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The campaign strategy that helped one graduate program see a 4.6x increase in applicants

June 4, 2018

I’m a digital marketer by trade with a background in corporate marketing and an obsession with the latest in marketing analytics.

When I moved to Richmond to help launch EAB’s Adult Learner Recruitment, I was constantly struck by how committed my new colleagues were to print marketing.

They kept talking about the “power of paper,” and I kept thinking, “Send a POSTCARD to promote an ONLINE program?” Something about this just felt off.

But as a self-professed data geek, I always trust the numbers. So when our campaigns continued to return indisputable evidence that “snail mail” is one of the most potent ingredients in our most successful multi-channel campaigns, my skepticism began to fade. Working with dozens of graduate programs, we’ve learned three lessons about the role a well-timed paper mail campaign can play in an adult learner recruitment strategy.

Lesson #1: Follow the data to learn how to stand out

From the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep, we face a constant deluge of messages. Research shows that volume of messages we encounter puts a premium on the way a message is delivered. Good marketers know that it’s imperative to stay innovative, to disrupt norms, and to cut through the noise.

Whatever feels new at any given moment tends to work.

Remember the days when getting an email was like a present and dealing with a stack of mail at home was a nuisance? That has since been inverted, captured well by this comic:

View the comic

This comic is onto something: According to cross-industry studies, 70% of people surveyed say that direct mail marketing makes them feel “more valued” than digital advertising. Direct mail is the new (but old) disruption in marketing right now.

This isn’t that surprising: There is something emotionally different and satisfying about receiving content in the mail. It makes you feel like someone took time to think about you. There is also something different about holding a physical object—like the offer, whatever it is, is more real because you can touch and feel it.

But my job isn’t to make people feel good, it’s to deliver campaigns that produce results and enrollments for the graduate programs I work with. The next lesson is what we learned when we analyzed one client’s results.

Lesson #2: Timely paper mail “supercharges” display advertising results

The competition for adult learners is steep and getting steeper. And while we know it is essential to stay front of mind with your prospective students, which means meeting them where they are on digital channels, a well-timed paper mail may be exactly what is needed to incite action by the targeted student.

For one client, we saw a 21% increase in digital click through rates directly after a paper mail piece reached their homes. In other words, the paper supercharged the impact of the digital channel and reminded them to engage.

Paper mail impact on adult learner recruitment

Lesson #3: Paper mail boosts results at each stage of the enrollment funnel

Related, but also distinct in an important way, a paper campaign can actually impact results at each stage of the prospect journey. For one high affinity marketing campaign we looked at the compound effect of a well-timed direct mail piece on the entirety of the campaign. At the inquiry stage, we saw a 169% increase in forms submitted when paper mail was added to an email and display ad campaign. When we analyzed applicants, adding paper mail to the campaign produced a result 4.6x better than the same campaign without paper. Finally, when we looked at enrollments, paper boosted performance by 2.7x over email and display.

Across the funnel, adding paper mail to a campaign improves results in a statistically meaningful way.

Paper mail impact on adult learner recruitment

Adult learner recruitment marketing demands multi-channel, integrated campaign design

In working with 50+ graduate programs and studying other industries, it is clear that multi-channel marketing is no longer just “nice to have”. Integrated campaigns that seamlessly weave together brand-building digital ads, action-oriented email marketing, well-timed direct mail pieces, and engagement-building content marketing are essential. Most schools I talk to find this kind of integrated marketing extremely challenging because it requires a level of sophistication and scale (not to mention time and resources) that many enrollment teams don’t have.

At EAB, we have the privilege of being able to see insights and trends across cohorts. This year alone, we’ve seen more than 106 million impressions from our digital ads. These ads, which create brand awareness and affinity with our client’s target student pools, have also contributed to more than 500,000 clicks to our landing pages (and our clients’ websites!)

With all of these interactions to analyze for insights, we are constantly learning effective tactics and strategies—like the impact a well-timed paper mail can have on a campaign. This makes me extremely optimistic about our ability to leverage data to help future adult learners achieve their goals through graduate education.

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