Four ways to rethink the viewbook.

April 28, 2016  

In higher education, the basic content and function of the undergraduate viewbook haven’t changed in decades. It’s timeless. Or maybe it’s just outdated.

At Ologie, we think it’s time to take a long, hard look at the college viewbook. Because truth be told, fewer and fewer students are. Here are four places to start.

Never send a viewbook to do a website’s job.

Print isn’t dead, but it’s no longer our primary source for information. Nobody grabs an encyclopedia to write a research paper anymore. Likewise, today’s prospective students aren’t using your viewbook like they used to—not when they can Google your majors, housing options, student clubs, and cafeteria menu, all before you can say “table of contents.”

So reimagine your viewbook as a window into the culture, people, and nuances that make your institution unique. Trade in the multiple lists for easy-to-digest content that will intrigue your prospects: Let them hear from your current students. Pique their interest with a BuzzFeed-style quiz. Whatever you do, leave them wanting more. And where can they find more? Your easy-to-update website. 

Judge your book by its cover.

Your typical high school junior or senior receives about three trash cans’ worth of college materials every year. (We’ve actually tracked this.) And the vast majority of viewbooks they receive have one of three cover images: a group of students laughing, a shot of campus in the fall, or a group of students laughing on campus in the fall. Enough already.

Your viewbook cover is one of the easiest and most powerful places to shake things up. Try a unique photo with an unusual cropping. Go photo free with a simple graphic or pattern. See what you can do with type alone. Explore subtle printing techniques like varnishes and embossing. The point is to stand out amid the sea of orange leaves and perfect smiles. And if the administration balks—well, there’s plenty of room for those photos inside.

Turn the page on format.

Let us guess: Your viewbook has 24 to 32 pages? Saddle-stitched? Somewhere around 8 by 10 inches? We thought so. For years, the viewbook’s basic format has been determined by the standard-sized envelope it was mailed in. But in an industry full of smart and creative people, we can do better.

Our research into Gen Z-ers indicates that they’ll still reach for a printed piece, as long as it’s unique and different. Need inspiration? Look no further than who you are as an institution. If your brand’s voice is larger than life, go big with a behemoth of a publication. If your school centers on a small, tight-knit community, opt for a more intimate format. If your story has many distinct layers, you might try a loose-leaf approach. And if your institution is so unique that no normal book can do it justice, start folding comps until you discover a one-of-a-kind format. Yes, you’ll need a custom envelope. But trust us, it’ll be worth it. 

Bridge the gap between paper and pixels.

Who says print and digital have to be mutually exclusive? Your digital assets can make your marketing efforts not only easier, but more authentic. For instance, you might use photos from your students’ Instagram accounts as a break from professionally polished shots, or pull content from student blogs to give prospects a firsthand account of life on campus.

But to create a true merger, there are many viable digital tactics at your disposal. Think scannable images, where readers can use their smartphones to scan entire photographs and instantly connect to related information, such as student interviews or an interactive tour. And don’t dismiss text messaging or social media hashtags, which can be highly effective ways to connect with potential students.

 

In short, if you want to recruit today’s students, stop using yesterday’s marketing mind-set. (Bonus tip: Avoid the recurring themes, images, and phrases that we recently compiled to create Admissions Lingo Bingo.) After all, it’s difficult to convince prospects that your institution is cutting-edge if your approach to viewbooks is older than they are.