5 Tips to Make Your Search Mailing Successful

(5 minute read)

While there are a variety of approaches to direct mail, there are certainly some best practices that can help you improve the level of engagement from your student search mailing, as well as improve its ROI. After more than a decade of experimenting and testing student search mailings, following are some practices that we would suggest to improve your success.

Tip #1 – Send a postcard, not a letter.

A 6 x 9 postcard generally stands out in the mail more than a #10 letter envelope. And, if you put an exceptional graphic on the front, it has a much better chance to get some attention! A secondary aspect of a postcard is that it is easily read by parents as well when they check the mail. (How many students do you know that check the mailbox these days?)

Beyond the visual impact that a postcard immediately delivers, it is also a much less expensive format than producing a letter with inserts. The one downside is that you can not include a response device for a prospect to return by mail (which will also help your postage budget – that business reply mail is expensive). However, you can actually identify a prospect’s interest quicker through the use of a strong call to action on the postcard to visit a Personal URL (PURL). With the money you save on letter production, you might even be able to afford a second follow up mailing for the same budget! (Frequency does improve response!)

If you have the budget and really want to standout, then you can also consider “supersizing” that postcard. You can mail a card up to 6 x 11 at the same non-profit rate! You may want to experiment with both sizes to see what provides the best ROI with regard to response.

Tip #2 – Personalize, personalize, personalize…

As a small college, part of your promise to prospective students is the personal experience that they will receive on your campus. That’s often what they are seeking when they look at small colleges. Show them that you deliver that experience from the start through personalized mailings and communications!

So, when we say personalize, we don’t mean just use prospects’ names. Communicate with them both visually and with your message about the things that are important to them.

Think of it this way: When Tiger Woods was a high school student, would he have been more inclined to look at a postcard that featured a golfer, or one that just had a picture of the campus library or anonymous students?

Today’s variable printing technology enables us to render a postcard with the personalization of a personal URL (PURL) webpage. Images and copy can both be personalized to appeal to the individual prospect.

If you don’t have that level individual insight into students’ interests, then consider creating postcard templates directed at three to five “personas” of the typical types of students you enroll. You can base these on some combination of students in your most popular academic or athletic programs, with a generic “default” for those you can’t categorize. If that’s still too much of a challenge, then maybe you just make some generalizations along gender lines. We know that males and females are attracted to different types of images. Don’t make your postcard one-size-fits-all. That’s contrary to what your small college offers them in a student experience.

And don’t forget the copy. Find a way to relate to each student personally if possible. Tell them that you hope they are enjoying their senior year at “Variable” High School. Comment on what you have listed as their intended major, and ask them to let you know if that still applies. Make a connection. Engage them. Don’t just talk at them.

Tip #3 – EMPHASIZE your Call To Action!

It may seem like a no brainer, but we see plenty of cards where the CTA is buried within well meaning, but verbose, gratuitous copy. Direct marketing (and particularly direct mail, considering its cost) is intended to get an audience to take action. The action you desire needs to be specific and emphasized.

The direct mail should built around getting a response. If possible, put the CTA front and center, and don’t forget, it’s okay to repeat it on both sides if you are using a postcard.

Take a look at the comparisons below:



Tip #4 – Add a PURL to track mail response and push personal online content

Utilizing a Personal URL is a great practice to gain more value from your mailing. It provides a variety of benefits. It enables you to drive a personal online experience to prospective students and personalize online content to their interests and needs. It also tracks the individual interaction with a website or landing page so that you or your admissions counselors know which prospects have visited online, what they have done, and when.

Depending on the sophistication of your website or landing page, it also enables personalized marketing automation that can augment your mailing with a personalized email back to the prospect after an action takes place online.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to add a QR code to your direct mail piece. The use of QR codes is on the rise since Apple integrated scanning into the IPhone photo app. You can bet a prospective student has his or her phone within reach when they are looking at your postcard! QR codes are a quick and easy way for them to go directly to a PURL page!

Tip #5 – Use Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMBs) to track delivery

Intelligent Mail Barcodes use to be available through third-party vendors, but are now offered directly by the USPS. They track your pieces through the mailing process by scanning the barcode at different parts of the journey. This provides a few advantages.

First, it enables you to have a much better estimate of when mail pieces are being delivered, and where. You can utilize this reporting to help determine when to send email to complement and draw attention to the mail piece. It enables you to achieve synergy between mail and email and increase the advertising principle of frequency.

It also helps to refine your mailing dates and mail schedule by helping you determine just how long it takes for mail to get delivered at different times of the year. With non-profit mail, the USPS isn’t required to provide the same delivery priority as with first-class mail. You may find that you need to pad an extra week for delivery around holidays if your mail is date specific.

Next, the USPS reports can support marketing automation by being integrated into your CRM. It can add an additional dimension to prospect records for analysis with regard to correlating actions to outreach.

Last but not least, IMBs Provide a type of postage “insurance” with the USPS to give you some recourse if pieces go undelivered. While it is not common, there have been cases where large mailings have gone undelivered. There is no way to prove that with the USPS (they will say your marketing is ineffective if you have no response) if pieces are uncoded. However, with IMBs, the USPS would have to acknowledge that there were no scans and you might have some recourse for recouping the postage spent.


Utilizing (or at least testing) these best practices can help make your search mailings more engaging and productive. New Reach Media makes small college recruitment easier, more effective and more economical. We would be glad to answer any questions you have, or provide our mailing and marketing expertise for your next student search mailing.


About New Reach Media: As a small, agile team of marketing, database, creative, higher education and technology professionals, New Reach Media has been at the forefront of evaluating, distilling, combining and employing new technologies and techniques to effectively reach small college audiences with engaging communications since 2003. We help small colleges do more with less by finding better ways. Our Personal Relationship Optimization (PRO) engagement platform provides an effective and economical way for small colleges to communicate one-to-one with prospective students, and has helped clients achieve record enrollment and growth.



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