Turning applications into advertisements

When students apply to WMU they are charged an application fee — which covers processing, review, etc. From the application we learn what the student’s home address is, and their intended academic major.

Everyone loves a surprise.

What if every student who applied received a surprise package from WMU? Imagine the impression made on each student if they came home from their summer job to find a package from WMU waiting for them. As they opened the package, they discover a personal letter from the chair and faculty of the program they applied to stating how much they were looking forward to working with and supporting the student. The letter would have REAL signatures — not re-productions. These signatures would support a theme of personal attention — these types of little details add up.

Numerous retention studies have described the positive impact of personal attention. Our letter would become another part of all the things we do to make students feel welcome at WMU.

In addition to the letter, the student would find a WMU sweat shirt or t-shirt with ‘Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI’ printed (or even better embroidered) on it. There are many places we can find that would be able to produce a high-quality, low cost piece of clothing designed to last. Even if each piece of clothing cost $20, isn’t that a small investment on an individual who will spend tens of thousands at their chosen institution?

What is the outcome of this effort?

Receiving personal attention and a gift is something that people will talk about. Positive word of mouth will boost the image of our institution.

Even if the student doesn’t come to WMU, they have a wonderful piece of clothing that they WILL wear (this is why it being high-quality matters — people like wearing comfortable stuff). Each person who wears the sweatshirt becomes a walking brand billboard for WMU.

For those students who do come to WMU, they now have a new favorite piece of clothing that will support and build community on campus.

What about the costs of doing this?

If we had 5,000 student applications, and we were able to produce a quality shirt for $10-$15 dollars, and each cost roughly $3 to ship, then our total cost would be between $65,000 and $90,000. Our application fees range from $25-$100. Based only on a $25 application fee, we already have a potential budget of $125,000. While I don’t know specifically what that fee covers, my guess is that the allocation of the fee doesn’t create a long term return on investment in terms of relationships, branding and advertisements.

Do you think a basic ‘accepted’ letter or a welcome package from WMU would have a greater impact on a student attending WMU?

Traditional forms of advertising may be comparable in cost to the ‘surprise gift/shirt’ idea. According to Gaebler Ventures, a Chicago based company that ‘nutures companies that are shaping the future’, billboard advertising rates range from $700 to $2,500 a month (Gaebler, 2007). The only difference is that few people talk about billboards — in fact most people probably ignore them. Where as the positive buzz about sending a surprise to a student will create a longer, lasting impression that people will talk about a lot.


Gaebler. (2007). Costs of billboard advertising. Retrieved August 12, 2007 from http://www.gaebler.com/Billboard-Advertising-Costs.htm

One Response

  1. BTAT August 15, 2007

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