You open your mailbox. You pull out the usual coupons, advertisements, and bills—nothing new, interesting or eye-catching. The next day, your mail includes a brochure from your alma mater containing your name, the number of months and years since your college graduation and the top ten things that occurred in your graduation year. You are probably much more likely to take a second look.
Even before Clemson University started the Creative Inquiry program, Dr. John Leininger in the Department of Graphic Communications, recognized the importance of exposing students to the kinds of tasks they would encounter upon graduating from Clemson. To do so, he created an independent study that allowed undergraduate and graduate students to create graphic design marketing projects and then analyze variable data on the impact of the projects.
Leininger elaborates on the concept of variable data by pointing to the personalization of past projects. He describes the data as taking a piece of printed work and merging it with a database in the attempt to trigger new information. Past projects have used databases to tailor alumni communications to the alumni themselves, such as including information specific to a certain graduating class.
In recent years, Leininger’s independent study has developed into a Creative Inquiry in graphic communications with variable data. This Creative Inquiry maintains the original focus on real-world experience while also helping the Clemson community.
“In almost every research project we do, we are working with a group on campus or in the local community on a live project that has value and can improve their marketing efforts,” Leininger said.
The team is currently working on a project for the Clemson University Alumni Association by first designing different types of mailer packaging. They are planning to collect response data and analyze how many alumni open each of the different mailed packages. By introducing incentives, the team hopes to encourage more alumni to open the mailing while also gathering more accurate data about who opens it by tracking responses to the incentives. For example, by opening one of the envelopes in the mailing, alumni can enter an online drawing to win Clemson memorabilia, such as an autographed football from Dabo Swinney or a framed Clemson print.
This endeavor is receiving support from four different business and campus organizations. Jubilee Brands, a printing company, is donating the printing of the envelopes; the Creative Inquiry funds are covering postage; the Alumni Office is assisting with logos, envelopes and a database of recent alumni; and the Graphic Communication students are doing the design work and mail preparation. Thanks to the involvement of these organizations, the students will gain valuable experience as well as the opportunity to publish their results in a marketing journal next spring.
Last year, the Creative Inquiry group worked with the Alumni Office on another printed mailing project—targeting alumni from the classes of 2006-2008 to raise funds for the Senior Sidewalk Project, which engraves the names of donors onto sidewalks around campus. They used a formula to determine the years and months since graduation for each recipient and placed that information at the beginning of each brochure to catch the readers’ attention. By similarly inserting specific information throughout the brochure, the Creative Inquiry students hoped to increase the Alumni Office’s impact.
Senior graphic communications major Hollie Taylor believes this project has great value for students who want to expand the benefit they receive from their education.
“I would recommend taking this Creative Inquiry because not only do you gain experience with mail, you learn more about planning a project from start to finish and setting a timeline to get tasks accomplished,” she said. Senior Sarah Grosse, also a graphic communications major, also values being able to work on a project outside the classroom.
“I think the most valuable part of taking the class is that it has real world applications,” she said. “We are getting to work on a project that is actually going to be sent out to people, rather than just doing a project in class.”
A project that began as an independent study has now blossomed into something much larger. With the help of variable data and the students’ hard work, this Creative Inquiry is now an ongoing project that produces work of real value and provides a professional experience for students before they enter the work force.