• Nancy Soulliard

Building excitement with a custom accepted student gift experience

Updated: Jan 15

With the changing landscape of university student recruitment, personal attention to accepted students is key to encouraging them to join the university's welcoming community.

Recruiting the incoming class of university students has grown more challenging over the years. There are fewer students in the pool of prospects for universities which increases competition for a smaller group of potential students. With the recent switch from Messiah College to University, the logo redesign and brand refresh complete, it was a natural time to take a fresh look at ways to uniquely engage and excite students interested in Messiah University and encourage them to join our community. We wanted our students to celebrate their future attendance once they were accepted. It was time to get our key stakeholders in admissions together and kick off a project that was all about celebration and would reshape our acceptance campaign processes. We created a gift campaign to celebrate our incoming students and welcome them into our community.


The brainstorming and planning process began

About five months before we needed to begin sending out acceptances, we had an informative discussion with a vendor about processes, possibilities and our competitors. This opened the proverbial Pandora's Box of questions and ideas we needed to weed through.


How would it fit in with the budget or where would the financing come from?

What types of promotional items would students want?

How do we package it affordably yet stand out in a unique, personal way?

How would this impact processes that have been in place for years? And many more...


With so many unknowns about how to pull this together, my colleagues in admissions jumped on board and began digging into ways to prioritize making this happen this year. It was key to have a well-organized colleague in the admissions department, Leslie, to facilitate conversations with her team, budget managers and senior administration at the beginning of the design and implementation process.


Leslie and the admissions team began working out logistics, gift items and funding. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that rather than one acceptance gift, we were funded for our prospective students to receive three gifts:

  1. At acceptance

  2. Once the deposit was paid to secure their enrollment

  3. At the beginning of the summer before the student's enrollment to continue the excitement surrounding college attendance

So far, we've completed the design and implementation of the first two for accepted students and deposited students.


Logistics

Since package design and gift shipping was a new venture for us, we had to nail down the theme, promotional items, then box size, cost, style, shipping logistics and review vendors to produce all of the components . Personalization at the right time in the communication flow is key. Since we want our prospective students to feel like they are joining a community where they will belong and be known, some part of this gift needed to be personalized. We decided on personalizing a card within the gift rather than the box itself to simplify the cost, shipping and production processes.


The theme we established was: “We’re head over heels to welcome you to Messiah University!” Promotional items including a winter hat and socks complimented the theme.


Once we had the box size and items established, we found a vendor who could affordably produce both a high-quality box and promotional items in a short timeframe. Once the box template was received, the promotional gifts established, the design work was about to begin.


Goals

Before the actual design work began, it was important to establish the goals of the project so we can be sure we’re on target.

Our goals for this were for our accepted students to:

  1. Build excitement about being accepted to Messiah University

  2. Share their excitement on social media through hashtags

  3. Feel the hospitality they're likely to find at Messiah and encourage a visit to see that hospitality in person

  4. Be encouraged to pay their deposit and lock in their spot for the next enrollment year


The design process

Working in 3 dimensions allowed opportunities to use our brand in unique ways. Messiah’s tagline is: At Messiah University, your life, your faith, your world and your possibilities open up. You see anew.


I created a design that connected the “open up” in our tagline to the process of opening the box. The other outside panels were perfect places to use our logo, our see anew tagline graphic and our stained glass design element. The label fit on the bottom and was surrounded by our identity line of sharpening intellect, deepening Christian faith and inspiring action.

Once the first panel is opened, the final statement in our tagline, see anew, is revealed and the text on the top inside panel says “You’re In!” The background of the inside of the box incorporated an aerial photo of campus with firework graphics to connect to the energy we wanted to convey.


The first thing the student would see upon opening was a personalized gift card that felt cohesive with the box imagery and encouraged sharing the good news on social media. The back of that card was an opportunity to inform the students about next steps in the enrollment process and encourage them to pay their deposit and visit campus soon.

Next, they'd see a card inviting them to an exclusive visit event for accepted students. The gifts of the hat and socks are packed underneath the cards.


Following up

To remind students and their families of next steps in the enrollment process, we're always following up. The plan includes a personal letter of acceptance following the box. Email reminders are sent next to be sure students pay their deposit and schedule a visit. Custom animated email banners were designed to connect to the energy of the gift box. Matching postcards and emails are also sent to encourage campus visits at our exclusive accepted student preview days


Takeaways and outcomes

Collaboration and flexibility was key to bringing this together. It truly was a team effort. As we were coming down to the wire with production and we needed to get the acceptances sent on time, we switched gears and sent acceptance letters first followed shortly by the box. This year, we’ll work out the process and communication flow. It was far more important to get it rolling and smooth out the packing and shipping process over time. As we begin tracking deposits this year versus the last few years, I’m excited to see the growth over the years at key points in the enrollment timeline.


After reviewing a broad range of vendors, our final box and promotional items were printed and manufactured by JDM Custom Impressions then packed and shipped out through our in-house printer, Messiah Press, who also prints the personalized cards and visit invitation cards.


Check out more photos of this and the matching acceptance letter and follow-up emails at behance.com/nancysoulliard


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