Is print still valuable to the recruitment cycle?

Join us for this week's episode of Most Clicked where we discuss how print can still be a very powerful marketing medium just used in a slightly different way.

Print is still a great opportunity for marketers. Over the last two years, we’ve seen brands shutter their print programmes in favour of going digital. In a lot of cases, this makes sense. Argos got rid of its catalogue. So did IKEA.

But we shouldn’t throw out print entirely – the medium has unique properties. If a website is about “leaning forward” and getting things done, then a magazine asks us to lean back and discover a topic. Why not invest further down the funnel, once your audience is engaged? Aston University does this. For three years they have provided a print magazine for applicants called New Student. It’s written by current students and managed by the marketing team, covering topics like mental health, studying at university and living on campus.

Critically, those who receive New Student are MORE LIKELY to accept their offer too. How about that? While some of Aston’s competitors are putting course brochures in the mail, it’s sharing a publication that makes a meaningful difference to its acceptance rates. Today on Most Clicked, Kyle and Matt discuss how print is still in the mix.

Matt Lees
Hello, and welcome to this week’s Most Clicked. I’m Matt from SMILE and this week, I’m taking over from Nath, who’s away on holiday. As ever, I’m joined by Kyle from the Education Marketer. Kyle, what are we talking about this week?

Kyle Campbell
Well, this is actually, a news item people might be surprised I’m covering, it’s about print. You know, I’m a digital sort of person, really, it’s the way my career expertise has been in but I do appreciate print as a medium. And this story comes from a piece that I wrote on LinkedIn, about how print has a really valuable role to play in education marketing in general. And it stems from my experience with a publication that Aston University worked on in the past. So they had a great understanding of where print can be used in the recruitment cycle. So rather focusing print at the top of the funnel, where it tends to be quite expensive because you’re essentially giving out large print publications to people who barely know your brand and who you are. They decided to move print a little bit further down towards applicants.

And rather than just sending out brochures and general pieces of advice, they put together a magazine for an applicant audience, and it reads like a magazine. So it’s called New Students so nice title there. And in this piece, there’s loads of content about well being and what to do in Birmingham, it genuinely does feel like a publication. And this is wonderful, because typically, in this space, and especially at that point in the cycle, you just don’t have that sort of thing coming through your door. And if you do get something for your door, it’s like a postcard or something like that. But can you imagine the impact of this coming through the letterbox man and the doormat compared to like competitors, things that are just nothing like it? And I saw it and it seems to resonate with a few people working in the sector so I shared it. But what’s your perspective on this, Matt, because you work in creative and you’ve got a better background in this stuff than me. I’d be interested to hear your take on it.

Matt Lees
Yeah, I think it’s quite a nice piece. At SMILE, we’re doing a lot of work around prospectuses and moving them online, and as a result, have looked at a lot of prospectuses and the kind of content that you can expect to see there. And one of the things that perhaps feels like it fits into what Aston are doing is that wider experience piece, a lot of the prospectuses that we saw, they have introductions from the VC, they’ve got obviously course listings and things like that, but then they go into that wider experience piece. But they don’t necessarily seem to fit as well as this does this feels dedicated and focused on that as a subject area. So it feels like quite a nice way to show that wider experience off.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, 100%. I likened this to a better understanding of how print is used in industry as well. So your prospectus is almost like if you walked into a car showroom, the same kind of price bracket for a degree isn’t it? And in the showroom, you’re handed, like a brochure or book on every car the manufacturer does, it just wouldn’t happen? Would it? You wouldn’t receive that material to you’re a bit further down the line. And you could extend out to UCAS fairs as well, which are getting better. But you typically would walk up to a stand and then the takeaway is a book with everything, every course even though you’re only interested in one. Now the solution isn’t necessarily to have a million brochures on different areas, is it but there are better ways to use print than in that top of the funnel brush stroke event isn’t there. It can be used more as a luxury item.

Matt Lees
Yeah, definitely. And I mean, in your article you talked about other big-name companies out there that had moved away from print. So Argos and IKEA I mean, Argos for me stands out as a kind of impressive example, because their whole business model was based around this printed publication, this catalogue that you went, and that’s where you’ve you found every single product listed. And to get rid of that there’s obviously this demand to move away. But whilst we’ve been researching prospectuses and various print publications, I came across TUI as an example. And they actually chose not to. Their brochures were earmarked for being scrapped and then they did a lot of market research and found that there was still the demand there so they’ve stuck with them.

So I think it’s interesting to see how different companies are dealing with that move and whether they’re moving completely away like Argos and IKEA, or whether they’re fitting it in, in some other way. And I think universities are a prime for where can we fit this in in a different way? How can we make print more useful and more relevant? One of the things that stands out to me about the prospectus is how irrelevant the majority of the content is to the end-user, we’re looking at, you know, around 150 pages worth, of course, listings in a, in an average prospectus, and only five or six of those pages are relevant to the user who picks it up. So Aston’s take really, really makes the entire document worthwhile and useful. So that’s another plus for them I think.

Aston University print

Kyle Campbell
I like you, you mentioned that other brands, like TUI are using print, and deciding from research to keep that print publication. Some brands you wouldn’t think about going into print are starting to do so are key points in their customer cycles. Amazon does it around like holiday times Christmas, they actually release a printed catalogue because they recognise that power of a catalogue coming through the door children’s circling what they want. And then that is handed to a parent to purchase later. So they understand that print is used in that context and recycling, like, you know, some of the tropes from like the 80s and 90s, that are still very valuable experiences disappeared for a while, but are now coming back, whether that’s through not the soldier or just recognising and those marketing tactics still work, but just reimagining how they work today, I just found that absolutely fascinating.

Matt Lees
Yeah, one of the things that you touched on before was around UCAS fairs and how the prospectus is some kind of giveaway at a UCAS fair is almost expected by students. Something that they can take away that goes into that tote bag or whatever it is that they’re carrying with them and that they can circle back to when they get home and go through. And I actually wonder whether you know, Aston’s take is different, but are there other things that universities should be looking to produce, instead of maybe a printed document, we saw something recently from Chichester, I think it was you had a little thing that sticks onto the back of your phone with the university logo and you can clean the screen with it, you know, in your experience at universities, are those kinds of things have the same effect?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I mean, it’s a little bit outside the print realm but it’s bought into the experience area. But you know, I’ve seen Universities send out like applicant boxes if you like, and focusing on building, putting things in those boxes that people will either display or take a picture of, you know and share that love. And, you know, I’ve been to some open day events and I’ve seen people using those items that you speak about on the phones pop sockets when they were popular back when they were a trend. So it does, it does work. And they use these items, they find them useful, they find them quirky, wherever it is so there is definitely merit there. And on the back of UCAS fairs, I’ve seen some quite creative examples of what people do with their stands. I saw one university, it’s gone out of my head who it was now, it was a couple of years ago, but they literally made their stands, the area look like a mini version of the university campus.

So this university has like a distinctive fountain in it, or some sort of monument and they replicated that in the UCAS booth, you know? And I thought that’s interesting, isn’t it? What else could you do in that area? What could you do to make the most of these sort of walking spaces and, and when you start to think of those more creative elements, you know, that takes that conversation, perhaps a little bit further, more or less, could really stand out a little bit more than say, you know, just the prospectus that you’re giving out. So for me your print, like I said, in the article, I just think it’s very much still part of the mix. And I think any company that decides to axe their print programmes, just because we live in the digital age, I just think I’m missing a trick. I still think it’s a very powerful medium.

Matt Lees
Yeah, I mean, and I obviously studied a design degree, many years ago now. But for me, the prospectus was something tactile, something where you know, particularly for a design school that were nice print finishes going on and things like that. So it resonated with the subject area that I was interested in. So that’s another reason why I was interested in it, but I think there are perhaps some refinements that need to be made and when that print piece happens like you say whether it’s further down with warmer leads further down the funnel, later in the cycle. Yeah, some really interesting points there.

Kyle Campbell
I’m sure you’re like you’ll have a perspective on this, but because you straddle both the digital and the print space, I’ve noticed that when you have a print publication, I’m sure many people have noticed this as well. But your mindset shifts you into a different frame of mind. A lot of universities right now talk about belonging, community marketing, or sometimes like a print, publication or magazine is better at communicating that sense of fit because you naturally in a more kind of lean back mode, you’re considering stuff, you’re more contemplative, open to things, whereas with digital, you very lean forward, you know, you’re trying to get things done, use a website is a utility, not necessarily to get a sense of a place.

That’s, that’s the space of an open day or print publication where it’s more community-focused and contemplative, you know, so I don’t I don’t know if you’ve noticed that. But I think like if universities get rid of printing, or, you know, scale back or whatever, or don’t reimagine in a way that plays into those strengths, I just feel you’re cutting off that that very valuable, mental mode of how to meet your students in.

Matt Lees
Yeah, yeah, absolutely, I think that, that seems like quite a nice way to wrap up is, let’s start to think about how we can fit print into different areas and not just keep on pedalling the same thing we’ve done for the past 50/60 years, potentially, and to start to think about how we can be more useful with those bits of print that we produce.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah. 100%

Matt Lees
Okay, well, Kyle, thanks as ever for joining me. I hope everybody’s enjoyed that. If you have, don’t forget to like and subscribe, and we’ll see you all again next week.

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Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer