For most enrollment management professionals, January 27th passed without much notice. Yet one event that took place on that day affects every college and university.

Postal rates rose. First class stamps saw the largest increase in three decades with the price rising 10%, from $.50 to $.55. Non-profit presorted mail prices also rose. While this increase was smaller, schools are likely to feel ripples when they discover that 2018 postage funding may not cover 2019 plans.

Some will react by cutting mail programs. Maybe the application postcard will go away, or mail will be eliminated from the campaign to reduce summer melt.

Before shouldering an ax to make cuts, consider the lesson learned by Land’s End, a retail clothing company. Faced with rising postage costs, Land’s End decided to reduce the number of catalog mailings. Since most people ordered online, they expected to see little impact on sales.

Wrong prediction! After cutting the number of catalog mailings, they experienced a $100 million drop in sales. To learn what went wrong, they surveyed consumers and discovered that 75% of their customers flipped through a catalog when they received it, and then decided to shop online.1

When Land’s End eliminated their physical catalog, they also eliminated a critical visual cue. Often, for a college or university, direct mail works the same way. It reminds potential students and their parents to act.

Change is inevitable, but some change is incredible.  Often, we get to decide which it is by how we engage with it and use it to propel us to greater heights.

We think mail falls into this category. Postage rates are increasing. By using that change as an opportunity to improve, you can turn mail into a hot source for new students in 2019.

Making the most of change starts with examining what you do now. Review your direct mail program and ask:

  • What are you mailing, and how can you improve the materials?
  • How can you do a better job of targeting recipients to improve the ROI on mailings?

Mail Mini-Audit

At enrollmentFUEL, we often perform commFLOW™ audits to identify gaps that need filling or ways a process can be improved.  At this busy time of the year, you won’t want to invest days in intense scrutiny, but a couple of hours invested in a mini-audit offers multiple benefits.

Start by collecting all printed materials. Output a copy of all emails. Include anything else that is relevant to your communication flow, like online ads.  With some help from clothespins and some kind of line, you can even make this a fun group activity.

Lay out the communication materials in sequence. Collect your team, and take five minutes to look at the progression and jot down thoughts. What stands out? What was confusing? What is triggered? Share observations, brainstorm, and find ways to improve.

Narrow the Target Area

I am proud of serving in the Navy (where I was often called the “hugs” officer because of my leadership style). There, I became, and still am, a student of sea power history and strategic battle planning.  Understanding the importance of identifying the right target for naval gun fire support was often critical for ensuring the safety of our courageous marines whenever they went ashore.

For you, the importance of identifying the right target is just as important, so when you finally fire off a mailing, it lands successfully in the homes of families, where you should be engaging.

To determine who the best leads are, we recommend the following:

  • Develop a profile of students who are likely to attend. (This is most accurate when done by a statistical expert who can analyze data from past classes using multivariate analysis)
  • Develop a behavioral scoring framework, either within your CRM if you have one, or by developing 3 to 5 key benchmarks for assessment. For example, a visit could be one benchmark.
  • Do more A/B testing to determine who responds, and fine-tune strategies to improve results.

Implementing this strategy offers dual benefits. First, you communicate with your best leads. Second, you control costs by eliminating mailings to students where the odds of matriculation are minuscule.

On the Horizon – Informed Delivery®

The post office has a new optional service called Informed Delivery®. Households that sign up for this feature receive a digital preview of their household’s mail, daily. The feature benefits both consumers and mailers. Residents who participate receive an email containing black and white images of the exterior and address side of their incoming mail. Since this is an opt-in program, and the information is useful, email open rates will be high.

Mailers can take advantage of additional services, such as adding pictures and links to an Informed Delivery email.

Currently, the number of people who have signed up for Informed Delivery is relatively small when compared to the total US population. We expect it to grow, and it is something to consider in the future.

If you would like to know more about Informed Delivery, please email me.

In Summary

Even with the small rise in postage costs, we think mail is well worth the investment.  I would encourage you to mail more just because the increase in postage could cause competitors to abandon the mail box briefly, like Land’s End, clearing the way for you to build even more traction with your audience.

 
[1] Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/26/business/media/catalogs-after-years-of-decline-are-revamped-for-changing-times.html?_r=0