By Joe Cecere, President and Chief Creative Officer


Like most parents of high school seniors, our mailbox has recently been flooded with pamphlets and brochures from colleges all over the country. Each time one of these pamphlets is delivered, the parent in me reviews them to see how compatible they might be for my son and the designer in me quickly critiques or admires them.

As the president and chief creative officer of a leading design firm with higher education clients like Washington University and University of Dubuque, I know firsthand what it takes to both attract and inform a potential customer. We tell our higher ed clients that at this point in the marketing process, they need to lead with their brand and what differentiates them amongst a sea of sameness. At the end of the day however, I know I’m not the ultimate target audience. The students are.

So, I asked (begged) my seventeen year old son, Luca, to sit down with me and share his thoughts on the branded literature he’s been receiving in droves lately. Here’s what he said:



Show, Don’t Say


I get bored reading through so many pamphlets a day, so show me what you want me to see. Photos of the campus and student life will draw me in faster than lengthy copy. BUT, I can tell when the photos are staged or fake, so show me the real thing.



Be Honest with Your Copy


I can tell when you’re trying to sound like something that you aren’t, so be authentic in what you say. Marketing jargon sounds like marketing jargon, so just tell me what you want me to know. You don’t have to sound like a hip seventeen year old to connect with a seventeen year old.



Quality Counts


I can tell right away what schools were thoughtful in their work and what schools just phoned it in. A single note on letterhead or a branded postcard just seems lazy. On the other hand, don’t try too hard to be “glossy” or polished. This doesn’t need to look like a car brochure.



Make the Info Quick and Easy


Short paragraphs, large numbers, clean charts. Don’t spend the first ten pages trying to wow me with poetic language, because at that point I’m already gone.



Show Me What’s Next


Make the next steps clear. I likely can’t get to the school to tour, so how do I get in touch with someone? If I’m interested, I will want to talk to a real human at some point.



Your Website Is Everything


If I like your brochure, I will instantly go to your website. If the site feels different from your brochure or is hard to navigate, I won’t last long. I want to get the same vibe and info from the brochure, but with more detail.

As these college brochures continue to arrive at our house, it’s comforting to me to know that my son is not worrying about COVID contingency plans, but is thinking of regular old college stuff – liking the campus, taking the right classes and finding a good fit. Eventually, I’m sure he will need to take all of that into consideration (whether he wants to or not), but right now some of the best branding and design principles are helping him find his future home. Simplicity, authenticity and visual appeal. I can’t wait to see what he decides.

Read this article on LinkedIn.