Mailed Just For You

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.

Reviving a Tradition

People often say that there is “something in these hills” — a quote from Joe Sherman’s poem that embodies the way that many cherish Clemson University.

Clemson is a place defined by traditions, both experienced as students and carried on throughout the rest of our lives. Colonel Sandy Edge, a lecturer in the Department of Management, and his Creative Inquiry team developed a project that takes a further look at one of Clemson’s most prominent traditions, prized by graduating seniors and alumni for over a century: the Clemson ring.

The project began when the Clemson Alumni Association approached the Marketing Department about involving students in the development of a new marketing strategy to revive the tradition of purchasing and wearing the Clemson ring.

“In initial discussions with the Alumni Association, we knew that the ring is very, very special,” Edge said. “Now that the Clemson Alumni Association owns, markets and has the total rights to the ring, it’s also an opportunity for revenue interests. They wanted us to go back with a totally unbiased, fresh look and give each area a fresh set of eyes. I don’t think the Alumni Association could have been more excited.”

Creative Inquiry students researched ring sales at Clemson and other universities. They also attended and analyzed Clemson’s Guarding of the Rings and Ring Ceremony held in October.
“The Alumni Association took over the ring within the last two years, and so they’re not really quite sure of what the direction is. That’s where our project fits in,” Creative Inquiry leader Carter McElveen said. “In order to create a good marketing plan, you have to look at where you’ve been. You have to look at the past so that you have an understanding of the past, so you can go forward to the future.”

After reviewing successful and unsuccessful marketing strategies for ring sales across the country and the history of ring sales at Clemson, the students met with the Alumni Association to develop an integrated marketing plan.

“Developing an integrated marketing plan that the students may have to construct once they get to the real world allows students to produce a real world product for a real world project that has definite applications,” Creative Inquiry leader Colonel Ed De Iulio, a lecturer in the Department of Management, said. “It enhances their ability to synthesize all the different pieces and parts of various courses and put them together.”

The Creative Inquiry not only produces a real world product for the Alumni Association, but also functions as a business with a class-elected CEO and designated project teams and managers. Student members of the Creative Inquiry work collaboratively to develop a marketing plan for the Clemson ring.
“It’s about something I’m so passionate about,” class CEO and junior communication studies major Morgan Burns said. “I think it makes it even more interesting and intriguing because I feel like it’s not just a Creative Inquiry that’s personal to me, but personal to my parents who are alumni, and it tangibly affects every student who comes through Clemson’s campus.”

McElveen believes that her love for her alma mater and students was what influenced her to get involved in the project.

“I couldn’t resist getting involved in something that would benefit the students by allowing them to see first-hand how to make a marketing plan and how to improve something they truly care about,” McElveen said. “To me, your ring is your lifelong connection with Clemson and it’s everything: the tradition, all your memories- everything wrapped up into one thing that is Clemson. If I can help make the ring a better part of the tradition here, I want to help do that.”

The success of the Creative Inquiry team was fueled by the students’ enthusiasm to enhance Clemson tradition.

“I’ve never been amongst a group of students who are honestly so passionate,” Burns said. “There is not one person in the class who does less work than another. There isn’t a student who isn’t excited to get dirty and get their hands wet and get excited about it.”