Is it Time to Rethink Direct Mail? Top Ten Tips for Educators

Though most colleges and universities across the United States have already kicked off the new Fall semester, outreach and marketing efforts continue throughout the year, as higher education marketers seek to attract prospective students. Are senior leaders at your educational institution looking for fresh methods to engage new students? Digital and social media programs have allowed universities to stay top of mind in the lives of today’s tech-savvy, digital natives, but offline marketing still plays a crucial role. In fact, direct mail is a channel that has evolved over the last several years, particularly with innovation in design and creative, as well as new abilities to connect the offline and online consumer journey. This all being said, it might be time to rethink direct mail.

Although the popularity of mail has declined with the growth of email and digital, that downward trend has ended, as innovative institutions are returning to the channel.  One education marketer told me recently that she hasn’t be able to replace the volume and ROI that direct mail can deliver with her other channels. Another has reported that most of his growth will be in DM this year. Anecdotes like these are hard to ignore!

If your institution is considering a direct mail test here are the key things to consider:

Start with Look-alike models and expand from there:

Look alike models are a good way to identify a prospect pool that looks like your current students. But don’t stop there.  Remember that different consumers respond, and behavior differently across channels. Direct mail responders may be more likely to be female or to be older. They may prefer night classes, or they may be stay at home moms retraining to enter the work force. While they will likely have things in common with your current students, they may have differences as well. Consider these nuances when you’re targeting different groups.

Put your eggs in a lot of baskets:

Instead of testing one list, test several.  Consider your first few campaigns as opportunities to learn what works best for your institution. While you will want to test mailing files that resemble your customers, you will also want to see if lists with a slightly different population work well too, such as seniors with a passion for learning, or stay at home moms who have indicated an interest in returning to the work force.

Start with broad and refine:

Perhaps the most common mistake that mailers make is that they start with a tight demographic select, and then don’t get the quantity or performance they hoped for. Over the years, we have seen the strongest response from lists with an age and household Income demographic select.

Remember your email-only file:

This can be a profitable source of names for institutions. Many marketers are seeing excellent results when they append an address to their email-only files and reach out to their prospects in both channels.

Include related fields of study:

One way to increase response rate is to expand beyond the promoted field of study. Including related fields has been proven to increase response rates. The related fields can pique someone’s interest or inspire them to share your offer.

Integrate with emails:

Results show that direct mail combined with email delivers the best ROI.

Remember to match back:

After receiving a mailing piece, studies have shown that most people turn to online for more information and to register for an offer.  Although someone may click on a PPC ad or land on your site organically, if you have mailed them an offer, it is likely the mail piece that inspired the site visit. Be sure to match any new registration and inquiries back to the file that you mailed. Closing that loop will make it easier for you evaluate the impact and ROI of the campaign.

Do a hold-out test:

Want to quantify the incremental lift of your mail piece?  One of the best ways to achieve this is to hold out a panel of your prospect names and then include them in the matchback pool. Did those un-mailed names generate as many inquiries and registrations as the mailed group? If not, you now know the incremental value of your campaign.

Expect a 1-2% response rate for well-targeted, popular offers:

While it may take several campaigns to optimize your lists and offers, successful educational mailers regularly see response rates in this range.

Work with a reputable partner:

An experienced list broker or strategic agency partner can help guide you in your list selection, modeling and testing. Additionally, they should be able to give you accurate projections of your campaign’s expected performance.   You will be able to use these projections for planning and for conversations with your management team.

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