<p>How to Create Distinctive Admission Enrollment Marketing Campaigns</p>

Education

How to Create Distinctive Admission Enrollment Marketing Campaigns

The focus of this document is to empower you to expand dialogues with students, parents, and donors.

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Our design studio develops strategies that grow the quality and the quantity of applicant pools.

Creating a Superior Enrollment Campaign

A superior enrollment marketing campaign presents a layered story that helps prospective students and their parents understand a school’s distinguishing market position.

Discerning students—approaching high school graduation—are paused on the sidelines in their search for an institution that strikes a chord with their needs and offers a value proposition to meet those needs. The goal is to develop a precise communications strategy to connect more effectively with audiences, grow enrollment, and attract passionate donors.

Recurring comments we hear from university presidents and provosts have included: “Our marketing materials make us sound like a typical learning environment—there’s too much generic academic-speak.”

Admission teams echo similar statements. They ask for campaigns that stand out. And for more robust, sustained campaign touchpoints to navigate melt periods.

A marketing communications manager told us, “A messaging strategy—created just for the enrollment campaign—would be a huge help. Everyone needs to use only approved talking points. Since we don’t have formal strategy documents, excessive time is spent dealing with inconsistent content.”

By referencing this checklist, you will be able to develop an enrollment story that will connect with key, segmented audiences.

The Value of an Outsider’s Perspective

To start, maybe it’s time for an outsider’s epiphany. Or a creative partner who just gets you better.

The value of learning a new, objective perspective is priceless.

An educated outsider arrives with no preconceived ideas and no political baggage—the outsider often strengthens internal team resources. Bringing in people who think differently—and have vast experience—means internal teams are exposed to practices that can help them in the long run.

Organizations benefit from interaction with external creative partners. They typically work faster than their client counterparts. Juggle multiple assignments with ease. And they propose novel solutions to brand management.

Today’s business obstacles presented by COVID-19 and employees working from home have posed extraordinary challenges never envisioned. Marketing managers who apply intellectual objectivity from outsiders—with specialized expertise—are thriving on multiple levels.

Consider welcoming advisors who provide new perspectives and new strategies. Partners who will shake things up and help you reevaluate the status quo.

Comprehensive Enrollment Campaign Workflow

On the pages that follow, we’ve listed our particular approach (steps) to organizing an enrollment campaign.

Consider this checklist your road map. A broad brushstroke.

It’s a resource we created for both seasoned veterans and people new to the process—information everyone will value.

Our tested process has guided boarding schools, colleges, and universities—solutions proven to expand dialogues with students, parents, and donors.

Depending on the type of campaign (i.e., digital or print), the workflow steps vary slightly, but the principles remain the same.

We suggest that you focus on three critical areas: the schedule and planning, the messaging, and the creative strategy.

Detailed schedules and planning lessen stress, highlight the next step in the process, ensure that everyone understands their respective responsibilities, and help reduce the overall cost. We recommend beginning the assignment at least 16 months before the release date. The more time you have, the better.

Messaging must be on brand—consistent with the institutional market position. The enrollment campaign is not an island; its content must work in harmony with the established communications strategy to promote a distinguished, integrated, and relevant story.

And a highly innovative creative strategy is essential—a presentation that sparks stop-and-think moments.

When the schedule, planning, messaging, and creative strategy are meticulously executed, a winning outcome is achieved.

And a highly innovative creative strategy is essential—a presentation that sparks stop-and-think moments.

When the schedule, messaging, and creative strategy are meticulously executed, a winning outcome is achieved.

Build a case that explains how your school will ensure a positive return on an education investment.

Stand Out from the Crowd

There are more than 3,000 colleges, universities, and independent schools operating in the United States, each claiming to provide a distinctive learning experience.

Too many enrollment campaigns look and sound the same, as if lifted from a master template. Slogans are interchangeable. And content is constructed from a perfunctory checklist of buzzwords as if copied from an education lexicon.

Institutions that understand the need to communicate a differentiated value proposition have turned to more thorough, layered mainstream marketing practices—thought leadership that empowers admissions and enrollment management teams to address the cost-versus-value question with confidence. These new strategies also enable a more relevant market position for navigating an uncertain future.

Onerous questions regarding an institution’s real purpose must be asked and answered. Only then can communications strategies be tailored to reflect the desired market presence.

Two Approaches: Digital and Print Campaigns

A question that must be addressed early on is: Will the campaign be digital or print-based—or a combination of both?

Sustainability remains a passionate topic on college campuses. Initial thinking is that digital (online) touchpoints are obviously the greener choice; yet even distributing a simple email has an environmental impact.

The question of whether to launch a traditional versus an eco-friendly campaign must be weighed against the admission enrollment goal and the type of touchpoints that are required to grow early applicant pools in terms of both quantity and quality.

Your job is to develop the right message; the medium (distribution channel) is secondary. A successful campaign promotes brand recall, ensures a maximum return on the marketing investment, and promotes intelligent green stewardship.

If print-based materials will be published, use paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC certification ensures that paper products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits. FSC principles and criteria provide a foundation for all forest management standards globally, including the FSC US National Standard that guides forest management certification in the United States. On each print touchpoint, state that recycled paper was used.

In the final analysis, successful campaigns apply both print and digital tactics, resulting in a blended plan.

Competitive Audit   To ensure that the message and the creative strategy are distinctive, a competitive audit (analysis) of the enrollment campaigns that exist within your competitive landscape should be conducted. The audit is then applied to guide a 360-degree view that will optimize the story. This step helps avoid creative directions in use by competitors, thus further differentiating your visual positioning and mitigating any confusion in the marketplace.

Stakeholder Interviews and Previous Campaign Assessment   Before initiating work, it’s prudent to hear from key stakeholder groups (administration, alumni, enrolled students, and staff) regarding their views of your desired market position and previous enrollment campaign strengths and weaknesses.

Rollout Strategy   Defining a strategy ensures a smooth transition from distributing the first touchpoint through delivering a welcome packet to all new students.

Planning and Research Workflow

Planning and Research Phase

Most steps of the process are used to produce any type of enrollment campaign, but some are unique to digital presentations—those variances are noted with (D).

To initiate the work, you must flesh out planning and research expectations early on. For the purpose of this checklist, it’s assumed research conclusions have been approved and the desired market position has been established.

Assignment Planning and Statement of Work   Assignment planning should include a detailed statement of work to reiterate deliverables and confirm creative partner and client responsibilities.

Project Brief   A project brief identifies the basic elements of the assignment and empowers teams to initiate the work. It confirms the audience, deliverables, objectives, process, and schedule at a very high level. It is not a detailed scope agreement; it does not include content intricacies—the intent is to identify only the fundamental elements.

Scheduling   One of the keys to your success is meticulous scheduling. It’s all in the details. All aspects of the planning, creative, production, and distribution process must be identified and scheduled.

Competitive Audit   To ensure that the message and the creative strategy are distinctive, a competitive (or field) audit of the enrollment campaigns that exist within your competitive landscape should be conducted. The audit is then applied to guide a 360-degree view that will optimize the story. This step helps avoid creative directions in use by competitors, thus further differentiating your visual positioning and mitigating any confusion in the marketplace.

Stakeholder Interviews and Previous Campaign Assessment    Before initiating work, it’s prudent to hear from key stakeholder groups (administration, alumni, enrolled students, and staff) regarding their views of your desired market position and previous enrollment campaign strengths and weaknesses.

Rollout Strategy   Defining a strategy ensures a smooth transition from distributing the first touchpoint through delivering a welcome packet to all new students.

Theme Development   Based on what you learn from the competitive audit and stakeholder interviews, multiple story themes are developed (preliminary recommendations). Themes are then presented to senior staff as soon as possible, one is selected, and the creative process moves forward.

Benchmarking Survey (D)   Prior to initiating writing and design, it’s prudent to survey stakeholder groups. The survey tests the strengths and weaknesses of the previous campaign and informs the group of the positioning goals.

Marketing tactics and touchpoints that were applied in the past must evolve into more relevant brand strategies.

Marketing tactics and touchpoints that were applied in the past must evolve into more relevant brand strategies.

Digital Strategy Workflow

Digital Strategy Phase (D)

A digital strategy (and workflow) must be in place—scaled to your situation and scope—to establish development guidelines.

Information Architecture Brief   If digital presentations will be produced to promote the enrollment campaign, an information architecture brief (project scope document) is required. The brief outlines all pages, sections, subsections, and general functionality. A wireframe doc is also essential to note all plug-ins, as well as who is responsible for setting them up. This step ensures that final designs reflect expectations.

Design Concepts Review   It’s a good practice to evaluate concepts and the interface early in the process to ensure that goals are achievable within a content management system (CMS).

Responsive Design Brief   An online presentation requires a responsive design, meaning the format will adapt to fit the screen size and aspect ratio of the device on which it is viewed. In this case, resolve the primary target breakpoints for smartphone, tablet, laptop, and large desktop.

Search Engine Optimization   Establish who will be responsible for search engine optimization before work begins.

Additional Features   If additional (out-of-scope) features are requested after the project has begun, determine if fixed-cost or hourly billing will be applied. You can also choose to have new features incorporated in a separate, post-launch phase.

Change Orders   All teams must work collaboratively to prioritize and document changes. To ensure that costs can be tracked, they should be presented as line-item change-order estimates.

Training and Maintenance   If your team will be trained on the CMS, outline the steps that are required.

Creative Strategy Workflow

Creative Strategy Phase: Primary Tactics

While the campaign touchpoints can be produced digitally or in print, a blended plan is recommended to provide the best return on your investment.

Rorschach Test   To initiate the work, examples of admission enrollment marketing campaigns you believe to be exceptional should be reviewed. Consider this a type of Rorschach test to learn visual and messaging preferences.

Creative Positioning   Enrollment campaigns include myriad touchpoints such as a viewbook, microsite, social media, transfer student brochure, and admitted student packet.

All clients have a vision for the campaign. To ensure that preferences are discussed, we suggest including a creative strategy exploration step. Think of this process as a mood board that sets expectations, recaps goals, and analyzes potential design and copy approaches (options) early in the process.

The exploration identifies whether photography or illustration is best suited to visually communicate the message, information hierarchy solutions, grid systems, strategic use of color, typography, texture, and a range of initial design explorations. Your brand identity guidelines are applied to ensure that recommendations adhere to brand standards.

Campaign Overview   It’s critical to have a wide view of how the entire campaign will roll out. To accomplish this, the preferred option selected during creative positioning is refined and presented in a more comprehensive overview. The creative direction is applied to a range of touchpoints to ensure that the design is anticipated from a holistic perspective. The presentation includes preliminary work on key items within print-based touchpoints, digital marketing, and social media channels.

Viewbook   A viewbook is the cornerstone of a distinctive admission enrollment marketing campaign—it dictates the creative strategy of all supporting materials. The viewbook’s purpose is to ensure that prospective students believe your school is the perfect fit for their educational experience.

If your school presents a distinctive learning environment, the viewbook must reflect that positioning. It should be an easy read—which means showing more and telling less.

A viewbook demonstrates how you will deliver on a prospect’s care-abouts. Quantitative data we have seen stress that superior viewbooks address today’s top-of-mind college search criteria: cost, location, nurturing faculty, academic rigor, most popular majors, a welcoming campus community, graduates who leave independent and well rounded, and an infrastructure that helps with internships and job placement. There must also be a focus on how the institution has historically supported diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Campaign Microsite (D)   An engaging information-rich, enrollment campaign microsite helps promote impulse decisions to apply. Viewbook content is repurposed to create an inspirational, highly visual, Americans with Disabilities Act–accessible, interactive presentation; the design is adapted to responsive translations—optimized for mobile screen sizes, including smartphone, tablet, laptop, and large desktop.

Travel Booklet   A travel booklet is an edited viewbook—a CliffsNotes approach that applies the same creative assets to a small informational brochure. Travel booklets are inexpensive to produce compared with viewbooks. They’re also easy to pack for the traveling admission staff and inexpensive enough to be handed out to all prospects at college fairs and high school campus visits.

Fulfillment Touchpoint   Posters are an excellent way to thank early respondents. Take an emotional approach to persuade junior-and senior-level high school students to think about your school only.

Junior Teaser Booklet   Touchpoints used to communicate with juniors during their early spring semester require a high-energy approach. An undersized booklet that presents a high-level story is a good strategy—there will be future opportunities to present the complete picture.

Transfer Student Brochure   During recent decades, transfer student populations have become more diverse, encompassing individuals who possess life-skill experiences. Show that you understand the transfer student mindset—and how you will support their journey.

International Student Brochure   Prove that your school is the top choice for international students. Discuss career placement. Communicate that a degree from your school will lead to a more lucrative and meaningful career. And then outline internship opportunities, work-study programs, and networking with international alumni.

Financial Aid Mailer   It’s critical to explain how your school can help with costs to minimize student debt. A financial aid mailer outlines the grants and scholarships offered at multiple entry levels, how to apply for them, and the rewards of receiving an undergraduate degree.

Admitted Student Packet and Booklet   Be the school that says “Congratulations!” in a big way. Admitted student packets are mailed in a distinctive catalog envelope designed specifically for the congratulatory announcement. The packet can include a welcome letter from the dean and an enrollment booklet that encourages students to send their deposit now and reminds them of the compelling reasons to attend.

Booklet topics are dictated by prospective student care-abouts (e.g., academics, quick facts, employment statistics, job placement initiatives and success stories, student and alumni testimonials, and faculty-to-student ratios). The booklet can also explain the next steps in the acceptance process, including housing/dining, campus visit, course enrollment, financial aid, scholarship opportunities, and orientations.

Welcome Packet   Follow-through is critical to demonstrate your appreciation. A welcome packet makes a lasting impression.

Digital Tactics (D)

Digital tactics are listed in the following creative strategy workflow. Each communication includes a call-to-action link so that prospects can click through to content based on their interests.

Freshman Email Campaign (D)   This campaign is sent during the summer months to engage with the incoming class and provide resources to prepare for their first year. Messages are created by student interns/ambassadors to encourage enrollment.

Join Us Email Campaign (D)   This campaign encourages students and families to register and attend on- and off-campus events before registration and throughout the academic year. The goal is to ensure that prospects feel they are part of a welcoming community.

Social Media (D)   A social media plan and creative executions (informed by the messaging system) are developed for primary environments. Specific tactics are then produced and scheduled throughout the campaign. The work is organized by target audiences, defined to ensure that the content delivers on campaign objectives through the recommended social media platform(s).

Online Display Banner Ads (D)   A family of online ads is created based on the overarching campaign theme. Discussions regarding geofencing, geotargeting to Internet Protocols, and retargeting/remarketing based on visitors to the website are required. Strategies are then applied to track, measure, and optimize performance.

Anthem Video Creative and Production (D)   An anthem video should be produced for the launch. This is a supporting campaign cornerstone that can be used for extended purposes such as commencements, fundraising, open houses, presentations, and sports marketing.

Additional Tactics

If the budget allows, there are endless communications tactics that can be explored, including the following.

Campus Visit Package   The objective is to reward prospective students for their campus visit—a connection that must last beyond the tour. Send them home with a memorable campus visit package that communicates sincere appreciation for their interest.

Campus Visit PowerPoint Show (D)   Slide presentations for student and parent on-campus visits thematically tie into the overarching creative strategy. This approach recaps talking points in a tightly integrated informational session.

General Conversion Brochure   A general conversion brochure is distributed during the melt period as top prospects weigh their final enrollment decision. The focus is on such key points as research opportunities, studying abroad, student services, and special programs.

Majors Brochures and Information Sheets   Majors brochures and information sheets present the details of the curriculum, a day in a student’s life, a typical course load by semester, faculty bios, admission requirements, and tuition. These touchpoints empower recruiters to tailor one-on-one presentations.

Parent Postcard   This item—addressed to parents—is a calendar of admission enrollment events, encouraging them to attend.

Campus Banners   Engage students and campus visitors with a system of thematic sidewalk banners. The enrollment campaign messages and the design concepts are applied to build the branded environment.

Campaign Assets

Fastidious management of creative assets is essential to maintaining seamless, on-brand communications throughout the life of the campaign. A good practice is to assign one person from the client team to monitor applications—a strategy that will result in a reduction in the time required to audit messaging and design.

Photography, Illustration, and Video Considerations   Distinctive photography, illustration, and video (imagery) are essential elements used in achieving a particular market presence—elements that demand a second and third look. Your goal is to present a memorable, differentiated brand.

Once it’s been determined whether photography, illustration, and/or video best supports the message, an image list should be compiled. Along with the list, costs and logistics associated with producing images should be projected. Your stock photography and video libraries should also be evaluated to determine if assets exist that support the admission enrollment messaging strategy.

Messaging Lexicon   Assembling a list of approved words and phrases that track back to your school’s value proposition, market position, and attributes ensures that all content providers stick to the script across all marketing channels.

Campaign Asset Guide    The final brand management tool is a campaign asset guide. This document empowers your marketing communications and admission teams to apply messaging, design, and imagery that fall outside the scope of a creative partner’s involvement.

The goal is to develop the right message; the medium that is used is secondary.

Refinement, Production, and Development Workflow

Refinement, Production, and Development Phase

During this phase, final design and production proofs will be approved, the rollout strategy will be published, and all touchpoints will be completed.

Campaign Microsite Development (D)   A staging environment for the campaign microsite must be provided for content review. Edits (design and copyediting) will continue until the site is pushed live.

Photography, Illustration, and Video Completed   Now all imagery requirements—photography, illustration, and video—have been completed. It’s important to wrap up these tasks as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary stress and to ensure that there’s time for reshoots. Expect the unexpected.

Final Design and Production Proofs    Plan on up to three rounds of design and production proofs for each touchpoint.

Copyediting   The production proof stage is when final copyediting is approved for all digital and print content.

Final Digital Tactic Files (D)   Development is now completed for digital tactics.

Prepress and Printing    Now prepress and printing processes must be coordinated and completed. The goal is to have enough time in the schedule to ship materials to your mailing house using UPS Ground to avoid expensive FedEx next-day delivery fees.

Server-Side Processes (D)   Your web services will be responsible for placing final files on the institutional website.

Client Training   Creating a new enrollment campaign and brand management tools is one thing; having marketing and admissions teams eager to integrate strategies into their day-to-day routine is another. Teams must be instructed to apply the creative assets.

Launch (D)   Digital touchpoints will be launched and the printed materials shipped to your mailing house. Congratulations—you’ve created a superior admission enrollment marketing campaign.

Formal training sessions must be conducted with key marketing groups to ensure that campaign assets are applied with confidence.

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