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Direct/Database Marketing

Development and fundraising

While direct marketing is often misunderstood or underestimated as a marketing medium, smart marketers shun it at their peril. We define it as a form of advertising that allows its practitioners to communicate directly with targeted sets of customers, using tailored messages usually built around "calls-to-action" that generate measurable results. With direct mail and email as two of its primary channels, direct marketing has often been tarred with the "junk" or "spam" reputation. While there is some historical truth to this criticism, strong privacy regulations have eliminated many of the worst offenders and kept direct marketing a highly relevant medium that relies on bedrock marketing fundamentals.

Direct Marketing in Enrollment and Admissions

Direct marketing and its cousin database marketing have many applications in education marketing. The most natural of these is in enrollment and admissions marketing, where virtually every campaign is built on key direct marketing principles in both recruiting and staying connected with potential applicants and/or their families:

  • Define the target market and behavior profiles that best fit your school, college, or university                                                    in your prospecting, database techniques can help you replicate characteristics of your most                                      successful students)

  • Create communications with highly relevant messaging for key market segments

  • Deploy marketing channels proven to attract your target audience; note, direct marketing is                                                      not limited to email and direct, mail but can apply to most print and e-channels that permit                                              targeting and results tracking

  • Test all your programs for response and ROI and make appropriate adjustments

  • Nurture your prospects who have applied, and those who have been accepted but not                                                       committed, by sending them highly personalized emails about their areas of interest such as                                       theater, lacrosse, and computer science.


Another major area in which database marketing plays a significant role is Development. Many

of the most astute early direct marketers were non-profits who made it a priority to collect and use

relevant information about donors to increase their donations with the best return on investment

(ROI) possible. While their systems were much less sophisticated than today's, these marketers

used the tools they did have to track critical basics like a donor's giving patterns, what appeals

triggered them, optimal timing and choice of media, effective use of creative and and messaging

tests, appropriate levels of investment for each segment (e.g. does it make sense to keep a person

on your magazine list), and the like. Learn more about how your institution can use intelligent database

strategies and simple economics on our Development page.

Retention and Other Uses 

You may also wish to explore  targeted communications to key audiences include for retention, eg fifth and eighth grade parents in schools or at-risk students in higher ed. By identifying students who could leave an elementary school at a key exit point, you can create a program to keep those parents up-to-date on exciting activities at your school, and take their pulse on their satisfaction with their child's experience. Here, just staying in touch with these groups, even if you don't personalize the communication, may help them feel better-informed and valued. In higher ed, several software options use data on attendance, submission of assignments, and other factors that are strong predictors of a student dropping out. This information can assist with targeted marketing outreach, as well as critical personal contacts, to try and keep the struggling student in the fold. 

Want to learn how direct and database marketing can energize your marketing and communications efforts? William Bullard started his career at direct marketing leader Epsilon and has continued to use his database marketing skills to improve the marketing results of his schools and clients.

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