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Rising Above the Clutter – Communicating Effectively with Adult Students – Part Two

As we saw in Part One, communicating the right message to the right adult student is crucial to the success of your marketing efforts. Choosing the right media to transmit that message is every bit as important. All media have strengths and weaknesses.  Sending your message through a single medium will rarely perform as well as using an integrated marketing communication (IMC) plan. IMC plans are among the most effective marketing communications strategies, employing several media in a coordinated campaign.

For example, to reach prospects in the surrounding area, many continuing education programs use radio. Radio has a number of advantages – it can reach a large audience at relatively low cost compared to television. It’s selective - education marketers can use it to get their message out to the demographic group best suited to their programs. One Arbitron study found that 92% of the radio audience continued to listen during commercial breaks.

But expecting radio spots alone to carry a continuing education or professional development marketing program will likely lead to disappointment. Most radio stations carry up to 10 minutes of advertising every hour. So, while an adult learner is still processing your message, several other commercials are vying for his or her attention. Even effective radio spots are fleeting – they’re heard and then they’re gone. Few but the most interested listeners will call you before they arrive at their destination – and when they get there they face many distractions. Radio can raise awareness of your programs and increase interest.   But to turn that interest into inquiries requires a trigger.

Triggering a Response 

Direct mail and the Internet can provide that trigger. Targeted direct mail, especially customized one to one communication can further develop the interest your radio ad sparked. It’s a relatively permanent message – unlike a radio ad, prospects can put a postcard or flyer up on the refrigerator as a reminder. It can provide an easy way for students to respond through a prefilled inquiry postcard or response website. And since, to quote adult learner expert Carol Aslanian, “adults are the ultimate stealth students,” a number of your prospects will respond by quietly investigating your institution’s website.   

While your college website can provide detailed information on relevant programs, prospects can browse without ever letting you know they’re interested. Interactive sites like The Allied Group’s Stealth Program can engage them by offering students exactly the information they want in a customized eBrochure in exchange for their contact information. A similar vehicle helped Ohio’s Franklin University increase adult inquiries by 35% and convert an astounding 48% of them into applicants.

Coordinating radio, direct mail and the web can give programs for adult learners much better results than using any one of these media by itself. That’s why marketing experts George and Michael Belch wrote, “IMC is undoubtedly the major communications development of the last decade of the 20th century. Could it make a difference at your institution?

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