Maximize Your Search Response by Combining Direct Mail and the Internet

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Dr. Doug Spedaro
Premier Collegiate Communications

David Waggoner
Vice President
Premier Collegiate Communications

As you are painfully aware, the typical high school student hears from hundreds of colleges as the college search process unfolds. Therefore it has become harder and harder to make your institution stand out from the crowd. Search response rates ? which average between one and two percent? reflect this. We believe that there is a way to overcome this dismal response rate by combining the guaranteed delivery of direct mail with the unique aspects of the internet.

Why the Internet Alone Does Not Work

Faced with declining Search response rates, many colleges have turned to email [as an alternative to direct mail] as a Search tool. This strategy is problematic for at least three reasons. First, only about half of the students who takethe PSAT, SAT and ACT provide the testing services with an email address. Second, high school students are notorious for changing Internet service providers and many of the email addresses received from the testing services are out of date by the time Search data is made available to you. Finally, the emails which reach prospective students are often automatically or intentionally ignored as spam.

Today?s college-bound students have grown up with the Internet as a basic necessity. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, they are overwhelmed with emails from friends and solicitations from businesses and colleges. Yet the tremendous success of Internet ?chat rooms? is evidence that they have not tuned out. What is the difference? Email is a passive activity mainly comprised of spam which is largely ignored, while the chat room is a user initiated activity ? one in which they CHOOSE to engage. Given the fact that a college?s Internet savvy is a key indicator to the student, the question for higher education admissions professionals now becomes, ?How can we get the student to INITIATE Internet contact with us??

Combining the Reliability of Direct Mail with the Pizzazz of the Internet

Direct mail has become ubiquitous because of one fact: unlike email spam which can be eliminated by accident or by intent, it is guaranteed to end up in the hands of the recipient. This is why it is has become the backbone of? advertising of all sorts. Unfortunately, its very success has resulted in an inundation of mail for most families. Although we know of many ways to make your direct mail stand out, we believe that the best method is a combination of direct mail and the Internet.

The answer is variable digital postcards bearing personalized URLs which offer a unique alternative to traditional Search methods. This strategy combines two channels of communication ? the reliability of direct mail and the Internet.

How Variable Digital Postcards Work to Increase Your Search Response

The first component of this unique campaign is the postcard. Unlike traditional press printing where every postcard produced is identical, variable digital printing allows us to use multiple images and varied copy in a single run for increased personalization. Each student receives a card personalized with their name and text that is specific just to them. One Premier client has created 10 different postcards for the PSAT Search. Nine of these cards are for prospective students who have expressed interest in specific majors, while the tenth ?general? card is sent to the remaining records in the Search database. Other clients have utilized images and copy to personalize on the basis of gender, geography, and academic quality.

In addition to using multiple images and text, we utilize the strategy of ?custom image personalization.? We present the recipient?s name on the face of the card as if it was photographed as part of the image, e.g., clouds in the sky, sandwriting on a beach, a theater marquee with their name in lights. The prospective student?s name isn?t just printed on top of an image, its part of the image. Your Search postcard stands out from the crowd!

The unique personalization of our postcards achieves your first goal ? successfully capturing the attention of a prospective student. We then capitalize on our second channel of communication ? the Internet. We do so by creating personalized? website addresses and landing pages. This component of our strategy is effective because today?s high school students have grown up with the? Internet and use it for all manner of research and communication. They?re much more comfortable going online to research a college than calling an 800 number to request information. Filling out a reply card to drop in the mail is so ?20th century.?

The distinctiveness and impact of our postcards is enhanced because we create a personalized URL (PURL) for each card recipient by incorporating their name into a website address, e.g., Research has shown that when individuals see their name in the website address, it sparks their curiosity and they are much more likely to visit the site. In addition, the information and design of the personalized website accessed online is tailored for each prospective student based on? information contained in the Search database. Both copy and images can be varied based on data elements such as intended major, geography, and gender. Personalization is further enhanced by pre-populating the Request for Information Form built into each PURL. You can see one for yourself at

Finally, the reporting provided by variable digital postcards is extraordinary. Colleges are able to track in real time who visited the site, when they visited, who requested more information, who ?clicked through? to the college?s website, and all of the demographic information on visiting students available from the SAT, ACT, or other search sources. These reports are available on-line for your convenience. Better yet, all of the information on respondents is available for downloading. Many of our clients have been able to download these lists and incorporate them directly into their admissions database. No more keypunching the incomprehensible writing on reply cards!

Results Speak Louder Than Words

As mentioned previously, search response rates utilizing old-fashioned search pieces and letters with reply cards average between one and two percent. Using personalized postcards, Premier clients have seen Search response rates as high as 7.5%! We believe that Variable data printing is clearly the wave of the future in college Search.

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