Hope College Gets Authentic With Admissions Collateral
“mStoner equipped us with the collateral and assets, but the whole process has also strengthened us as a team and built collaboration and creativity.”
— Jennifer Fellinger, vice president, public affairs & marketing, Hope College
When it comes to recruitment, Hope College knows just the type of student it wants to attract. Their right-fit prospects are sharp, artistic, religiously diverse, and proudly unconventional. “At Hope, you can be a gay, punk-rock Episcopalian student majoring in dance and feel right at home,” as one mStoner colleague put it. Hope’s challenge was mirroring that authenticity in their print and digital collateral. They also needed a sophisticated roll out strategy and a better model of collaboration for the marketing and admissions departments.
Internally, Hope recently established a new Department of Public Affairs & Marketing under the leadership of Vice President Jennifer Fellinger. The department was determined to maximize the college’s communication channels and streamline collaboration with the admissions department around marketing. Hope also had a beautiful new website and needed to update its print and digital recruitment materials to match the site’s awe factor. mStoner, Inc. stepped on board to assist with both goals.
The Strategic Approach
“We needed some guidance on communicating with prospective students and hitting the right rhythm, channels, and frequency,” Fellinger said. “We wanted someone to look at what we were doing and tell us whether we needed less or more.” mStoner began by auditing all of Hope’s existing pieces and decide what to remove, replace, or combine. Out of that process, a clear plan for developing new materials emerged.
Three key learnings influenced mStoner’s strategy:
- In the focus groups mStoner conducted, current and prospective Hope students said they liked the personal attention they received during the application process, such as Hope’s handwritten acceptance letters.
- The recent marketing trend toward personalization suggests that a printed suite of topic-specific recruitment pieces can be more effective than a traditional, all-encompassing viewbook in this respect.
- Removing heavy information from viewbooks makes room for more visual storytelling, which can result in a powerful, unique brand impression.
The strategy, therefore, focused on the following:
- Arming admissions counselors with smaller print pieces that can be quickly curated on the road to match a student’s interests;
- Moving detailed information out of the viewbook and onto the college’s new website;
- Making the viewbook more of a visual and creative piece, thereby creating a richer experience for the prospective student;
- Implementing a single design concept across as many channels as possible to make Hope’s brand more consistent, coherent, and memorable.
An Authentic Design Concept
Above all, this single design direction needed to resonate with the highly independent thinkers who are Hope’s prospective students. mStoner’s creative leads collaborated with the college’s talented in-house designers to arrive at an authentic, texturized, imperfect aesthetic that also conveyed sophistication and quality. mStoner and Hope then adapted this over-arching design concept to each printed and digital piece in the suite.
“Young people recognize quality and can also sniff out bullsh*t,” mStoner Visual Designer Ben Conley said. “The paper has to be good, the design has to be good, and you have to get to another level of creativity to give them a sense of the place and the feel of it.” The design concept accomplishes this with hand-drawn typography and illustration in visually rich layouts that employ a large color palette.
What makes the pieces especially personal, however, are the sketches Conley drew on his visit to Hope: a rendering of the oldest building on campus, the gateway arch that everyone recognizes, the oak and maple leaves that cover the quad lawn, and athletes wearing Hope uniforms.
“The viewbook needed a personality and a point-of-view. It may not resonate with everyone, but certainly the new collateral better matches the Hope experience —intense, yet fun and welcoming.”
— Ben Bilow, creative director, mStoner, Inc.
The final strategy, design, and deliverables constitute a complete system that Hope can replicate and build on year after year.
- A communications plan includes a timeline for email, print, and social media for the entire admissions cycle. mStoner also included guidance on what to send to whom. The result is a more cohesive package that drives prospects to the website.
- mStoner produced a large, five-minute overview video. Then, to tie it into the social media strategy, we produced four additional 30-second spots on topics like athletics and student outcomes. These are distributed in a timely way during Hope’s admissions cycle.
- A new viewbook is the center-piece of the print campaign, but it includes limited information, focuses mainly on academics, and aims to deliver a strong visual The team pulled out most of the detailed information and placed it on the website.
- 10 to 12 print pieces complement the viewbook and can be assembled to fit a single prospect’s interests. Topics include: study abroad, internships, student outcomes, Hope’s Christian faith, research opportunities, and clubs and activities. A visit piece also aims to get students on campus.
- mStoner designed email templates as well as a powerpoint template that admissions counselors can use when they speak on the road or at open houses.
- Capping it all off, mStoner and the Hope team also created a remarkably thoughtful acceptance gift box to seal the deal at a critical point in a prospect’s decision-making process.
The Acceptance Giftbox
The acceptance gift box is one of the project’s most creative pieces, both in strategy and design. Students find out they have been admitted to Hope when they receive this box, which includes a folder entailing their personal financial aid award; a custom, Moleskine-esque journal; and a Hope College pen. The journal is wrapped in a belly band with the student’s name printed on it and the entire package comes in a gift box featuring Hope’s colors.
Fellinger knew from the beginning that she wanted to do something special for the financial aid award letter, which outlines how much aid the student will receive. “They’re going to compare their aid package to wherever else they’re thinking about going, so it’s a SUPER important piece. Usually, these letters come on college letterhead and look really cluttered with lots of information crammed onto a single 8.5 x 11 sheet. We decided to make ours function as a marketing piece because it’s an opportune moment to remind an admitted student what a great value Hope is. The folder talks as much about outcomes and placement rates as it does their financial aid package.”
“It was more expensive, obviously,” Fellinger added, “but we were all on board internally with needing to redo the award letter. mStoner took that request and really turned it into something beautiful, something high-impact.”
A full admissions cycle with the new materials has yet to take place, but there is early evidence of success. Admitted students posted unboxing videos and images on social media when they received the acceptance gift. And Fellinger reports that Hope staff members are “swooning” over the viewbook, even stopping her in the grocery store to tell her how much they love the piece.
The collaboration with mStoner has also affected the operations of the Department of Public Affairs & Marketing. Fellinger reports that her staff and the admissions department are working better together. This is no small feat considering the new department was just beginning to merge creative services, admissions marketing, and the website all together at the project outset.
“Our weekly joint marketing meeting with admissions used to be somewhat of a pain point but now it’s my favorite meeting of the week,” Fellinger said. “Ideas and creativity are really flowing and we’ve become more strategic — even in things that mStoner was not specifically involved in. I’m confident we would not have gotten there without going through mStoner’s process. They’ve walked alongside of us and made us more functional. We went from a place of low trust to high trust, from low energy to high energy and high inspiration.”
Hope College was ready to overhaul their print and digital marketing collateral but wanted a solid strategy to guide their efforts. The new pieces needed to demonstrate a new level of creativity and authenticity to help prospective students imagine themselves at Hope.
Communications strategy, asset review, editorial calendar, creative direction, print design, email template design, video production, presentation template, and social media strategy.