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How Print Catalogs Convince Students to Register

Nic Lyons

August 29, 2022

Do you still distribute a printed catalog of your courses? These compendiums of course offerings have long been a staple of the education industry. Of course, in the modern world, when many of your course registrations likely come through online forms, you may be wondering if it’s still worth printing and shipping a physical course catalog.

The short answer is, yes. Printed course catalogs are still valuable in the modern world. In fact, if thoughtfully designed, they’re an integral part of the course marketing and registration process. 

Before we dive into our best tips for creating and sharing high-quality printed course catalogs, let’s take a look at why print is still a powerful medium for course marketing in 2022.

Do we still need printed catalogs? 

If you need proof that print catalogs are still relevant in an age of digital courses, online learning, and web-enabled everything, look no further than the digital retail titan, Amazon. In 2019, Amazon introduced a printed toy catalog. And they’re not alone, J. Crew, Sharper Image, and Wayfair are among the many retailers that still send catalogs through the mail.

Research shows the value of physical catalogs. Harvard Business Review reported that the response rate for printed catalogs had increased 170% between 2004 and 2018. There’s even research that shows millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996, tend to be interested in catalogs

So companies offer them and customers seem to want them. The question is, why?

Three reasons print catalogs help you sell courses 

You may not usually think of them this way, but your students are customers of your program. Some of the same tactics that help Wayfair sell a new sofa, can also help you interest students in your programs. Here are three reasons retailers use print catalogs that also apply to informal learning programs.

  1. They’re tactile. Research suggests that physically touching an object helps you build stronger memories. The tactile sensation of flipping through a course catalog may stick with students longer than scrolling through an online list of courses.

  2. They minimize distractions. A potential student who visits your website is only a click away from their favorite social media platform or the latest viral YouTube video. A print catalog removes those distractions.

  3. They stick around. Unlike marketing emails that are often deleted unread, printed catalogs tend to stick around. They’re picked up with the mail, dropped on someone’s desk, or even stowed in the bathroom for perusal when the student is in a more contemplative mood. Sending out a course catalog is like putting a representative of your program into someone’s home. 

For more thoughts on why print catalogs are great, check out this somewhat tongue-in-cheek video introducing Ikea’s 2014 print catalog

How print catalogs fit into your marketing plan

You should never build your entire marketing plan around a single tactic. Print is an important part of an overall marketing mix that includes digital and social tactics. It helps round out your marketing, but it can’t be the only way you communicate with students. You need multiple communications, or touchpoints, to reach different people and keep potential students engaged. 

Just as you might send emails with the goal of bringing students to your website, you send print catalogs for the same reason. Although it’s a good idea to include a phone number and mailing address in your course catalogs, students are unlikely to register that way. 

The goal of the print catalog isn’t necessarily to drive registrations. Instead, they raise awareness of your courses and invite students to spend some time considering options. A student who is drawn in by your print catalog may then go online to learn more about your program and register. 

How to make the most of your print catalog space

Use the following tips to catch student attention and situate your catalog in your marketing plan. 

  • Use graphic design principles. Avoid creating a sea of text that students have to wade through. Break up your print listings with clear headlines, color, and eye-catching graphics. People naturally look at the largest elements on a page first and the color tends to catch their eye. Use color, images, and listing size to guide student attention through the catalog.

  • Apply the Z rule. When people view a page with several blocks of content, they tend to scan in a z pattern, first, they look from left to right along the top of the page, then they look left to right along the bottom of the page. When planning your layout, put your most valuable courses in the corners of the page, then build the rest of the listings around them. 
    Z Pattern on Blank Catalog Page

  • Write compelling course descriptions. The same high-impact course descriptions you use online can work well in print. Just remember to remove hyperlinks or other web-only formatting.

  • Include a clear call to action. Your course catalog should tell students where and how to register. Invite them to visit your website or view your online course catalog for further information. 

  • Make URLs easy to use. Make sure your registration link, and any other URLs you include, are short and easy for students to type into a web browser. You can use a link-shortening tool like, Firebase Dynamic Links (formerly, or TinyURL to simplify complex URLs

  • Try QR codes. These scannable codes allow students to directly access your website by using their cell phone or tablet to scan a printed code. That way, students don’t have to type in a URL. They’re easy to make using online QR code generator tools. Just remember that some people may not be comfortable with QR codes, so use them to supplement, not replace, URLs. 

Who should you send print catalogs to?

While you can certainly send printed course catalogs to every household in your town, that might not be the best use of your marketing budget. Depending on what kinds of courses you offer, you may want to target your mailing. 

Fortunately, mail service providers like the USPS offer targeting tools to help you reach the right students. You might choose to target recipients by zip code, age, household size, or income. 

Of course, you should always send print catalogs to current and former students. You might also want to include a button on your website that allows visitors to request a print catalog. This can be a great way to add someone to your mailing list even if they’re not quite ready to register. 

Fulfill your print promise

A printed course catalog works best when paired with a well-designed website that includes an online course catalog and an easy registration process. Your website and catalog work together with your digital and social media marketing to attract students to your programs. Make sure you have every link in this chain to maximize the results from your printed course catalogs. 

CourseStorm can help turn catalog skimmers into dedicated students. With built-in support for course catalog design and a clean and simple registration process, CourseStorm helps you create an ideal online environment to welcome students from your printed course catalog. Contact us today for details or start your free trial now.

Nic Lyons

Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.

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