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The Power of Print in Higher Education Marketing

Categories: Ideas and Innovation
higher education marketing

This story on the power of print in higher education marketing originally appeared in Volume 8 of Domtar’s Blueline Magazine. It has been edited for the Newsroom.

Print plays a big role in today’s higher education marketing campaigns. Why? Because it works.

The higher education market has become increasingly competitive in recent years as schools compete for prospective students. Students, however, aren’t the only audience that schools must reach. Beyond students, the community that comprises a school’s broader support network includes parents, alumni, donors, faculty and staff. Colleges and universities have the unique challenge of developing a brand that appeals to all these audiences and generations.

To compete, universities have adopted market-oriented strategies, such as hiring content agencies and using social media in conjunction with print, which is still the foundation upon which multi-generational marketing is built. Not only is print a tactile and personal experience, but its message to a specific audience also can be amplified through digital media. And in higher education marketing, it’s more powerful than ever.

To find out more about how schools have been harnessing the power of print in reaching new students, their parents and other audiences, we spoke to a few experts in the field, including:

  • Karyn Adams, principal and creative director of H·A ThirtyOne, a collegiate branding agency with clients such as Duke University.
  • Jessica Corliss, art director and visual identity specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications at the University of Iowa.
  • Sean Carroll, director of Printing Services, a full-service printing facility at Vanderbilt University.

The conversation highlighted four takeaways for targeting younger generations through higher education marketing:

  1. Your audience is larger than you think.

Even if you’re targeting an individual, you’re never speaking to just one person. According to Adams, print speaks to a student’s whole family.

“You’re also trying to talk to their influencers, which can be Gen X or Baby Boomers,” she says, “The younger students are very mobile-invested but they’re also very influenced by parents and family members.”

But no matter the generation, the staying power of print organically increases readership and engagement. And high-impact print, Carroll notes, can be especially appealing to prospective students and alumni.

“Vanderbilt’s recruiting efforts are now worldwide and the quality of prospective students is top notch,” he says. “Our printed pieces are often the first exposure that a student in another country gets from the university. It has to be quality, and it’s important that the piece tell the story of the school and the university mission.” These are critical facts to remember when deciding how to best communicate with your audience.

  1. Authenticity is key.

Did you know that Millennials and Gen Z are exposed to more ads and branding than any past generation? They’re so bombarded that they’ve become almost immune to marketing of any kind, including higher education marketing. That’s why authenticity is so vital.

“Authenticity comes up a lot,” Corliss says. “Being candid and honest, trying not to stage stuff and instead capture real moments that are happening. That goes over well with the younger audience.”

Adams and her team stay authentic by communicating each school’s uniqueness. “We spend the time getting to know that school and what makes them truly distinctive,” she says. “We spend time on campus … getting to know faculty and students. You learn about their character. That makes it really, really fun.”

Whatever the focus of your message, honest communication goes a long way.

University of Iowa Office of Strategic Communication Art Director Jessica Corliss in her Office

  1. Be ready to evolve.

In today’s market, the only constant is change. Schools that can adapt are schools that will thrive. Carroll believes that staying on top of industry trends is crucial in higher education marketing. Innovations in printing and paper give marketers even more ways to resonate with their audience, from new folds and finishes to personalized direct mail and camera-captured content. Best of all, it’s measurable.

“There are tons of ways to measure ROI on print,” says Adams, citing PURLs, or personalized URLs, as a favorite. A custom URL lets marketers better understand a piece’s efficacy by tracking visits to the URL.

It’s also wise to follow the practices of other industries. As Corliss explains, “It’s not enough to see what other schools are doing, so we look outside of higher ed. What are the tech and corporate worlds doing with print?” Inspiration, she believes, can come from anywhere.

Carroll agrees, citing his organization’s leap into wide-format printing, where UV and latex technology have become increasingly affordable. “As a leader in a mature industry such as print, it’s so refreshing to see a new world of possibilities,” he says.

Carroll’s homework on the industry has paid off with the wide-format investment. It has allowed his facility to capture some work that has been going on elsewhere. He prints giant 15-foot banners for the university’s real estate operations, and because he can turn those needs quickly, they are coming to him for other traditional printing needs.

  1. Know that digital will play a role.

When creating a print piece, always consider how digital plays into the higher education marketing experience. An acceptance letter is a great example, as it also has a digital presence.

“When a student gets an acceptance letter in the mail, they don’t just call up their friend and say where they’re going,” says Corliss. “They’re going to take a picture and post it on social media. Then it becomes an alumni engagement opportunity [on social] as well. It’s a full cycle that reaches more than the intended recipient. It connects with multiple generations, and it’s a brand opportunity for us.”

Adams recommends focusing on your end goal when integrating digital. Technology, such as scannable codes or augmented reality, shouldn’t be used just because it’s new. It should have a purpose. “We’re always excited when [institutions] are interested in pushing the boundaries,” she says. “But we always want to look at how it plays into the success of the end project.”

Don’t Forget Print in Higher Education Marketing

Print clearly leads to high engagement levels. It ends up in people’s hands and in their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat feeds. Knowing how to leverage print is critical in higher education marketing, from creating pieces that resonate with your target market to integrating digital technology as effectively as possible. That’s the true power of print.

To read more stories about Domtar paper, design trends and printing techniques, visit Domtar’s Blueline Blog and subscribe to the Blueline Magazine.