Will Your Admissions Materials Stand Out in a Crowded Mailbox/Inbox?

How could two universities—one in Buffalo, New York, and the other in Sydney, Australia—come up with marketing campaigns that look almost interchangeable? That’s the question presented in a recent article, “Your Future Starts Here. Or Here. Or Here” in Inside Higher Ed.

At 5°, we see it, too. You want your recruiting communication to project a modern, compelling brand, in sync with both current culture and your own unique mission and position . But you don’t want to just blend in, either. You want to capture the attention of a generation with a short attention span. So what can you do about it?

First, remember that what you’re offering is indeed similar to the competition. There are givens—non-negotiables—that are important to students and parents. The campus. The student-faculty interaction. The success of graduates. The cost. These are critical concepts, and you have to convince prospects of your credibility in these areas.

Let's say you’re choosing a Mexican restaurant. Either Qdoba or Chipotle may be a reasonable choice. Both are tasty. Both are affordable, casual, and fast. In a given situation, you wouldn’t settle for something else. But why choose one over the other? Maybe it’s location. Maybe it’s their approach to food sourcing. Maybe you just like the people who work there.

So, then, think about your STORY. How do you breathe life into the vague concepts?

To capture your story, ask lots of open-ended questions. Why did students come here? Why do professors care about the success of their students? Why do alumni still love their school? Why do donors give?

Then, you can take those non-negotiable elements of college recruiting and present them in context of your own situation. Take a look at the difference a story can make.

In another recent article in The Huffington Post, “What to Do When College Marketing Materials Look the Same,” writer W. Kent Barnds says that most colleges make the same claims. Let’s take his analysis and show how you can take generalities and present concrete distinctives:

  • Marketing Claim: We have a beautiful campus.

  • Try Something Specific Like: “Surrounded by (the Rocky Mountains, or the city skyline) …”

  • Marketing Claim: We care about students.

  • Try Something Specific Like: We offer personal attention. (Then back it up with an example of the faculty member who went the extra mile to help a student with a national research project competition.)

  • Marketing Claim: “More than 90% of our students receive financial aid.”

  • Try Something Specific Like: Testimonial of a student who was able to attend your school due to the financial aid offered.

You don’t need to be radically different to differentiate. Find your story and tell it well. A 5° shift practiced consistently will lead your institution into a place of authenticity and distinction.