The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 5 · 1 year ago

Enrollment Marketing: How to Leverage a Mascot Program


Butler University has a unique target audience for one of their marketing campaigns — the pets of prospective students.

Kristi Lafree, Director of Enrollment Marketing at Butler University, joins the podcast to talk about how the marketing team is finding innovative ways to use Blue, Butler’s very own 65-lb English Bulldog mascot, to drive enrollment and awareness, including sending personalized direct mail to cats and dogs.

She also talks about:

- A two-fold approach for marketing to parents

- The importance of personalization within student recruitment

- How Gen Z is approaching decision-making

Have any questions for Kristi?

- Email her at

- Find her on Twitter @kristilafree

Know of a higher education marketing change agent you’d like to hear on the show? Does your university have an interesting story to be featured?

Connect with Bart Caylor or Troy Singer. If you’re not on LinkedIn, check out Caylor Solutions or Think Patented.

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

You were listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don't have relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to episode five of the Higher Ed Marketer podcast. I'm troy singer, with my partnering creation, the Cohost, Bart Taylor. Hello, Bart, Hey, troy, how are you today? It's going well with me. We're like excited to to have this conversation today. I'm excited and I just want to remind you, in case you've forgotten and let everyone else know, that our one year anniversaries coming up from the time that we first met and started working together. I did not know that will happy anniversary, Troy. Happy Anniversary to you too, and yes, I'm the one in this dynamic duo that remembered. So I don't know if that's a great segue, but please tell us about today's guest, since I now know that there is a personal connection for you. Yeah, so Christy lafree is the director of enrollment marketing at Butler University and she and I met several years ago. I have a student at Butler, my my oldest son, Benjamin, and is a junior studying journalism, photo journalism, at Butler University, and so there's been some some aspects of this conversation that impacted me both as a marketer, a professional hired marketer, as well as just a parent and how I receive that marketing. So it'll be a good conversation. It will be so without further ado. Let's bring Christian. We are so looking forward to our conversation with Christy Laffree, director of enrollment marketing at Butler University, to the Higher Ed Marketing podcasts which, if I bet anything, there might be some subjects around dynamic dogs and dynamic cats today. Hello, Christy, Hi try. Thank you both for having me here. I appreciate it and yes, I do have some dog and cat stories to share and I want to make sure we get into them at the appropriate time. But if you would tell us about your role at Butler, sure, I'm happy to so. Like you said, I am director of enrollment marketing at Butler University in Indianapolis. I have been a part of the Butler community for almost eight years now. I actually began a Butler in the opposite admission. My team and I have since transition to these central marketing communications office, but we also operate in really close partnership with our partners and enrollment management. So in many ways we're a part of both teams and we found that that partnership is is very successful for us. My primary role is to oversee the develop of marketing strategies for perspective students at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and our approach is really full funnel. So we handle everything from student search efforts to application generation, to yield to melt prevention campaigns. The funnel goes on and on and on. Right as we're, as we're all aware, and like most enrollment marketing teams are, we're really full service. So we handle everything from direct mail and publications to crm and email marketing strategy to web and digital to social, etc. Etc. Etc. And really our primary effort is to make sure that what we are doing on the marketing side and what we're putting in front of prospective students is really complementing what admission is doing on the recruitment side of the house. So we are always trying to making sure that what we're doing is in sync and helping us meet our enrollment goals. And being in the central marketing office gives us the added Ben a set of being really close and really involved with institutional brand efforts. So there's some terrific synergy there as well. That's great, Christie. Appreciate you kind of doing that introduction and I think you and I met probably...

...three years ago, good when I was on campus and I had been working with Butler over the over the years on different projects, but I think some of the work that that the reason I got introduced to you, as I was commenting with one of my contacts about just the the personal aspect of being a parent of a student who decided to attend Butler and so your work personally affect to my family and so I got a chance to introduce you, know, be introduced to you and talk a little bit about that. So tell me a little bit more about what went into the the parent flow of the calm flow strategy that that kind of affected me and my wife in how we helped our son navigate his college choices. I'm just so the audience knows, and full transparency. He's a junior about the university studying journalism and loves it, and just about to say he's real happy, isn't he's really happy. So I got to put that plug in. So, but I do know that a lot of the ways that you guys communicated directly with parents and with me and my wife made a difference. So tell me a little bit about you know what that strategy was and how that played out and and why you saw that as a need. Sure, happy to so. Prospective students are, of course, our primary audience, but we have spent a lot of time in the last few years really thinking about and developing strategies for our secondary audiences, other people who are involved in the college search and the decisionmaking process and of course, like in your case, Bart, that that most often includes parents. So our goal with how we engage with parents is really twofold. First, we always aim to keep parents aware of their students admission process, aware of where they're at in their application process, upcoming downline, reminders, next steps, all of that kind of transactional stuff. We know that parents are often the ones reminding their kids about upcoming deadlines and getting your transcripts in and all that good stuff. So this is a pretty easy strategy for us to execute. We just include parents in the majority of our transactional communications, are oftentimes on the CC line, and it's it's really simple and I wish it maybe was a bit more strategic than that, but we have just found that looping them in and keeping them in the know has proven to be really, really helpful and I know a lot of parents just appreciate having that ability to get reminders, etc. At the same time as their students. I was gonna say that was so important to us. So yeah, good. But in addition to that, we also know that parents are often deeply involved in the college choice and in the decision making process. So we know that as marketers, we need to be spending just as much time promoting our institution and sharing what makes Butler a special place with parents as we do with their students, and we do that in a few different ways. We really have kind of a blend of an and or an or approach, I would say. In many of our campaigns we will send communications to both students and their parents. You know, anytime we are working on, you know, our our view book series or a new email campaign or a website, we make sure that we are keeping all audiences in mind when we do that piece. We assume mom or dad or grandma, our GRANDPA are likely the ones getting the mail. I'm not sure that's as accurate now in the in the e learning covid era, but prior to that, you know, we knew that they were often the first ones seeing seeing information from us, and we again just really try to keep all audiences in mind as we're working on those pieces. As we go further down in our enrollment funnel, that's where we start at times segmenting. So this is where we get into kind of the or part of our approach. So there may be times where we send different different campaigns and different materials to parents versus students. Parents, of course, are curious about the return on investment of a Butler degree and how their student will be prepared post college, but students may want more information about what it's like to live on campus or ability to participate in quizzes and polls and things along that along that nature. So we do at times kind of divide and create those different paths. I think that's really interesting and even like I will...

...testify to the fact that, yes, parents are the ones seeing the email, because so few colleges were including us on the comflow. Mean Butler, out of this seven colleges is you applied to, Butler, was the only one that was actually including us on any confluence. So naturally we were looking at our email every day as professionals. We'd bring it up in the evening say hey, did you see the visit day? Did you see this coming up the transactional as well as just having a good sense of what was going on. And so I can certainly say that that was that was a very effective campaign. But I think one thing I wanted to just kind of point out and and mention, and you can respond to this, but I think that you can only do what you can with the data that you can collect, and so we've done some campaigns for different different schools. We're we've done, you know, some lead generation type things and we might have purchased lists or they might just be coming in from the web, but will often ask, as an optional question, please include your parents email address. I've always, always, always been shocked at how many students will actually just volunteer that pretty quickly, but you can't do that kind of parent communication without having their email. And so I mean, would you agree that you've got to ask for those things if you're going to actually try to do something? Absolutely yes, and that's a really good point. You know that that parent strategy I just talked about is only as effective as the data that we have in our system and yield. You know, of course the application is that primary data collection point where you do get a lot of that. So we yield. It does become a bit easier, but that focus has been there for us, you know, even just in the last twelve months, two years, is how do we begin getting more parent contact information or earlier in the funnel, and we've tried a couple different approaches with that, but we're really thoughtful with everything from our inquiry forms to visit registrations. What seems to be fairly common is we have seen that students will most often volunteer one parents contact information, which for us, of course, one is better than nothing. But we've also begun thinking about, you know, if we have mom's email or dad's email, how do we provide then the opportunity to add another parent or another family member to the mix as well. So definitely an important piece to consider as you do more in the parent space. Christy, I have to deliver on my promise from the beginning of our interview. Please tell us about blue, because many of our listeners may not be familiar with him. Yes, yes, so Butler blue, the fourth, or who we call blue for short, is our university's live mascot. He is a sixty five pound English bulldog. He is the only co worker whose weight I know and I have permission to share externally. He he is a huge part of what we do at Butler. So our live mascot program at Butler has a really rich tradition. Blue is the fourth Butler blue dog that we've had. He was actually introduced around this time last year as a little tiny puppy and our former mascot, Butler blue, the third, who I know many indie folks are are familiar with. We called him TRIPP, has since retired, but blue, he lives on campus with a member of our marketing team. Before covid he came to the same office I did every day. And Butler are marketing and our admission teams or house in the same building, which is super, super convenient. Blue has a huge following on social media, as you know, especially from the athletics crowd, but really his reaches nationwide these days and the mask at we have found is often the first thing people do know about Butler or when I share where I work with someone, that's immediately the first thing they ask questions about. So Blues Great, huge, huge part of what we do and a huge part of our success. That's great, I think. I think blue is a great Asst. I mean, living here in Indianapolis, obviously I've been aware of him, but I think he kind of made national attention obviously when he came on the scene in the two thousand and ten and two thousand and eleven, kind of that Cinderella story where Butler made it to the final four men's basketball in the NCAA tournament. So but he's so much more than just a sports mascot. I mean, ill tell us how he helps out with some enrollment. Definitely blue is is really like having another fee on our enrollment marketing team. I mean he just heat his reach and his impact with prospective students just continues to grow and we continue to...

...think of new ways to integrate him into what we're doing with admission and with prospective students. We began really doing that about five or six years ago. We decided to send I believe it was trip at the time. We sent trip to the home of a prospective applicant and he surprised that student with their letter of admission right on their doorstep, kind of like a publisher clearinghouse style delivery almost, and we've continued that effort ever since. We call that are Butler bound campaign. We have delivered now, I believe, almost four hundred offers of admission that way over the last five to six years. Really Fun Campaign, one of my favorite things to do with Butler. We have done surprises at homes, at schools. Prior to Covid we did we did a surprise in a locker room during a high school basketball halftime. Trip came running in and surprise the student. We've gone to kids work. It's really it's a really fun effort. We do them national way too. So I think that there is kind of an assumption that most of these visits are done locally, but we've actually done visits in twenty five states now. So again, pre covid, the mascot, would often travel with our basketball team and as he went to those other markets, we use that opportunity to find applicants in the area and find students who were waiting on their news. That's great. The Mascot program social reach is huge for us to and this is where I consider myself really lucky, because in many ways it's almost like we have two institutional accounts at Butler and we know that prospective students are probably more often following blue on instagram or tick tock before they're going to follow Butler. You and and we're really okay with that. We have leaned into that and we have thought about creative ways for blue to introduce brand messaging on his platforms for that audience. The other thing that we have the gun doing more of, and Bart, if I have my math right, I'm thinking that your pets may have received this. Yes, we have be done really leveraging blue and prior to blue trip in our enrollment materials. So direct mail, sometimes we'll send email from his email address. We use the voice of blue to communicate with prospective students and the best example of that would be what what we call our pet compflow and Bart and my right that your pets were recipients. Yeah, and I have to tell you, I mean that. I just have to tell that story to everyone because I tell that story everywhere I go. But you know, my son, what we like to hear. Yeah, and and so so been was, you know, Butler was a flyer for him. He was going to do photojournalism and and applied to all the schools around the nation that were kind of top, top listed in that and we were at a college fair and he said, why, want to go talk to Butler, I want to see what they have to say. And they said yeah, we could put something together and all this and stuff. So he went ahead and implied and we were kind of in the middle, I think, of February and he had been accepted and there had been some other things going on. On a Saturday we came home and he was not there, but the rest of the family came home and there were two letters on the counter, one addressed to tigger, our dog, and want addressed the stormy, our cat, from Butler University and they were, you know, kind of note card sized and very unique. Had little sketch of things on it and we were just dying to know what was in it because it was like this is strange. Our chat and our dog never get mail. And so did you think it was a vet vet notice like hey, you got a point, they're coming up here. Yeah, and so so when when Ben got home, everyone was like Ben, there's got mail in there for tigger and storm and you've got to go look at it and all this stuff. And so so he opened it up and you know, there's a great letter from blue to our dog tigger. That was, you know, kind of a dog the dog type of conversation. You know, he was congratulating tigger for that his human had been accepted to Butler University and he was going to protect him just like he would if it was his own human and just a real kind of brother to brother. Dog The dog conversation. And the envelope also had a Bandana for the dog to wear with the but or logo on it, with blue. And then for the cat it was a little bit more tepid. It was a little bit hey, your here, your human...

...has been even accepted, but I know I'm a dog, your cat. Let's respect each other. And it was just brilliant, brilliant copywriting and just another smaller Bandanna for the cat and that was harder to get on the cat than it was the dog. But my son was just so thrilled with that his smile as he was reading it that he was just smile across his face. took the time to put put them on his cat and his dog and take pictures and I really believe, and I've told several people, that was the moment he decided to go to Butler University. I think that that was the that was the tipping point. It was it was personalized, it was something that they respected his passion, which was his pets, and they kind of, you know, you guys entered into hit that part of his world that no one else did, and so I think that was a brilliant thing and I just and I've told you before, Christy, Bravo, I think that was something that I'd love to hear. How many students that that's the tipping point, but it was just such a such a great memory for me and my family. Well, thank you. Thank you for your kind words. It's so fun hearing the other side of it because, you know, those of us on the marketing team we clean up a list and send them out and there's always a few days, will they like it, etc. Every year and no matter how many times we do it. So it's great to hear that it's as effective as we hoped it would be. And I think you told me that when you pitch that I did to your to your vice president and or whoever did, weren't sure about it. Yeah, and and I can't blame her. We had a very least. We had a very loose concept of what we wanted to do and there really wasn't a way to explain it without sounding like I was a little bit off my rocker. But she went for it and we tried it and I think this will be I hope there's no students who are awaiting awaiting this package because I want to surprise them, but I think this will be the fifth year that we've done this campaign and we call it our pet tom flow and it's exactly what it sounds like. We send direct mail to the dogs and cats of admitted students with a little piece of Butler gear and that note just reassuring them that blue is going to look after their human and have their humans back and be there for anything they may need a Butler and there's so many things about this campaign that I love. You know, of course everyone loves getting Butler gear and the personalization factor is really fun. But I think that I think the piece that makes it most successful is that message, the message that we're kind of subtly sending in that piece that we've got their back and they're going to find a family, a Butler and that community that the high schoolers are often looking for R and we have just found that that really resonates with the Butler way and resonates with who we are as an institution. The real gold in this campaign too, I think, is the awareness piece. So the yield part of it great, fantastic. Be Awareness those is the piece that's a little bit harder to measure, but we have found is that for every family who receives the piece, they tell their friends, their neighbors, their co workers, etc. and they're often posting to their own social accounts. So that piece we've been really pleased with to just knowing that were able to get the Butler brand in front of a whole bunch of eyeballs. But yeah, the first time I pitched it rightfully. So there were some questions about what do you want to do and how are we going to do that? But we have a lot of fun with it and it's by far one of our favorite, our favorite campaigns. To execute it sounds wonderful and obviously it takes some thinking and planning around data to pull that off. Could you talk about your thoughts on the of the importance of personalization within student recruitment? Sure, sure, so we do. We do quite a bit of what I would call data mining and Butler and data collection and looking at data that we have available to us at our fingertips, and we have both an admission and an Ike and marketing. We have a terrific slight team, a terrific C RM team and a lot of really talented people that are willing to think outside of the box and this is a great example of that. We often, I think, challenge ourselves to to work backwards at times. So we will spend time looking at our applications, at our forms, probably more time than some of... partners and I wish we did. But what we spend time thinking about the data that we already do have and we think backwards about how could we be using this creatively. Are Their opportunity these here and what we're doing on the marketing side to further personalize things and for data that we don't have, that that we think would be valuable. We've started just asking it and students will tell you they will, I will. They're eager to tell you things about themselves that you can use that information to deliver them content that they're looking for and content that they're most interested in. So that's something I honestly continue to be surprised with. Is, like you said, Bart, how eager they are to tell you things about themselves to enshare their story. Yeah, I think that's so true and I think the whole idea of just that they want to be known and they want to be they want personal relationships. I mean a lot of what I've read about generation Z is they desire those close relationships. They desire of one of my son's, you know, had a chance to see some of his friends a couple weeks ago and kind of a covid bubble type of thing, and and the next day he was on social media all day and it's like, well, it's because he had that feeling that I am missing this, I want this or and so I think that personalization allows a college or university who might be unpersonal to them to start to be personal and get into their world a little bit. So is that kind of what you think? Where do you think all that's going with generation Z and how do you think that affects their decisionmaking? Yeah, that's a great question. I think what we're doing on the parent communication side in many ways is already a bit of a delicate balance. We're very careful. We never want to take the student out of the driver's seat. We never want to make students feel like we're going around them to mom or dad or were communicating certain things that they're parents that were not also communicating to them. And what we know about Gen z? One of the things we know is that they tend to be fairly independent, even more independent than the generation before them, millennials, and as a millennial myself, I feel like I'm allowed to knock on us a little bit that. You know, of course we have that reputation for being a little bit codependent on parents and you know, helicopter parents and all that stuff. So with Gen Z it's tough to say that. I think we may need to really revisit you know, even in a few years, how we are communicating with parents to make sure that we are respecting a student's decisionmaking power and just thinking about how that may come across to students who do wish to be fully in charge of their of their future. So we will see where things go. Christ the one of our biggest goals is to share and to explore insights and ideas that other marketers can glean, that can apply and can learn from, and I certainly think that you've delivered today. So thank you very much. But I do want to mention that in our conversation preparing for today you had mentioned the side hustle that you're engage with. So if you would, if you could tell us about that and how it helps you keep sharp. Sure. So, my dad and I we kind of accidentally started a business a few years ago and he had recently retired and he had some recycled Palette Wood and his garage. I couldn't tell you where he got it from, and me, being the needy daughter, said Hey, could you cut that into the shape of Indiana for me? You know that would look so cool in my house, and he did and rather than hanging it up in my house. I decided to see if I could sell it online, which I did very quickly, and since then we have started making dozens of varieties of these signs and most states even dog breaths. We do a lot of dog signs for people and we've been we've been selling them online. So when I'm not doing marketing for Butler during business hours, I'm doing marketing for kind of our homegrown gig on the side, learning how to use Etsy, learning what digital marketing looks like in that on my retail space. So oftentimes occasionally digging splinters out of my hands, a little bit less glamorous than what you may think, but yeah, it does. It does help us, or helps me stay sharp on the job as well. Thank you very much and before we leave, we delivered on the dog we need to deliver on the cat information. Yes, yes, pretty much everybody...

...on my team at Butler are huge dog people. Of course, you kind of have to be to work in Butler. There are a few of us who are cat lovers and I am probably the most I'm embarrassed to be sitting this on a podcast, but I am by far the most like Cat lady on our team and so far. I loved hearing that you like the cat piece because that was the copywriting that I said I've got this, and Michael Calton Mark, who was really at the beginning of our mascot program, wrote the dog side. So you know, we want to make sure that all pets, all pets, have that opportunity for engagement and this was a really fun way to make that happen. That is wonderful and again I appreciate your time and appreciate all the valuable information that you've shared. Is someone has a question, we're just wanted to connect with you. How would the best way for them to do that be? Emails probably the best way to get in touch with me and I'm happy to take questions. My email address is k La free las re at Butler dot eed you. I'm not nearly as active as I probably should be on twitter, but you can also find me there at Christy lafree perfect. Thanks again, Christy, into everyone else, all of our listeners. The High Ed Marketer podcast is sponsored by Taylor solutions and education, marketing and branding agency and by thin, patented, a marketing, execution, printing and mailing provider of higher it solutions on behalf of my cohost, barred Taylor, I'm troy singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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