September 21, 2010
Case Study

Create-Your-Own-Brochure Program Lures High-Quality Leads

SUMMARY: This year marks MarketingSherpa’s 10th anniversary. Feeling nostalgic, we’ve looked back to find some of our favorite case studies. Take a look at this great customized-brochure strategy, featured in 2004, that had a 9% conversion rate.

The team has since added a three-part email series to this program, and made other tweaks to improve deliverability and conversion rates. We’ll be running an updated version in the coming weeks – so stay tuned!

Creating relevant print materials for prospective students was becoming expensive, not to mention time consuming for Huntington College.

"We're not a particularly large school, but we have 18-20 departments and over 70 programs," says Jeff Berggren, VP Admissions at Huntington. "Each really required its own brochure, but the costs to stock and update these would be prohibitive."

However, if you're trying to impress prospects who'll invest $20-25k per year in their education, you can't rely on a generic brochure that doesn't speak directly to their individual needs and desires.

While the college does offer fat course catalogs with a wealth of information, not every prospect will spend the time to carefully examine a thick document to find the bits that just apply to themselves.

Plus, as Berggren notes, prospects who request a catalog are often at a different, further stage of the sales cycle from those who request brochures.

How could his team turn their standard 11x17 folded, four-color, brochures into high-impact individualized marketing promotions, without breaking the budget?


With help from a print-on-demand provider, the Admissions team designed the following build-your-own-brochure campaign...

Part One: Online lead generation form

The team set up a one-page "build your own brochure" form and made it the top link on Huntington's left vertical navigation bar. Links were also promoted in various print materials.

Most surfers' response to seeing a form these days is, "Oh no, I don't want to type." So the team carefully designed this form to look as friendly as possible to keep the bail-out rate low, including:

o Asking as few questions as possible

o Using the word "You" repeatedly in the headline: "Picture yourself at Huntington College -- Tell us about your needs and interests, and we'll respond immediately with a custom viewbook just for you!"

o Splitting the page into two columns and using the left column for bullet point reviews of "What you'll get" by filling out the form. The form was in the right column.

o Including photos of happy male and female students

o Using large typeface and few words

Part Two: Personalized email auto-response

When prospects filled out the form, the back-end system automatically created a colorful PDF brochure with content based on their answers, including:

o Photos and body copy based on their indicated major

o A large photo based on their favorite extracurricular activity

o A highly-relevant alumni profile selected from the database of more than 20 profiles

o Contact information for a local admissions counselor

Many prospects weren't sure what their specific major would be, so the brochure's personalization could be broad or focused. For example, you could get a brochure for general departments such as "Communications" or for a niche interest such as "Film studies".

The PDF was emailed as attachment to a text-only email within roughly 90-seconds of form completion. Why text-only? HTML emails are more likely to be stopped by mistake by spam filters. Also text-only helped keep the total message size down so messages wouldn't bounce from over-full email boxes.

The design team carefully refined the graphics as well so the PDF itself would be a minimal size and not cause email to bounce.

Part Three: Follow-up postal mail campaign

Then the print-on-demand plant collected all the responses, sorted them by zip code (to gain possible postage discounts), printed, and batch mailed them every Monday morning.

Berggren explains, "Weekends are heavy traffic for our site, so we picked Mondays to catch the weekend people." This meant the majority of form fillers received a printed brochure within 72 hours.

Why send a printed piece when the prospect already has an identical PDF in their possession? "It's a nice, tactile reinforcement. When it shows up in their mailbox, they may have forgotten about the PDF. So we get the immediacy of the PDF response and the value-ad of the print piece."

Part Four: Feeding data back into standard print campaigns

After the campaign had been running for a year (it launched in 2001), the Admissions team reviewed the data on which majors, extracurricular activities, and alumni profiles were most frequently requested.

"We use this as guidelines for our print materials. You're letting the customers do the ranking. Now we know which, of our 20 alumni profiles, are the winners, so we can get those up front to the broader population as well."

"This is the highest performing non-affinity inquiry course we have," says Berggren.

[NOTE: Affinity inquiries are those from relationship marketing such as students referring siblings.]

33% of the site visitors who click on the link to see the Build-a-Brochure form wind up answering all the questions and submitting a completed form.

9% of prospects who request a personalized brochure wind up formally applying for a place at Huntington, and roughly half of these ultimately attend the college.

Initially almost 1/3 of the PDFs bounced due to heavy file size. However, now that the team has that under control fewer than 1% bounce for file-size reasons.

One surprising result:"We thought we'd have students who'd fill out the form over and over again to see what they'd get for different answers. However, they tend to use the brochure for general information and then request the full course catalog off the Web after that. We don't get a lot of repeat brochure builders."

The total cost for the campaign is far lower than we expected.

Huntington paid a one-time set-up fee of about $5000, and now spends just under $2 per lead generated, including form hosting, emailed PDFs, and printed and mailed brochures. Yes, that includes domestic postage. Berggren notes, "We only pay for what's created. You don't have to guess at inventory at the start of the year."

Last but not least, the campaign was awarded the 2004 Best in Class ribbon for Direct Marketing from print-on-demand industry association PODi.

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of the online form, email and brochure

Superior Business Solutions/Scope 1 Marketing Technologies: The vendor who handle the form, the emails and the print-on-demand brochures for Huntington

PODi: The Digital Printing Initiative that gave this campaign its Best in Class Award

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