Published on 2013/01/14

Marketing CE | Lose a Pen, Gain a Student
One tried-and-tested technique in marketing continuing education is strategically leaving branded pens in areas and businesses frequented by your school’s target student population.

Each workday I “lose” about three pens, and even more on the weekends. However, I rarely lose any when I’m traveling more than 120 miles from work. There’s method to my madness, though; I’m not just absent-minded.

The pens are lost as a marketing tool. I “lose” them at bank teller windows, retail store counters, gym front desks, libraries, coffee shops, grocery store checkout lines, sit-down restaurants (where some servers have to provide their own pens) and, of course, within my clients’ office parks.

The pens I lose are decent pens — they’re not exactly Mont Blanc quality, but these are no 19- cent throwaway pens. They are decent Bic pens with a window in the barrel that displays rotating messages each time you click the pen. I’ve found these pens to be effective marketing tools, as the window lists our programs by title, and the pens are branded with our phone number, website address and our logo and school name.

As our noncredit programs are only offered face-to-face and mainly on-campus, I’ve limited my “losses” to our geographic region, where our target market frequents. I’ve also put collections of our pens at our front desk and reception areas on campus and in our classrooms and student union offices.  I often take pens to job fairs and other events in the community. For such a seemingly simple and low-cost item, the results have been interesting.

On the class completion survey/feedback form, a question towards the end reads: “How did you hear about us?” This standard question most continuing education professionals use in their enrollment or feedback forms garners all types of responses.

However, my favorite so far has been: “A customer (at my restaurant) said he had his own pen to sign the credit card receipt form, and then insisted I keep the pen and go back to school. So here I am, and that pen still works!”

If you decide to start leaving pens behind, here are a few tips:

  • Use a quality pen that writes well and keeps the logo from being scratched off. Test the sample pens at home in cold and hot weather and over a few weeks.
  • Don’t dump a pile of pens at one time on a client; just one sends a “special” message. Offer your pens to community groups that request donations if their mission/audience aligns with your marketing needs.
  • Focus your “losses” in an area your target market frequents, such as the grocery store, gym, library, coffee shops and others.
  • Order pens in bulk. I order anywhere from a minimum of 5,000 up to a pallet (30K+). Just two student enrollments will pay for three years of pens!
  • Include your phone number/website address, along with a list of a few of your programs. The window option we use on our pens allows up to six lines of text.

A pen giveaway is an age-old marketing technique and it continues to help enroll students because of its visual presence around the community.

Marketing CE is an ongoing series where John DeLalla will discuss various strategies, both successful and unsuccessful, that have been implemented to creatively market continuing education.

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Readers Comments

John Davis 2013/01/14 at 6:24 am

You’ve reminded us not to overthink it. In today’s culture, we have a misconception that we need attention-grabbing tactics – I might even call them stunts – to attract people to our institutions. However, you’ve shown that a simple pen can be a very practical and cost-effective marketing tool.

I would have liked for this article to have focused a bit more on the results of using branded pens. Perhaps others who have tried this tactic can share in the comments whether you found it to be effective for reaching your target audience.

Rhonda White 2013/01/14 at 8:14 pm

I love your story about the person who came to your school because he or she had received a pen from a customer. It goes to show the potential reach of pens as a marketing technique. In this case, you ended up with an unsolicited “champion” for your school. A great idea I will certainly share with my team. I look forward to your next piece.

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