The Future of Direct Marketing: Higher Education Marketing Tips

This post highlights ways that higher education marketers can create great experiences that set their schools up for success during COVID-19 and beyond.




May 1, 2020

Higher education marketers have always faced a challenge of communicating with many stakeholders. Different types of students, alumni, donors, and more… with so many people interacting with your school, it can be difficult to reach everyone effectively.

And with today’s current environment, there is a renewed need to ensure your communications are reaching people the right way. What works for some people does not always work as well for other people.

What does this mean? The learning experience is completely different than what it was.

  1. Some people may expect it to stay that way…

There are a lot of people who are embracing the technology shift and will expect it to stay. The increased use in technology provides additional flexibility to those that may not have had as much before, such as students that are working and raising families in addition to their education. They may have previously faced issues with finding classes that worked with their busy schedules or choosing from a limited selection of online classes that were available.

  1. …but the technology isn’t for everyone.

Online education does not work for everyone, but with it being the only option to continue their education, people have been forced to adapt quickly.

While many students are able to embrace the technology change, there are certainly others that face challenges in its adoption:

  • Some students may have learning disabilities that are best supported with in-person classes and interactions with professors.
  • Some students are not equipped to learn from home. They may not have access to technology and may have been relying on your library and other community resources to complete online work. Or, they may have access, but it has become limited as other members of their household have also moved to online work or schooling.
  • Some students are not comfortable with video technology, as it leads to sharing their home lives with their classmates which may reveal situations that they prefer to keep private.

With all of this in mind, the question is: how can higher education marketers create great experiences that set their schools up for success during COVID-19 and beyond?

Higher Education Experiences

Prospective Students

You are likely targeting prospective students in many categories: high school students that may soon be graduating, current college students looking to transfer to a different school, people who are returning to education after a break for reasons which may include starting a family or serving in the military.

Each of these individuals are at different points in their lives, and may need various things from you:

  • For high school students, it may be difficult to think about college now that everything is so uncertain and they are trying to figure out what the rest of their high school experience looks like. Will this have as much of an effect on their senior year as it did for this year’s seniors? This time may be very lonely and isolating for them. In this case, you may want to reach out to the parents of these students to share ways they can support their children and talk to them about their options for further education.  
  • For current college students looking to transfer to your school, it is important to understand why they are transferring. One thing you may want to learn is if they are transferring because they had a negative experience with online education during the disruption. Understanding this will help you determine where your school fits best within their needs.
  • For those returning after a break, they may have different needs than the others. They may need flexibility of class schedules and online classes so they can continue to support their work and home life outside of school.

One thing that all of these prospective students will have in common is a need to connect with your school and make sure it is a good fit for them. Without the option to schedule tours to view your campus in-person now, it is important to find ways to stay connected online, through virtual tours and events.

Even when in-person events become appropriate again, you may want to continue finding ways to keep people engaged virtually to expand your reach and provide additional flexibility and support.

Current and Incoming Students

In addition to their studies, your current studies may be involved in groups, have jobs, find opportunities to travel the world, etc. Some may even be raising families while they pursue their academic careers. This disruption is causing some of these things to be put on hold, and it is causing extra stress on them as they cannot continue to support themselves the way that they were before.

As we mentioned earlier, not everyone was prepared for online learning or is fully comfortable with it. When it became a permanent shift for the remainder of the semester, this brought a new challenge to students who suddenly had to adapt to the sudden loss of normalcy in terms of their regular semester activities.

And while incoming students may not fully feel the effects of COVID-19 on the college experience just yet, they are certainly feeling a similar sense of loss now as they prepare to graduate from high school, if that is the stage of life they are in.

Either way, it is important to help your current and incoming students feel supported and connected throughout this experience.


While the adaptation of technology provides additional opportunities to connect with some alumni, there will always be people that prefer in-person events.

Throughout the remainder of this disruption, try to do what you can to connect your alumni network virtually. That might mean moving happy hours or networking events online or getting them more involved in participating in your member groups on social media.

The benefit of online events like happy hours is that they are relatively easy to plan – and are not nearly as expensive since you are not paying for space, food, or drinks. This may be helpful for your budget as you might be able to reallocate some of those funds to enhance some of your other events.  

Once you can return to your regular programming, you might consider keeping a virtual event in the mix once a month, while keeping in-person options available.


Your fundraising efforts are already helping a lot of different initiatives. And the shift to technology probably caused a strain on everything, between a possible delay in regular fundraising and the added expense of adapting technology.

Technology can be expensive, and moving an entire school online with the required licensing, platform fees, and IT support quickly adds up. This, combined with your existing goals, and the fact that it may not be appropriate to ask for money during this time, you may end up needing to make up for lost time. Your grants, appeals, and events will be more critical than ever.


This disruption also caused an entire semester’s worth of events to be cancelled, and there may be an impact on summer events as well as the way sporting teams operate in the future.

Try to keep your athletes and fans engaged online and encourage people to share their school spirit. This may help keep them motivated throughout the duration of this experience, and have a positive impact toward how they feel about you in the future.

The Bottom Line

It can be challenging to communicate with multiple stakeholders that are in different stages of their lives. Understanding their needs will help you discover how to best support their needs.

Bonus #1: Augmented Reality

In a time where people may be fatigued from the same digital messaging over and over again, print and more creative uses of digital can offer some reprieve.  

Whatever videos that you may be promoting on social media or in emails, consider promoting via print as well.

Yes, print.

You can use technology like Augmented Reality to offer virtual tours, share student testimonials, and anything else to show what makes your school feel like home, directly from a flat print piece.

Check out “Creating Augmented Reality Mailers” to learn how to easily make your mailers come alive with video using Augmented Reality through AReveryware.

Bonus #2: Direct Mail Templates

Higher Education Marketing – Short-Term Prospective Student Postcard Example


Higher Education Marketing – Long-Term Prospective Student Postcard Example


Higher Education Marketing – Alumni Giving Letter Example


Editor’s Note:

This post was written for the series: “The Future of Direct Marketing. C-M University is a fictional college that was made up for the purposes of this example.

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