The Challenge

A top ranked university looking to rise in the consideration set.

Despite being an elite university, ranked #16 in the country, Rice University is not as well-known as other top schools, particularly outside of its home region. In an effort to change perceptions and expand into new markets, Primacy developed a new marketing strategy and creative platform to support undergraduate admission and enrollment activities. Then, just as creative juices got flowing, the COVID-19 pandemic made this challenge much more challenging.

The Insight

Rice values a culture that’s collaborative, not cut-throat.

In contrast to other elite universities, Rice offers a competitive community that thrives on an unmistakable sense of joyful exuberance. Theirs is a diverse community bursting with energy, opportunities, and creativity. We knew the platform we were developing would still resonate even if students couldn’t visit campus. We just had to find the right ways to bring it to life.

"When looking for an agency partner we knew we wanted great collaborators with strong strategic insights and unique creative perspectives, and Primacy has exceeded our expectations on all fronts. From the start they took the time to really understand our brand and audiences in order to help us build a long lasting marketing campaign. Primacy truly feels like an extension of our marketing team and through their partnership we’re able to achieve our strategic goals."

Neha Agrawal Director of Enrollment Marketing and Communications

The Research

What if the one thing our prospects had in common was how different they were?

We started with an audit of existing research, strategy and audiences, and folded the key insights into our own research process. Luckily, our in-person discovery sessions took place before the pandemic struck, and we were able to meet with current students, faculty and administrators for insights, and then implemented an online survey to collect a broader range of information and perspectives. We utilized the collective research to develop several “flexible” personas which reflected the complexity and diversity of the Rice community. Journey mapping then helped identify key moments for the personas, enabling us to focus creative energy and resources where it would make the most impact.

These personas, paired with our competitive research and insights from the Rice Enrollment and Admission team, all worked together to inform multiple creative platforms, each leveraging the differentiators of Rice University. Primacy performed creative testing in on-campus focus groups measuring things like stopping power, likability, resonance and more.  And our research showed one creative platform stood out among the others.

Rice University brainstorm session.
Walking through Rice University campus.
Rice University Brainstorm session.
Rice University brainstorm session with sticky notes.

The Idea

What if instead of an invitation, we sent a challenge?

In welcoming the next class to Rice, we aren’t just inviting them to campus, we’re inviting them to change the world. Every touch point is an opportunity to share a powerful message about the transformative, life-altering opportunities at Rice. That led us to the “What if” platform. A simple structure that is simultaneously thought-provoking, unconventional and forward-thinking. Just like Rice.

Houston Texas and Rice University.
Open Doors at Rice University.
Living in the Now at Rice University.

Smarter Experience

The pandemic sparked creative ideas rather than stifled them.

The new creative platform and personas needed to be extended to marketing assets for the Rice team to use, but with the scale of the pandemic coming clearly into view we needed to quickly pivot. Working closely with the team at Rice, we created a set of deliverables that would be flexible and effective in place of some traditionally in-person efforts.

Virtual info sessions that pack a punch for all audiences.

With info sessions now happening over Zoom, it was more important than ever that these presentations and discussions be as high impact as possible. We created an updated base presentation for the admission team at Rice to use with prospective students, reflecting the new creative platform and updated messaging that had proven effective in our creative testing. For added flexibility, we also included additional key slides and script variations to specifically address the individual needs of international prospects, first-generation and underrepresented students.

Rice University Deck.

An anthem video to pique curiosity.

To pair with info sessions and use in other enrollment and marketing assets, Primacy created a new anthem video to demonstrate the University’s values and differentiators. Designed to generate excitement for the right-fit student, the video focuses on their core philosophy within the context of the new creative platform, showcasing the possibilities that open up to students of Rice University.

Rice University What If Campaign

An updated viewbook to reflect what makes Rice unique.

We knew that part of what makes Rice unique is its culture around collaboration, opportunity, and community. The first impression piece, or viewbook, was completely redesigned to incorporate this differentiator and bring it to life in the context of an elite education.

Rice University viewbook.

Admissions and Financial Aid website redesigns.

Even in a regular year, the admissions and financial aid websites are critical parts of the prospective student journey, and 2020 is no different. Primacy redesigned these websites, leveraging a smarter user experience that focuses on the prospective student persona and the key tasks they seek to accomplish, incorporating the new creative platform, and updated messaging throughout.

Rice University website on different devices.

A seamless experience.

To ensure a seamless digital experience in communicating with prospective Rice students, Primacy created new content for email marketing drip sequences to reflect the new creative platform and messaging. Built in the Slate CRM, Primacy made recommendations for email targeting, cadence, and content for various email segments including targeted prospective students and those already in the consideration cycle.

Rice University email template.

Generating excitement for accepted students.

Getting accepted into Rice University is a life altering moment, but in 2020, visiting campus wasn’t an option. So rather than your standard admission letter, we brought the Rice experience to life through a high impact acceptance video.

Rice University Accepted campaign

A virtual campus tour to bring the Rice campus to life.

Visiting campus is a critical part of the college decisions process, and particularly when making final decisions. Rice knew that bringing admitted students onto campus could prove to be problematic during the pandemic and wanted to find a unique way to bring the Rice undergraduate visit experience to life, virtually to address pandemic related travel challenges.

The Rice Virtual Experience provides prospective students and parents with the opportunity to explore an illustrated version of campus, take one of many featured tours, search the map and engage with content specific to the locations of interest. Including custom illustrations, interactive elements and a few Easter-eggs throughout, the virtual experience became another way for prospective students to connect with the Rice on-campus culture and experience. Developed in Drupal and using Primacy’s ZenSource code base, the experience was built to allow authors to control all of the interactivity throughout the map experience.

Rice University campus map.

The Outcome

A partnership, and enrollment effort, strengthened by disruption.

Just as Primacy and Rice were finalizing the strategy and creative platform for a new enrollment season, the pandemic struck. Instead of falling prey to knee-jerk reactions, a close collaboration between Rice and Primacy was formed, ensuring that the strategic foundation of the approach would remain in-tact, but allow for flexibility, and responsiveness to change. Rice met their objectives both in terms of student enrollment, and changing perceptions—moving Rice further into the consideration set for elite college and university prospects nationwide. In 2020, Rice and Primacy presented together at the AMA Higher Education Conference on Staying Strategic During a Pandemic: Enrolling the Rice University Class of 2024 and Beyond. Our ongoing work includes strategy, enrollment marketing, creative services, and more.