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Make Direct Mail Even More Effective with Merch

With so much attention focused on the ever-changing digital and social landscape, traditional marketing methods don’t seem to get as much love these days. Even highly-effective tactics like direct mail stay at the bottom of the priority list for those who remain convinced digital is superior in every way (spoiler alert: it’s not). Direct mail for college recruitment (especially when combined with branded merch) is still one of the most effective ways to encourage prospective student engagement, build positive relationships, and motivate action.

It’s a missed opportunity.

Direct mail is a $16 billion industry–the third largest media channel in the US, behind digital media and national television. Open rates for direct mail can hit 90%, compared to the average 23% open rate for email marketing. Response rates also trend 37% higher than email. There’s plenty of raw performance under the hood (more stats later, too) with direct mail alone. Adding merch to the direct mail mix can further amplify outcomes. 

Take, for example, Higher Education–an industry we serve, and one already taking advantage of printed mail. In particular, admissions and enrollment can take full advantage of direct mail and promo to reach and engage with prospective students. Here we highlight a few things recruitment, admissions and enrollment teams can do by putting this powerful pair to work.

Capture and Keep Attention

direct mail for college enrollment

Standing out in a crowded, highly-competitive marketplace is a persistent challenge for admissions. Schools spend a lot of time competing for the same students’ attention using the same methods as competitors to try to capture and keep student attention. Consider that the average American household gets about two pieces of direct mail each day, compared to dozens (or hundreds) of emails each day. Direct mail offers a less competitive channel with higher open rates than email, making it an ideal awareness tool alongside other communication channels. 

Promo elevates direct mail to command even more attention. Getting mail is already exciting–nearly 80% of people say they look forward to seeing what’s in their mail. The Promo can deliver on the anticipation with useful, fun, curious, interesting, and customized products that delight recipients. Our own research at Magellan shows that the number one emotion students name when receiving merch in the mail? Excitement. Not a bad starting point for a lasting relationship. California University of Pennsylvania used a direct mail/promo solution to reach sophomores and juniors with audience-specific sticker postcard variations. Eye-catching design, relevant and useful information, and stickers for students to use, share, and show off everywhere.  

Similarly, St. Bonaventure University added new dimensions to its outreach with custom 3-D popup card that attracted attention in the mailbox before coming to life in prospective students’ hands to create a physical connection to campus.

Stay Engaged How They Want

Unwanted marketing (especially digital marketing) is easy to tune out. Prospective students get bombarded with college email, texts, and social media, making it a challenge for schools to stay top of mind as students constantly filter what they want to hear from whom, the closer they get to making a decision on where to attend. Marketing to an audience that wants to hear from you is a lot easier than trying to convince them they should want to first. 

One often overlooked, but major advantage to the impact of promo/direct mail as a marketing tool is that people actually want it. A study showed that even with basic printed mail, 54% of those asked said they would feel positive about getting mail from their preferred brands. Research from PPAI showed that 95% of people would prefer to receive a promotional product instead of an email (there’s plenty of evidence on Reddit that prospective students get a lot of annoying email). Fortunately, most schools are already using printed mail in the mix. Incorporating promotional products amplifies excitement and extends engagement.

Don’t underestimate direct mail for college recruitment. It’s powerful.

direct mail for college recruitmentTaking full advantage of the easy to execute, high interest, high response potential of direct mail promo, Carthage College mailed custom, branded socks to admitted students to encourage campus visits. Part awesome branded gift and part marketing call-to-action, the socks delighted students and spurred social shares.

Generate Excitement and Anticipation

Direct mail promo scales incredibly well, with impactful solutions from the easy and inexpensive options like sticker postcards for top-of-funnel, larger audiences, to the personalized custom kits for smaller, closer-to-making-a-college-decision groups. Regardless of the scale, incorporating direct mail promo adds multiple layers to marketing that other tactics can’t match. 

First the obvious. You can see, touch, feel, use, keep, hold and share merch. The multisensory experiences promo creates can open up new, creative ways to tell your brand story across touchpoints that elicit different types of responses. Messaging, design, packaging, products, sizes, even scents can shape the story and give audiences unique branded experiences that last.

Stories delivered through direct mail are also easier to understand, more enjoyable to read, and more memorable than digital media. Canada Post’s “A Bias for Action” report showed that direct mail required 21 percent less cognitive effort to process, and had higher brand recall. (sidenote: direct mail promo might be better for pets too. Butler University would know.)

And, our own research at Magellan shows that overwhelmingly, students felt positively when they received promotional items from colleges in which they were interested. Given the chance to select the words that described how they felt when they received promotional products, “excited” was mentioned 43% of the time, with other popular selected words including thankful, happy, appreciated, and proud. And, those positive emotions swirl together to influence the ultimate decision on where to attend–nearly half of students we surveyed said promo played a part in their decision. 

When you want your story to be the one prospective students remember, remember fondly, and recall when they are making decisions, use promo to tell it and show what it’s like to be part of your community. Bryn Mawr College used a two-sided sticker sheet as a fun, exciting way to give admitted students little bits of campus culture and introduce meaningful campus traditions. Houghton College built a custom accepted student kit to elicit pride, joy and optimism about the journey ahead. Rhodes College developed a custom branded boxed kit of both practical and fun items for its deposited students as part of an anti-melt effort.

As colleges and universities continue to navigate lingering uncertainties and radical changes in the higher education landscape, not everything needs to “go digital.” In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to conclude that direct mail promo opens up opportunities, ideas and innovations for college recruitment that other channels can’t deliver. 

Effective, memorable, and proven to cultivate positive emotions toward your brand, put direct mail promo in your enrollment marketing mix.

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Postage Permits

We are happy to mail using a client’s USPS non-profit number. Here are a few best practices for this to go smoothly. Let our team know up front on the project so we can make sure to get the information we need right away. 

While our mail house does prefer to use their permit number for the mailing, we can use the client’s permit, If using their permit number, ensure there is enough postage to cover the mailing.

The information we need to in order to use a client’s nonprofit number includes the following:

Formatting the Mailing List

Our account team will advise on specific requirements for your project’s mailing list.  We generally recommend these best practices to format the mailing list: