How to Save Thousands on Your Direct Mail Spend

At Capture Higher Ed we talk a lot about spending smarter instead of spending more — that there are diminishing returns to just pouring more money into student recruitment and hoping to get more students.

In the admissions office, direct mail is the poster child for diminishing returns. Sending print materials through the mail can be quite effective when sent to the right students, giving them the extra push to apply or attend an event. However, for more than half the students in your pool, it has no effect. They just throw it in the garbage (or recycling for the eco-conscious).

Using Capture’s comprehensive predictive application model, we produced the following chart showing the difference in application rate for students who received direct mail vs. those who didn’t — broken down by predicted likelihood to apply. Decile 10 is the top 10 percent of students predicted as most likely. Decile 1 is the bottom 10 percent of students, predicted as least likely to apply.

Direct Mail spend graph

Mailing in 2019 was very effective for students in the top three deciles (top 30 percent of our application predictions). Those who received direct mail applied at a rate more than 1 percentage point higher than students who didn’t receive direct mail. That’s a nice return on investment. However, that return drops off sharply, with virtually no effect for the bottom 70 percent of students.

To use direct mail effectively, schools should only send direct mail to the top three predicted deciles. If they really can’t stand to cut back that much, they should only send direct mail to the top half — anything else is waste.

They should take those tens of thousands of dollars saved and spend it where it will have more impact — hiring another admissions counselor, giving more financial aid or purchasing more search names to target via email and marketing automation-triggered dynamic content.

By John Foster, Senior Data Analyst, Capture Higher Ed