In a state saturated with higher education options and a long-standing perception of community college as a “fallback” option, the Los Rios Community College District (LRCCD) faced a perception and student recruitment and persistence challenge. How do you position a community college district as the preferred educational choice for its region? You have the students make the case.
“The Los Rios Community College District has worked with 3fold Communications to support a variety of marketing and communications efforts since December 2013…In a wide range of projects and endeavors, 3fold has consistently added value to our marketing and communications efforts and has become an integral partner for the Los Rios Community College District. Without reservation, I would recommend 3fold Communications for any organization.”
LRCCD needed a long-term awareness strategy focused on building the District’s brand as a premier college choice for prospective students that actively contributed to their success for the future. Additionally, this strategy needed to give the District a sustainable platform to communicate its immediate and long-term positive impact on the region’s residents and about its role in building a pipeline of workers for area businesses.
3fold worked with the four colleges making up the District—American River College, Cosumnes River College, Folsom Lake College, and Sacramento City College. With the help of their teams, we were able to identify and recruit real students from each school’s priority programs, giving an authentic viewpoint about the benefits and opportunities their specific community college created for their lives.
We were then able to build a multimedia, multilingual bank of student stories and custom photography, from which we crafted a regional marketing campaign specifically designed for LRCCD’s region called “Smart move.” (or “Buena decisión” for Spanish-speaking audiences).
Based on extensive research, interviews, and surveys with students, faculty, staff, and community leaders, we identified the best way to showcase LRCCD’s programs was by having real students and alumni tell their own stories.
For this campaign, authenticity was paramount to ensuring student stories showcased relatable obstacles that many students face—and how they were overcome. Additionally, many of the stories naturally demonstrated the role LRCCD played in its students’ academic and life achievements, positioning LRCCD as a major contributor to these students’ subsequent success, their “Smart move.”
The idea behind this messaging was about more than positioning LRCCD as the best choice for prospective students. It was about spotlighting the students themselves—their personal journeys and life challenges that led them to choosing LRCCD. It was about them making their “Smart moves,” a celebration of LRCCD’s students’ dedication and tenacity to creating the lives they wanted on their terms.
This approach created a real connection for potential students, seeing themselves and their own pathways reflected in the stories of their peers. Our plan included robust storytelling components, from featuring diverse audiences and stories, to delivering those stories through mobile-friendly and content-driven formats. This ensured we reached target audiences in their preferred environments, using messages that applied directly to them, and inspired clear actions.
Additionally, in order to drive consideration and increase enrollment for programs, all materials, advertising, and messaging were designed to feel true and be relevant to the audiences we were trying to reach. We not only had to show how the programs offered met their needs, but also how these institutions nurtured their students’ future prospects by developing deep connections with employers and leadership within their communities and regions.
3fold interviewed students from each Los Rios campus, creating assets and marketing materials to be used for awareness, enrollment, and persistence campaigns. Ads featured students from across the Sacramento region with varying backgrounds, demographics, achievements, and ambitions, demonstrating why attending a LRCCD college was their “Smart move.”
A landing page was developed to house the full stories featured in shorter-form marketing. We needed a place where the stories could become bigger than the campaign so students, and other visitors to the site, could be inspired by their neighbors, current and former classmates, and alumni community members.
3fold and LRCCD launched the “Smart move” campaign in 2017 and have been evolving it since.
In a second phase of the campaign, we expanded messaging to attract those looking to earn a specialized degree or certificate in skilled trades, individuals who wanted to pivot and make career changes, and other college graduates seeking retraining opportunities. We also evolved the “Smart move” branding to include a career education subset — “Smart move, your way.”
By highlighting real stories from real students at real community colleges, we helped LRCCD claim a position as a community-focused leader and a direct-to-career pathway in the region, as well as created new connections that resonated with current and prospective students.
Not only did the campaign generate good campaign performance results, but it also led to more students sharing their stories, creating increasingly interesting content that continued to connect with audiences well beyond the initial campaign timeline.
The success of this campaign also established a foundation for evolving the messaging for new audiences and additional goals. In particular, this has created new awareness among prospective foundation funders and future employers of alumni.