Paper Matters Blog
The Power of Print in Higher-Education Marketing


The higher education market has become increasingly competitive in recent years as colleges contend for prospective students. Students, however, aren’t the only audience they must reach. Beyond their students, the community that composes a university’s broader support network includes parents, alumni, donors, faculty and staff. Colleges and universities have the unique challenge of developing a brand that appeals to multiple generations.

To compete, universities have adopted market-oriented strategies, such as hiring ad agencies and using social media in conjunction with print which is still the foundation upon which multi-generational marketing is built. Not only is print a tactile and personal experience, but its message to a specific audience can be amplified through digital media. In higher education, it’s more powerful than ever.


To discover how colleges can harness the power of print in reaching Millennials and Generation Z, we spoke to three experts:

  • Karyn Adams is the principal and creative director of HA ThirtyOne, a collegiate branding agency with clients such as Duke University.
  • Jessica Corliss is an art director and visual identity specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications at the University of Iowa.
  • Sean Carroll is the Director of Printing Services, a full-service printing facility at Vanderbilt University.



  1. Your audience is larger than you think. Even if you’re targeting an individual, you’re never speaking to just one person. According to Karyn Adams, print speaks to a student’s whole family.

“You’re also trying to talk to their influencers, which can be Gen X or Baby Boomers,” she says, “The younger students are very mobile-invested but they’re also very influenced by parents and family members.”

But no matter the generation, the staying power of print organically increases readership and engagement. And high-impact print, Sean Carroll notes, can be especially appealing to prospective students and alumni. “Vanderbilt’s recruiting efforts are now worldwide and the quality of prospective students is top notch. Our printed pieces are often the first exposure that a student in another country gets from the University. It has to be quality and it’s important that the piece tell the story of the school and the University mission.” These are critical facts to remember when deciding how to best communicate with your audience.


  1. Authenticity is key.

Did you know that Millennials and Gen Z are exposed to more ads and branding than any past generation? They’re so bombarded that they’ve become almost immune to marketing. That’s why authenticity is so vital. “Authenticity comes up a lot,” Corliss says. “Being candid and honest, trying not to stage stuff and instead capture real moments that are happening. That goes over well with the younger audience.” Adams and her team stay authentic by communicating each school’s uniqueness. “We spend the time getting to know that school and what makes them truly distinctive. We spend time on campus … getting to know faculty and students. You learn about their character. That makes it really, really fun.” Whatever the focus of your message, honest communication goes a long way.


  1. Be ready to evolve.

In today’s market, the only constant is change. Schools that can adapt are schools that will thrive. Sean Carroll believes that staying on top of industry trends is crucial. Innovations in printing and paper give marketers even more ways to resonate with their audience, from new folds and finishes to personalized direct mail and camera-captured content. Best of all, it’s measurable.

“There are tons of ways to measure ROI on print,” says Adams, citing PURLs, or personalized URLs, as a favorite. A custom URL lets marketers better understand a piece’s efficacy by tracking visits to a URL.

It’s also wise to follow the practices of other industries. As Corliss explains, “It’s not enough to see what other schools are doing, so we look outside of higher ed. What are the tech and corporate worlds doing with print?” Inspiration, she believes, can come from anywhere.

Carroll agrees, citing his organization’s leap into wide format printing, where UV and latex technology have become increasingly affordable. “As a leader in a mature industry such as print, it’s so refreshing to see a new world of possibilities.” Carroll’s homework on the industry has paid off with the wide format investment. It has allowed his facility to capture some work that has been going on elsewhere. He prints giant 15-foot banners for the University Real Estate department and because he can turn those needs quickly, they are coming to him for other traditional printing needs.


  1. Know that digital will play a role.

When creating a print piece, always consider how digital plays into the experience. An acceptance letter is a great example, as it also has a digital presence. “When a student gets an acceptance letter in the mail, they don’t just call up their friend and say where they’re going,” says Corliss, “They’re going to take a picture and post it on social media. Then it becomes an alumni engagement opportunity [on social] as well. It’s a full cycle that reaches more than the intended recipient. It connects with multiple generations and it’s a brand opportunity for us.”

Adams recommends focusing on your end goal when integrating digital. Tech, such as scannable codes or augmented reality, shouldn’t be used just because it’s new. It should have a purpose. “We’re always excited when [institutions] are interested in pushing the boundaries,” she says, “But we always want to look at how it plays into the success of the end project.”

Print clearly leads to high engagement levels. It ends up in people’s hands and in their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat feeds. Knowing how to leverage print is critical in higher education marketing, from creating pieces that resonate with your target market to integrating digital technology as effectively as possible. That’s the true power of print.


To achieve and sustain excellence, colleges and universities must vigorously promote themselves to a variety of individuals. Request your complimentary Cougar® promotion, Make Your Mark on Cougar®–The Educator. We focus on the unique world of higher education to illustrate how Cougar® Paper can make a brand stand out with print marketing, even in the most challenging and competitive markets.

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