In Higher Education Marketing, Innovation Beats Emulation

In 2017, PLAY Creative crafted a drip campaign for Southeast Community College in Lincoln that moved 240 prospects from a lead list down a marketing funnel into a lead campaign.

The original list’s size? 250 names. That’s good for 96% conversion.

We’ve seen campaigns go gangbusters and other campaigns fall flat. This particular campaign for SCC was an unprecedented success. The reason is that it doesn’t matter how good (or bad) a prospect list is if your college marketing isn’t fresh, creative, and unique to the market. Unfortunately, most colleges try so hard not to risk standing out that they end up making all their marketing feel like everyone else’s.

Striving for sameness breeds mediocrity, and the fear of standing out is an epidemic in advertising for most colleges.

Seeking innovation and uniqueness is nothing new in this realm. However, it continues to become more and more important in capturing the attention of an age group with attention spans that shrink with each passing year.

Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

Members of Gen Z gravitate toward media experiences that surprise and delight them and that they can engage with. Being innovative is becoming the expectation, and college marketing is no exception. What’s more, college marketing pieces need to grab prospects’ attention quickly. Studies show that on average, you’ve got about eight seconds to capture the eyes of Gen Z before they move on.

A common response to ever-shortening attention spans usually involves looking for ways to cram everything you need to know into a single headline. Surely there’s a better way to captivate college prospects than engaging in the digital arms race.

Abnormal as the New Normal

Even the most innovative advertising follows one core rule: Tap into the sensibilities of the target audience. And that’s exactly why college marketers need to stand out, now more than ever. The combination of Gen Z’s penchant for unique and surprising experiences in advertising combined with increasing apathy for homogenous digital marketing leaves a lot of room for a different media: Print.

In a race for digital superiority, thoughtful print pieces have fallen off the priority list for most college marketing departments. All this despite the fact that print is proven to be more engaging and has more longevity than the vast majority of digital marketing.

An email can be instantly deleted, digital ads can be glazed over and video ads can be as volatile as uranium, considering the cost. But you can’t ‘X out’ of a great print piece, like this, this or this

The engagement that comes built in with great print pieces can’t be overstated. We at PLAY Creative find that high school-age prospects receive such a low amount of mail that when something shows up addressed to them, it creates surprise and delight that an email can’t touch. A great mail piece, like a dynamic mailer, isn’t merely a distraction. Engaging with it is an experience all on its own. A great print piece has longevity and inherent value just by virtue of being a physical thing.

Many colleges—at the advice of their agencies—have invested so exclusively in digital marketing that print pieces have been pushed to the backburner. Digital marketing should always be a key part of a college campaign, but it shouldn’t comprise 98% of your marketing. Unfortunately, this is a mistake we see many colleges commit, often at the expense of great printed pieces. Furthermore, one could even argue that print is now the zag in marketing college, and the handful of colleges that take full advantage of it can attest to its power.

Lesson Learned

Consider once again our campaign for Southeast Community College. You know, the one that converted at nearly 97%.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, what made that campaign special was the use of a dynamic print mail piece. SCC didn’t come to PLAY asking for a campaign that would emulate their competitors or look like everything else out there. They wanted a campaign that would stand out by being interesting, unique and engaging.

Simply by being different from the other college marketing in the region, our campaign converted exceedingly well. If you want to see more examples of our print work and higher education marketing, check out the PLAY blog.

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