Taking E-mail Campaigns to the Next Level

E-mail remains one of the most effective tools to reach prospective students, but …

In our experience managing e-mail campaigns for our clients, we have discovered that there is a significant gap between run-of-the-mill e-mail communications and e-mail messaging that really stands out.

While most e-mails tend to be bland and formulaic, we’ve been able to consistently outperform industry open and click rates by ensuring that e-mail communications are fresh, attention-grabbing, and above all, personalized. Here are some tips we’ve learned along the way:

  1. Tap into the power of segmentation. To a large extent, the effectiveness of your e-mails depends on the quality of your data. When lists are monolithic and poorly segmented, the resulting e-mail communications are forced into a broad, one-size-fits-all approach that ultimately risks appealing to no one at all. However, if your institution has recipient data that can be sorted and segmented, e-mail can become specialized in powerful ways. For example, when you can separately target prospective international students, prospective domestic high school students, and potential transfer students, each audience can receive the information that is most pertinent and useful to their needs at that particular time.


  2. Personalize your messages. Have you ever received a form letter addressed to “Dear Customer?” Chances are you tossed it straight in the trash. E-mail is the same way. If a message reads like a robot blasted it out, nobody is going to want to read it. We’ve learned that simply using students’ (or parents’ ) names in our e-mail communications directly impacts open rates, so we recommend using first names in subject lines to convey at a glance that “this message is for you.” If you can further personalize messages by referencing a student’s geographical area or interests, the e-mail has an even greater chance of resonating with them.
  3. Optimize for mobile. Newsflash: Most prospective students who open your e-mail will do so on a smartphone. Our analytics show that between 50-60% of e-mail opens take place on a mobile device among student audiences—with parents not far behind. There’s no excuse for desktop-centric e-mail strategies in 2016, yet unfortunately many colleges don’t have the software or the know-how to create and send responsive e-mails. Beyond mobile-friendly HTML, there are also considerations unique to mobile inboxes that must be accounted for.
  4. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. According to MailChimp, the average open rate for education-related e-mail campaigns is only 22%. That means that nearly 80% of your recipients may never see the important messages you send them. Our team recently experimented with sending a repeat deployment to recipients that our analytics showed had never opened the original message. This tactic, combined with greater personalization, transformed a campaign that was underperforming to one that greatly exceeded expectations with a cumulative open rate above 50%.
  5. Leverage e-mail analytics. Any modern e-mail distribution system will reveal lots of useful data about your recipients beyond who opened the messages and who didn’t. Available insights typically include story clicks, e-mail client and device usage, geographic data, and individual recipient activity. Despite having all of this data at their fingerprints, most organizations rarely do anything with it beyond sending out periodic reports to internal stakeholders. One way to take advantage of analytics is to “micro target” subscribers who clicked on a particular story. For example, if a percentage of prospective students click on a story about a new academic program, why not send them a follow-up message with more information about the program and a call to apply? It’s a great way to keep the conversation going and provide relevant content.

E-mail will be a part of the recruitment toolset for the foreseeable future. If your college needs help taking your e-mail communications with prospective audiences to the next level, please contact us to arrange a consultation.