New Twist: Integrating Transit Ads and E-mail

After school drop-off on a recent morning, Karen was walking with one of her mom friends, Jennifer Praeger, in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. She was talking about our back-to-school series on email to the educational market.

Jennifer chimed in with a case study of her own — about how Metropolitan College of New York (MCNY), where she’s the Web editor, uses a unique combination of subway/bus ads and email to attract attention and create a dialogue with prospective students.

While not a B2B story, this one was too good to pass up. We think there’s a lot B2B marketers can learn about how to make print and subway ads truly interactive from this case study. So, here goes.

A Subway Presence for 40 Years

Every New Yorker who’s ridden the subways has seen ads for Audrey Cohen College, renamed Metropolitan College of New York in 2002.

When the name change became effective last year, the College rolled out a new subway/bus/print/radio campaign with the theme “Transform Yourself.” It reflected how the college was transformed, and how prospective students could themselves be transformed by attending.

There’s a lot of ad competition for adult education programs in the subway. So the college created a strong, identifiable visual brand image based on testimonials. Ads feature MCNY “ambassadors,” students with amazing stories about how MCNY really made a difference in their lives.

A Dialogue Begins

Each ad features an ambassador photo, such as 2001 graduate Wilma Ann Anderson, with a variation on the headline “I did it.”

The twist: Under “I did it” is a subhead that reads, “To find out how, email me at wilma@metropolitan.edu.” If you send Wilma an email, you’ll find out how she responds — through personalized auto-replies in which she relates her MCNY experience. (Mention in the subject line you read about the school in ClickZ so they can filter you out as a prospect.)

The email includes a link to the Web site, where there are three-minute video clips of ambassadors discussing their successful MCNY experience. More specific questions are forwarded to admissions counselors who respond with more detailed, personalized information. E-mails start with a personal introduction, such as: “I know you contacted Wilma about financial aid opportunities at MCNY, and I wanted to get back to you.”

Do people actually email Wilma? You bet. As Pazit Levitan, MCNY’s director of Internet marketing and development, tells it, “People really opened up to our ambassadors. They sent personal emails such as ’Wilma, tell me how you did it!’ and, ’Did you find the MBA in media management advanced your career?’ People were really looking for one-on-one advice for their specific needs and concerns before they made a decision.”

Jennifer stresses the relevancy of this approach to the nontraditional student MCNY attracts. “So much of our population are people who haven’t been in school for a long time and have concerns about it. The fact that someone actually ’speaks’ to them about their own challenges going back to school and what they’ve been able to achieve as a result is very important.”

A Successful Lead Generation Campaign

The college received over 100 emails to the 20 ambassadors featured in the ads. While not all were feasible inquiries, many expressed a sincere interest in learning more about people featured in MCNY’s advertising. The college considers it a successful lead generation effort. As Jennifer says, “When it comes to returning to school, for most people, it’s usually a long cycle to go from initial awareness of the college to actually enrolling. So while it would be great if people saw the ad, emailed us back, and enrolled immediately, the purpose of this campaign was really to open up the dialogue.”

As the college was able to track and analyze responses easily, MCNY gained valuable insights into prospective students’ needs, and perceptions they had about the college. They learned, for example, while people were interested in the ambassador’s experience at the school, they didn’t quite “get” the school’s unique educational philosophy of “Purpose-Centered Education,” based on linking real-life work experience and study. Future ads will focus more on communicating this concept.

Once a line of communication is open with a prospective student, the college periodically sends email carefully segmented to their interests, for example, invitations to open houses in their major. MCNY is careful not to overdo it. Recipients don’t receive a barrage of general email announcements unrelated to their major. The college is careful to preserve the personal dialogue established from the very first email exchange.

How do the ambassadors feel about the campaign? Pazit says they’re delighted. Their real email addresses aren’t used to protect their privacy, and the school responds to email sent to the published address. But ambassadors are enthusiastic about being part of the campaign. “The ambassadors do it voluntarily because they really feel that their lives have been transformed by their experience with the college. When they are stopped on the street by people who recognize them from the ads, they enjoy the opportunity to share their experience at MCNY and give something back to others seeking to advance their careers.”

Keep your case studies coming! With winter holidays on the horizon, we’d love to hear about seasonal B2B campaigns. How have you overcome the challenges of sending B2B email during holiday seasons when business isn’t as top-of-mind as usual?

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