Thinking Hard About College Viewbook Design

07 Sep 2017

If you work in university admissions, viewbooks (aka, brochures) should be a big part of your prospect search. But how big a part should they play? And how can you know if they're effective?

Let me take those questions in reverse order. 

The "effectiveness" of a viewbook depends on your goals. Obvious, right? But having designed viewbooks and similar print collateral for colleges of all sizes, I can assure you: It's uncommon for viewbooks to be directly tied to a specific goal. Viewbooks are designed and mailed because ... well, viewbooks have always been designed and mailed. It's a tradition in university marketing and admissions.

Meanwhile, how much time and money you invest in your viewbook should also be tied to your goals. Once you've defined them, and once you've placed your viewbook neatly into your university-wide recruiting strategy, you can begin to get a sense of its role. That'll dictate whether you decide to go all-out or, instead, do something smaller and more demure. 

It's time we think hard about university viewbook design. Let's get started.

Viewbooks are emotional exclamation points

It's the digital era, baby! No duh. So where does mail even fit into a marketing strategy? There's plenty of debate about that to be had, but for now, suffice it to say: Abandon the dense, information-packed viewbook that has only recently begun to grow less popular. Today’s best viewbooks are emotional exclamation points designed to pique a student’s interest. It's about feelings, not facts.

Never send your viewbook unsolicited

Want to save money on your viewbook design? Start by cutting from the back-end of the project, not the front. Why decrease your viewbook's effectiveness by sending it to prospective students who don’t want it? Instead, review your search funnel and identify where you’re providing prospects with an opportunity to "ask for more." Make your viewbook a strategic propeller of the search funnel—i.e., send it only when a student asks for it.

Your viewbook is not your website

For better or worse, Google is your prospects' primary source of information. They'll visit your website for the the nuts-and-bolts details of your school—e.g., financial aid, majors, classes, housing, etc. Accepting this reality, fully and eagerly, frees you up to see your viewbook as a chance to convey uniqueness, to make the reader feel. Viewbook design should emphasize things like culture, environment, the "college lifestyle." It should illustrate what's actually happening on campus. And so on.

Reconsider when and where to spend

Print is not dead; it’s just expensive. Consequently, it makes sense to think economically for print needs on every-day items like handbooks and department listings. On the other hand, viewbooks have the responsibility of conveying an essence and quality of an institution and require an investment in craft and quality. That means writing crisp copy, producing original imagery, designing professionally and printing offset.

Make it integrated and trackable

Make sure your message is consistent throughout. Complement your institution’s brand promise. Provide a familiar visual experience that is compelling and intuiative. And just because it’s print doesn’t mean it can’t provide some data. Point to unique URLs, hashtags, or interactive content to enable your enrollment team to track campaign leads, opens, clickthroughs, and conversions. Remember, your college viewbook design should be a part of a larger strategy, not an island all its own. 

Ultimately, viewbooks are about attracting students who are a good fit for your institution, not just an anonymous lead. They’re optimized to support the funnel by driving emotional interest in your institution and catapulting a prospect’s ambition.

To do that means wearing a university’s heart on its sleeve—a sleeve that just happens to be a nicely printed, paper viewbook.

Gardiner Rhoderick

Creative Director

When not pushing pixels, Gardiner loves jumping into the nearest swimming hole and pretending he's in a rock band.

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