For many U.S. colleges and universities, driving enrollment is an uphill climb these days. Though digital channels have made it easier to reach a wider audience, they’ve also been black holes, with marketing messages dismissed and forgotten as students tune out the onslaught of digital noise. Curiously, one antidote to our modern plight is an old one: engaging the five senses.
Fueling recall and rapport with sensory engagement
Does the smell of pumpkin spice in fall make you think of Starbucks? That’s no accident, reported ThoughtCo. By appealing to senses instead of logic, sensory marketing affects consumers in ways that traditional marketing cannot the reference portal explained. Traditional marketing assumes that consumers systematically consider concrete factors such as price, features, and utility. Sensory marketing — that is, marketing that engages touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste — deals with consumers’ life experiences and feelings.
That’s important because, as consumers, our buying decisions are largely based on emotional impulses. In fact, 95% of purchase decisions happen in the subconscious mind, reported UC Berkeley.
The smell of oranges or lavender, for instance, is found to calm the fears of anxious study subjects, and merely touching an object creates a perceived sense of ownership, researchers found. Speaking of touching, there’s a ritual to opening a package: We pay attention to the feel of the material, the resistance it presents, the sound it makes, and the way it opens to unveil a product.
“Such influences are subtle — and that’s exactly why they are so powerful,” explained the Harvard Business Review: “Consumers don’t perceive them as marketing messages and therefore don’t react with the usual resistance.”
Leaning on tested systems, trusted partners
For time- and budget-strained higher education teams, the capabilities needed to pull off multisensory campaigns in-house often aren’t feasible. They’re also not necessary.
Instead, many colleges and universities turn to specialized partners to act as advisors and concierges, orchestrating the creation of multisensory materials and experiences. FedEx Office is a leader in this space, with close ties to higher education since 1970, now with locations near most campuses across the nation.
At many universities, FedEx Office locations are within or near student centers, serving the campus community with a rich menu of services, including retail, signage, event materials, on-demand, and large-scale commercial printing — even mailroom and parcel management in some schools.
Donna Kuppers, a regional commercial sales manager for FedEx Office, noted that many higher education customers want to create immersive, sensorial student experiences but can’t pinpoint what they want, what’s possible, or what they can afford. In those cases, FedEx Office consultants help them identify a solution and bring it to life, relying on their nationwide network for items that might need to be delivered cross-country at a conference, for instance, or fast-tracked at a large scale, as needed.
Multisensory tactics FedEx Office customers have used include custom boxes containing a personal video from the college president on one occasion and direct mail that included cookies from the dining hall. At one school, FedEx Office worked with the coaching staff to create and install a 70-foot-long wall graphic featuring student-athletes in motion, aiming to inspire students entering the gym. Wellness kits and hands-on learning tools for remote students have also been past hits.
“Our higher education customers are finding that sensorial experiences are important because one of the drivers for students choosing a school is having consistent, memorable experiences with the school community,” she explained. “Showing the connection between academics and student life and giving students and their parents a sense of belonging and identity alignment with the school can make all the difference in their decision to enroll,” she added.
Kuppers noted that sustaining student engagement was much like nurturing any relationship: It takes consistent touches. Aside from welcoming new students, other touch points — such as athletic events, move-in dates, homecoming celebrations and events, graduations, finals week, new program launches, alumni events, and more — are opportunities to shape and reinforce student perceptions along their education journey.
In terms of tangible deliverables, multisensory experiences might involve tools ranging from flutter flags to branded gifts, direct mail, yard signs, wearables, and more, looking for ways to activate more than one sense at a time. Dye sublimation, a technique for enhanced colors, durability, and easy installation is an increasingly popular option for producing photogenic images on a variety of metal and fabric surfaces.
“In most cases, we have both sales and operations consultants that live and work in the local community. They work with schools to collaborate on ideas, educate them on solutions they might not know about, and help them tackle budget concerns or estimate their return on spend,” Kuppers said. In doing so, many colleges and universities have been able to magnify their team capabilities and return on investment spend, with substantial savings to boot, Kuppers added.
Standing out in a crowded space
Want to be perceived as different, more welcoming, and inclusive than competing institutions? That requires doing things differently, in more welcoming and inclusive ways.
As colleges and universities compete for a shrinking pool of students, a promising antidote to invisibility and irrelevance lies in time-tested strategies favored by viral brands: using the five senses to create experiences students will cherish, remember and favor.