2018 Q4 Going Retro

Going Retro


“Effective marketing involves a fully integrated approach to reach your target wherever they are and however they want to engage with you.”
— says Chris Noah, CMO, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

ust the other day, Greg Chambers was reminiscing about his son’s college selection process. As a marketing thought leader, it’s one of the paces he puts himself through when researching other projects. What worked in any given marketing initiative? Why? What would the brand do differently? There are always questions to sort through. Lots of them. In this case, Chambers, founder and president of the marketing consultant firm Chambers Pivot, was reviewing his son’s experience to see how higher education marketers and enrollments specialists were extolling their universities virtues.

Sifting through the marketing materials that the Chambers’ family kept, he noticed a stack of that made it past the throwaway stage. The catalogs had a few things in common. For starters, they felt and looked expensive, giving off the air that he was one of the lucky few that received such a piece. The other thing was that each of the catalogs could double as travel brochures. Some of them featured cities like Ireland, England and Spain.

“Two of the catalogs weren’t from cities that are high on my list to visit, but the college didn’t feature their city,” Chambers said. “I’m guessing they are secondary and tertiary pieces in marketing to us, but relying on the old ‘file folder’ metric, i.e., did your piece go into the file folder or the trash folder, the piece was a success because we’re paying tuition to the latter school.”

The Chambers’ family is not unlike the scores of families who face the daunting feat of not only selecting a college for their child, but also of sifting through the endless array of marketing resources dedicated to helping them make their choice.

For higher education marketers and enrollment specialists, the strategy is pretty straightforward: which strategy will provide me the perfect reach and most quantifiable result for what I spend? And whether or not high ed marketers will (or need) to admit it, the question comes down to traditional or digital marketing tactics. And here’s the thing, they both work.

“Effective marketing involves a fully integrated approach to reach your target wherever they are and however they want to engage with you,” says Chris Noah, CMO at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in Indiana, Pennsylvania, one of the two largest universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The choice, more times than not, comes down to that original premise: whichever works best in a given situation. “For me, traditional marketing tactics have never gone out of style,” Noah says. “It is not an either or, it’s both—when it comes to digital versus traditional. For a prospective undergraduate student, your mix may skew toward digital and social, but there is still the need and an expectation for other forms of engagement.”


You know what the traditional marketing plays are—we all do. These conventional modes of marketing (print, broadcast, direct mail, telemarketing, billboards/fliers) help engage with your targeted audience through various offline advertising and promotional strategies.

These traditional marketing techniques adhere to the age-old marketing playbook that stresses following the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion. Every successful campaign works to lead prospective students through the sales funnel.

“Just using technology to insert a [student’s] name into a piece at various points doesn’t work,” Noah says. “You need to have real insights to connect with the mindset of that student when they open the mailing. Worry less about pretending like you actually know them. Guess what, you don’t really know them, and they know that. Spend time learning what they want to hear from you at the different points in the admissions journey and deliver useful information that helps answer their questions and takes some of the stress away from their process.”

Chambers says that marketers are future oriented and trained to spot and explore potential. While those strengths are great for uncovering new opportunities, those assets have a dark side. “Old ways can be shunned or scoffed at. The thing is, while marketers move boldly into the future, not all prospects are along for ride, especially in a market where the universe of prospects turn over 100 percent every three to four years.”

As higher ed marketers test newer and newer marketing tactics against the control, it is wise to test traditional marketing tactics, too. Traditional tactics still work, often surprisingly well.

“The old tactics still matter because as much as they’re penalized for being old, they benefit from withstanding the test of time,” Chambers says. “We don’t remember the tactics unable to hold value. If it’s still around, it’s worth putting in for testing.”

Direct mail is an old school tactic that comes to mind. Today, marketers can conduct targeted direct mail (old school) strategies and, instead of investing in quantity, they can test quality. The thing is that direct mail can be very effective in higher education, but you must take the time to connect with your target and not fall into the trap of customizing at a superficial level.

Strategies like print and print advertising can also be very effective for admissions recruiting. For example, a strategically placed print ad in a high school football preview guide will be seen by parents and students alike. It also has a high level of pass-on distribution to family and friends.

“It is important to remember that reaching the parent in this process is just as critical, as they are a key decision maker (sometimes the decision maker),” Noah says.

That’s why more traditional tactics are critical to reach this audience. “In today’s digital world, some of the traditional tactics can set you apart if done right,” Noah says. “Traditional tactics just don’t stay traditional any longer. If you send a truly engaging piece to a prospect, he or she is likely to share that in social media. Now it’s no longer just traditional. That’s why you need both.”

In a time when technology puts up walls for personal contact, higher education marketers, perhaps more than others, know how important it is to engage more personally with prospective students.

“Choosing a college is a very personal decision,” Noah says. “When you ask students why they chose a specific college, they usually go right to the emotional side of the equation. ‘It felt right.’ ‘It felt like home.’ ‘Everyone was so friendly.’ Digital and social channels can deliver some of that feeling, especially with the use of well executed videos. But the only way to truly elicit those emotional responses is through personal contact. Everyone plays a role, not just admissions. Every touchpoint is so important to leave the right impression.”

“Effective marketing involves a fully integrated approach to reach your target wherever they are and however they want to engage with you.”
— says Chris Noah, CMO, Indiana University of Pennsylvania



  • Broadcast media (like TV and radio ads)
  • Direct mail (including fliers, postcards, catalogs)
  • Telemarketing
  • Verified techniques for a higher rate of success
  • Long-standing projects that the public already recognizes
  • Analytics for measuring results


  • Websites
  • Social networking sites
  • Content marketing
  • Banner Ads
  • Google Ads
  • Online video marketing.
  • Cost-effective
  • strategies for marketing
  • Remarkable visitors achieve
  • Enables primary response from the intended audience