In today’s online world, communicating the value of your school and engaging prospective families is an exercise in digital marketing and web strategy. A connected audience mainly uses their laptops and mobile devices to experience your school’s virtual campus tours, read online reviews, and interact with social ads. When digital marketing and web strategy are clearly so important, we can't help but ask the question: "Is print marketing dead?"
Despite audiences living in a digital-first world, print still serves a purpose—yes, even to Gen Z’ers, who, despite being tech-savvy from childhood, often view print media as a way to disengage. And while digital marketing provides a slew of advantages, ranging from being easily editable to demanding fewer resources, print helps reinforce your brand longer than a fleeting social media post ever could. Emails can be ignored, but you have to physically interact with a direct mail piece, even if you plan to recycle it. After all, people still love things that they can touch and hold onto, and the permanence of print can imply trust, value, and authority—key components of any marketing strategy.
Print shouldn’t be entirely replaced by your digital content of course, but instead serve as an extension of your digital strategy. Like peanut butter and jelly, print and digital are better together.
Here are five digital strategies to improve print efforts:
1. Viewbooks as Lead Generators
Your website now serves the purpose of many of your traditional print materials, including your viewbook, which has long been the cornerstone of admission marketing collateral. Despite production being demanding, resource-draining, and costly, a viewbook given at the end of an admissions tour or inquiry is an important souvenir that imparts more authority and fewer distractions than digital efforts.
But in a recent Private School MarCom Survey Report by InspirED, the percentage of schools that said they produce a viewbook has dropped—in 2017 it was 72%, in 2018 it was 63%, and in 2020 only 51% said they still produce a viewbook.
More and more schools are now wisely making their viewbooks available online to families as gated content—content that’s provided in exchange for information, like your name or email, which helps gather data that can be used as a lead-generator to further engage and convert a family.
“When reaching out to prospective students, schools are using a variety of multi-channel marketing efforts to drive webpage views,” shared Dan Sly, vice president of sales at Fowler Printing & Graphics. “One project we worked on included a 20-page book that was personalized to the student based on an online survey. If a student logged into the website and mentioned they are interested in chemistry and want to play lacrosse, they get a customized viewbook with their name on the front and content focused on the activities the student indicated they liked.”
“The next big thing will be augmented reality,” Sly added. ”Similar to QR codes, you scan a code through an app and get a 3D tour of the school.” More on that later...
Having a website that’s equally as engaging, personal, and interactive as your viewbook is why we’re so in awe of McCallie School in Chattanooga, TN. Their efforts even picked up a recent Silver Brilliance Award in the Printed Viewbook category by InspirED. With pages that expand and collapse, foldable campus maps, and even a detachable booklet tie, their impressive physical product is presented online and because they’re using it as gated content, their print and digital efforts are working in tandem. Check out the viewbook in action.
2.Use Memorable Vanity URLs
Vanity URLs— AKA branded links or custom, shorter URLs—help your audience remember and access specific pages on your website. For example, chances are your school has created vanity URLs for “www.yourschoolname.org/inquire”, or are using extensions like /apply, or /give to access the site’s respective pages. Placing these simple (but effective) vanity URLs visibly on print ads can help create memorable web addresses and get your readers to the right place online.
Derby Academy in Hingham, MA used the vanity URL derbyacademy.org/summer for their summer program in a recent local print ad, making it easy for families to find their way from print to (web) page.
In a similar effort, Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, OR made sure to include their vanity URL of oes.edu/apply at the conclusion of their viewbook. The perfect way to end a prospective family's engagement with printed content is to send them online to convert into a digital inquiry.
By taking a closer look at the corresponding analytics online, vanity URLs like /openhouse or /why(enter school name) can also help determine the effectiveness of your print ads. End the guessing game and see how much traffic those web addresses are getting—there could be a correlation to that URL's traffic and a recent print effort.
3.Create QR Codes
QR codes, or "quick response codes" are a convenient way to bridge the divide between the print and digital worlds, and they’re everywhere these days, from packaging to flyers and business cards. Since most schools and districts get approximately 50-60% of their total website traffic from mobile devices, QR codes are a useful tool to drive your print audience to specific online content using a smartphone.
While the codes actually date back to 1994, these digital shortcuts have seen as much as 94% growth in the number of interactions from 2018-2020, thanks to their "touch-free" appeal during the pandemic, and since most smartphones enabled the QR Code scanner to be recognized by their cameras.
Want to create your own QR code?
You can easily generate your own QR codes or even one with Google straight from your browser. Because you can continuously edit the landing page’s content without the QR code changing, they’re a great digital component to incorporate into your print materials and keep the content fresh.
Thayer Academy used this strategy and included a QR code in their viewbook to link back to their website. This viewbook is from a few years ago, but because the QR code didn’t change, the landing page content was able to be updated, therefore extending the life of the printed material. 👍
4. Incorporate Hashtags Into Print Content
Hashtags are the perfect way to brand yourself across your print and digital material AND have some creative fun! Maintaining consistent and unique hashtags in your print materials (viewbooks, acceptance packets, mailers) and using them across your social platforms can strengthen the partnership between your brand’s digital and print efforts.
Choate Rosemary Hall consistently uses the #GoChoate hashtag across their school’s social channels, but the school also works the phrase into their print marketing materials, including it in an acceptance packet, complete with a notebook and luggage tag. Catching the excitement of an acceptance can help carry that enthusiasm online by inspiring students and families to share their experiences.
5. Use Online Forms to Request Printed Materials
If you find your families still prefer to make a trip out to the mailbox, consider adding an additional field or two on your inquiry form so folks can request printed material be sent via snail mail.
Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, NJ takes this approach when offering their printed viewbook through the mail for families. Similar to the idea of gated content, it’s an effective way to avoid mailing everyone a heavy, expensive viewbook, gauge a prospective family's interest level, and save some trees in the process. ♻️
Bonus Strategy: Offer A Printable Coupon or Voucher
We love our coupons! At your next open house, in exchange for their contact information, consider offering an online voucher for families to download, print, and then claim some free school swag at a display table. This strategy encourages people to visit and make a face-to-face introduction and because they have the physical paper in hand, they probably won't forget.
A strong digital and web strategy can significantly improve your traditional print marketing efforts. Combining the impact, appeal, and authority of your print content with a modern digital approach will help keep the marketing materials you worked so hard on away from the recycling bin and strengthen your school’s overall strategy all at the same time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Web and Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, story-telling, coffee, and creating content that connects.