By Published On: May 27, 2015

My colleague’s 17-year-old daughter is a college-bound, and for over a year she has been deluged with college admissions materials. Deluge is an understatement! Sheryl kindly saved them for me as a representative sampling of the current market.

Diving into the pile served as a great reminder of direct mail best practices, particularly in regards to college marketing.

There were five colleges in the stack of over 40 – whose materials stood out from the crowd.

They conveyed their unique value and collegiate brand clearly and memorably in a distinct voice that also fit with the target audience. Their approach provides good direction for recreating this effect for your own institution:

Edit, Edit, Edit
What are your key messages? What outcomes do you want to achieve? Let this be your guide when creating copy. A two or three page letter package loses its readers before they even begin. Don’t expect your direct mail copy to cover everything. Rather, create a desire to learn more and drive them to a landing page and/or your website for more content.

Consistent Branding Drives Great Recognition
Our favorite pieces had polished, consistent branding and messaging with cohesive copy and design. Since most admissions campaigns occur over a series of digital and print communications, this consistent branding was essential to creating and maintaining recognition and momentum.

Clear Call to Action
What action do you want your prospects to take? Make it easy to respond, and preferably include several response channels (online to landing page, phone, BRF/BRE). If you are successful in garnering your prospective student’s attention, make sure you get them to the next step. Otherwise, you’re wasting your marketing dollars.

It’s Always About the Audience
Think about what’s most important to your students, and their parents. Be creative about reaching each audience. For example, you may decide to address the main copy to students, but include an insert targeted to parents.

Invest in Design and Production
When you are planning your campaign pieces, work with a skilled designer or agency who knows your brand and who has proven their ability to create engaging work. Make sure you allow ample time for concepts and multiple rounds of revisions – after all, those last few tweaks can make a big difference. Similarly, spend a bit more for good or better paper stock and quality printing. You’re asking prospective students and their parents to invest a lot in their college education. Flimsy card stock and poor quality printing won’t reflect the quality of your institution.

Some other considerations include:


In the current scene of variable data – how much is too much? Use personalization well by making sure your data can support the required variable fields for flawless execution. If your data can only support limited fields, cut back accordingly.


Over 90% of the 50+ letter packages I reviewed offered some kind of free document to prospective students – most commonly a guide to topics such as selecting a college or a major.   Challenge yourself to develop an offer that uniquely represents your institution and it’s strengths – vs. a generic, counseling-style resource. This will help ensure you attract quality leads that are truly interested in your school.

For more direct mail best practices, here are two articles by Summer Gould that we thought were helpful (see links below).

Our next blog will cover creating the optimal mix and timing of mail and digital tactics.

Stay tuned!!!


Additional Resources:

Fall in Love with Direct Mail All Over Again, By Summer Gould, April, 2015

Direct Mail: A New Perspective, By Summer Gould, May, 2015


About the Author: Megan Devine

Megan Devine
Megan taps into her left-brain logic and right brain creativity—steering the business, bantering with her team, and strategizing on client work. She says it’s her dream job and we believe her. Using her passion and knack for understanding complex connections in business and marketing, she collaborates to create love between brands and customers. She possesses expertise and experience that only comes from persevering in the ever-changing marketing agency world. Megan co-founded d.trio marketing group, now cat&tonic, in January of 2000 and took sole ownership in 2019. Her vision, support, and sheer stubbornness got us through 9/11, the great recession, and a pandemic. She has judged the International ECHO Awards since 2005, has consulted for several organizations, and serves on several boards. Educated at Carleton College, she learned the importance of critical thinking for success. At home she learned the value of a good story.
Being smart about college marketing
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