Integrating print collateral with online marketing

It wasn’t that long ago that many education institutions were still tinkering with the Internet and their websites, unsure as to how to leverage the new online channels that were emerging, and even suspicious of their marketing value.

Today, as we know, the Internet is a dominant force in our lives. It has changed – and continues to change – how we communicate, work, and learn. For education marketers, the website and its related online channels (social media and otherwise) are a massive focus of the recruitment effort. The enduring digital marketing buzzword remains “connect” and institutional-student interaction is the holy grail.

In our increasingly digital world, is print collateral redundant? At your institution or organisation, is it becoming more of an afterthought – something not yet abandoned but not given much attention with the marketing department’s increasing focus on online channels?

If so, consider this: print is still very important for a host of reasons. The difference today is simply that it should now act in concert with digital marketing: as a driver, complement, reminder, and/or conversation starter.

There are several reasons print marketing may be valuable to your institution or organisation:

  • It is physical. As much as people enjoy the convenience of the web as well as absorbing visual information like photos and videos, there are still lots of us who would prefer to read information on paper, especially parents.
  • It hangs around. Internet users flit from search to search and site to site, and they digest websites they’re interested in quickly and sometimes distractedly. When students and parents take a print brochure home, they often pop it onto their fridge or keep it on a desk – and this reminds them about the brand and that they need to take some time to research it. As Matt Bennett of Blue Flame Design says, “Emails are quite the opposite as they are easy to close and delete without reading or can be intercepted by a spam filter before you get the chance to view it.”
  • It adds legitimacy. When an institution bothers to do a good job with their print materials, this immediately sets them up as being more solid, trustworthy, and established than those that are mostly web-based or whose print materials look shoddy. Anyone can look impressive on the web, including fly-by-night operations – but not many will devote the money to producing high-quality print collateral that is well designed and on beautiful stock paper.
  • It is a great conversation starter. Print is immediate. At student fairs or other events where institutional representatives can chat with students and their families, well-displayed print collateral is an invitation to stop, chat, and find out more. And as we always note at ICEF Monitor, people still like talking to people in real life and it’s nice to have an excuse to do so. Moreover, print collateral is in fact more convenient than the web for students attending a trade fair: they simply gather it as they go through the fair; they can’t gather websites that way.
  • It reaches those who aren’t Internet savvy (or even connected in any meaningful way). We sometimes forget that not everyone is tethered to the web, and that some even distrust it. This is especially true of older generations including the parents of some students.
  • It drives business. MarketingProfs reports that Deliver magazine recently found that:

“Customers who received a printed catalogue spent more meaningful time on the company’s website and purchased 28% more on average than customers who did not receive a catalogue. And that held for every age category.”

With all these points in mind, we can turn to some best practices for connecting print and digital marketing today.

Nine ways to connect print and web

Consistency: Make your print materials consistent in design and tone with the institutional or organisational website. The idea here is seamlessness and a unified presentation of your brand where one element reinforces and complements the other.

Invest in the design and the quality of materials: this is the edge print can give to a marketing effort today. An organisation that cares about the quality of its print design has a better chance to reflect its brand properly and to have its print collateral act as a trigger for engaging prospects and their families.

Include your website address as well as the addresses for your major social media accounts. Make them bold and short so they can be easily transferred when typing at a computer. The European Association for International Education (EAIE) makes these great points:

“Consider printing links to key pages within your site where students can find specific information. For instance, if students want to know what scholarships are available, they can go directly to a link like ‘yoursite.edu/funding…’

Even better than sending brochure readers to existing subpages of your site is creating customised landing pages. You can tailor them to specific groups, and they can be especially useful with print pieces that are tied to a certain event or campaign. For example, if you attend a recruitment fair in China, print an event-specific factsheet that tells readers to visit a landing page in Mandarin, e.g. ‘yoursite.edu/china’. Include some form fields on your landing page to capture lead data. Plus, you can easily make them mobile-friendly – even if the rest of your website isn’t!”

Where possible, include incentives (e.g., “Like us on Facebook and receive 15% off the application fee”). Print collateral must have a call to action linking it to the website and/or social media – not having this leaves far too much on the table. Vladimir Gendelman writes on the Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management blog that calls to action can be worked into design features:

“For example, a sell sheet containing your main message could include tear-off strips with a call to action (such as ‘Call us!’ and your company’s phone number). A potential customer can easily tear off a strip and take action, leaving more calls-to-action for others to observe; they might even pass it on to other prospects afterwards.”

Feature testimonials: One way to get the student’s voice reflected in print materials (which traditionally were very institutional in tone) is to include student testimonials. These should be typo-free but not heavily edited, so the authenticity of the voice is preserved. The print collateral might also link readers to a related video or other expanded testimonial content on the institutional website.

Consider adding QR (Quick Response) codes: These are barcodes that mobile devices can read, and amazingly enough allow users to create an instant connection between print and web marketing allowing users to:

  • View a web page with more information about your school, agency, event or product;
  • Download a voucher or promotional code;
  • Add your contact details and information to their address book;
  • Get directions to the location of your school, office or event (via Google Maps);
  • Receive a text message with special offers or more info;
  • Download images and video.

QR codes are still not in mainstream use (see our earlier post for additional background) but many believe they will evolve and become more widely used.

Use the website and social media to drive print collateral signups: Allowing people to sign up for print mailings isn’t very much work, and it may serve an important contingent of your audience – the one that likes to be communicated to and reminded – in a traditional way. This also allows you to have a “push” component to your institution’s overall marketing, where students and parents who might not be checking in often to the website and social media nonetheless hear from you at regular intervals.

Prepare your target audience for printed direct mail using email: The Ink IQ blog notes that “If you have both a physical and email address for a customer or prospect, integrating direct mail and email can be an effective way to make the most impact on the individual.” They provide an example:

“A marketer sends an email alerting a customer that an important direct mail piece will soon arrive. Then the direct mail piece is sent about a week later. After the direct mail arrives, a follow up email is sent to reinforce the message in the direct mail and encourage a response. This three-part campaign can be conducted almost as cheaply as sending the direct mail alone, since there is little cost associated with the two email contacts.”

Measure the impact of print collateral using digital means: Perhaps most importantly – other than its effectiveness at communicating with non-digital natives – print collateral’s main job today is to drive your target audience to the next steps in your inquiry and admissions processes, and often this means directing them to the institutional website. So make use of the analytical tools attached to your website and social media platforms to find out how many visits are being prompted from your print campaign. Also consider running surveys to find out how recipients of your print campaign are reacting to it.

Print remains an important brand touchpoint for your institution. The challenge – as well as the opportunity – for marketers today lies in integrating print with digital for greater marketing impact overall and to open up new ways to connect with and engage prospects.



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