail, e-mail, your Web site, social media—to reach prospective students. You want to target students with multiple messages because you’re almost certainly competing with many other campuses for their attention. Which leads to my next recommendation….

2) Connect with “fresh” student prospects

A second component of timing is executing when a list is “fresh.” What happens when you mail a list that isn’t fresh? You are contacting students who already may have heard from 15 or 20 institutions. Think of receiving your 20th credit card solicitation in the mail and your likely response to it.

Your search lists need to be refined and adjusted throughout the recruitment cycle. Take advantage of new names as soon as they are released by list sources such as College Board, ACT, and NRCCUA so that you can connect with those students before they are inundated with other communications.

3) Expand your recruitment timeframe from sophomore to senior year

If you’re serious about building a robust inquiry pool, your prospecting efforts should begin with high school sophomores and continue through at least early fall of the senior year.

Starting in the sophomore year allows you to avoid college-search overload with your prospective students. You can start building relationships with those students before they hit the “recruitment rush hour” of their junior year.

As you move forward, keep refining your list and communicating with your prospects—new and old. Don’t be hesitant to add names and communication flows late in a cycle for a high school cohort. With campuses using our Noel-Levitz Direct marketing services, we have seen some dramatic results with well-timed application pushes to seniors. (In fact, my colleague Andrea Gilbert recently shared some marketing and communication strategies you can use with seniors even late in the fall.)

These three strategies—executing campaigns throughout the year, communicating with fresh student names, and expanding your recruitment efforts to include the sophomore and senior years—will help you maximize your opportunity to reach prospects at key recruitment junctures when your communications will have the greatest impact. In my next two posts, I’ll discuss creating compelling offers and using the best creative.

My Noel-Levitz colleagues and I will be conducting a free Webinar on February 14, What Makes a Student Direct Marketing Program Successful? I invite you to join us. You can also send me any questions or comments; just drop me an e-mail. In the meantime, remember to keep the search process going.

About the author

Pegi Anton has worked in higher education marketing for 23 years. She offers extensive experience in campus marketing, market research, communication flows, and digital and print strategy. She primarily works with campuses using Noel-Levitz direct marketing services.

Read more about Pegi’s experience and expertise »

Reach Pegi by e-mail at pegi-anton@noellevitz.com.

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