The importance of the offer in college direct marketing


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

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

Read part two: Communicating with prospective college students at the most strategic time

Graphic image of a dart hitting a bullseye on the dartbord. This image represents pintpointing and hitting the right offer for college prospective student direct marketing.

Pinpointing the perfect offer for your prospective student marketing is key to generating the most meaningful inquiries with your communications.

When you communicate with prospective students, what do you offer them?

The easiest thing to offer to students in a direct marketing campaign is “more information” about your institution. The theory: They request the additional information, enter your inquiry pool, and continue their journey through the enrollment funnel.

There’s one large problem with this approach: “More information” is not an attractive offer.

Information about your campus certainly is valuable to students, but the offer of that information has to be presented in a way that conveys value to students. The direct marketing consultant Alan Rosenspan explains it well when he says the two most important parts of an offer are the perceived value by the target and the presentation of the offer—how it’s worded and showcased in the communication. Given the difficulty of getting students to respond to campus communications these days, a well-crafted offer is more important than ever.

So how do you create a compelling offer for prospective students? You need to think of what might be meaningful to students as they conduct their college search process. Today’s high school students in particular are primarily focused on their own plans and their own worlds, and they want to know—quickly—why they should bother responding to you. Offering them a brochure about your institution, as appropriate as that might seem, doesn’t address their immediate agenda.

At the same time, you also want an offer that generates valuable responses for your campus. Sure, you could offer a drawing for an iPad or concert tickets, but then you would have no idea if students were responding for the prize or because they were genuinely interested in enrolling. The goal is to present an offer that provides valuable help for students during their college search and that helps you build an inquiry pool full of the type students you want to enroll.

There’s one other tidbit from Alan Rosenspan that I think is especially applicable to college direct marketing: “If you can tie your offer to your main benefit, it can be exponentially more effective.”

We did just that with a campus using our Noel-Levitz Direct marketing services, a health sciences university in the east. Our research with their target profile showed that prospective students interested in this school had a particularly strong interest in career directions. So we offered prospective students a “Free Academic and Career Guide” that showcased opportunities in the areas where the campus had academic programs.

Notice that the offer is essentially information, but it was presented in a way that would provide a high amount of perceived value to the students. It also allowed us to take the intangible (information) and make it tangible (a free guide). Of course, respondents also later received information about the university itself, but not until we had drawn them in by appealing to their primary interests. We also pumped up the presentation appeal by giving it a specific title and using the most essential word in direct marketing offers, “free.”

In addition, we did not come up with an offer until we had researched the target audience. You have to understand what students want before you can craft an offer. Even if they share a common goal of getting a college education, students may respond to that goal (and communications offering that education) very differently from student to student.

Finally, test your offers. Testing competing offers determines which offers perform the best and will improve your return on investment. Even if you have an offer that is working well, testing may reveal an even better one.

I will be discussing this topic and others from this series at a free Webinar, What Makes a Prospective Student Direct Marketing Program Successful? on February 14. I am also happy to discuss offer strategies or any other topics about direct marketing with you—send me an e-mail and I’ll answer as soon as I can.

About the author

Pegi Anton has worked in higher education marketing for 25 years. She offers extensive experience in campus marketing, market research, communication flows, and digital and print strategy. Her specialty is developing branding and marketing communication strategies that incorporate data-driven Ruffalo Noel Levitz services.

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