Published on 2014/02/19

Five Ways to Optimize Email Marketing for Increased Enrollment

Five Ways to Optimize Email Marketing for Increased Enrollment
Higher education marketers must be mindful of the challenges involved with developing a comprehensive email outreach plan for non-traditional students.
One of the most notable changes among education marketers is the return of high-quality email marketing. While the rise of social other emerging media caused many marketers to de-prioritize email in the marketing mix, email is in fact a channel that can consistently deliver high-quality prospects, especially with branded campaigns that are consistent with overall university messaging. While email may be easier for traditional institutions — as their prospects are enrolled in high schools and are easy to contact — it can be more challenging to connect with adult students who are highly diverse, widely spread out and difficult to track down. The best practices below are helpful both for traditional institutions as well as for non-traditional institutions, which need to overcome the challenges of connecting with adult students to succeed in the new, highly-competitive environment.

1. Relevance Rules

Targeting is key when executing an email campaign, as prospective students are more likely to engage with a program relevant to them. If you’re working with an email-marketing partner, ask if your partner has the ability to target based on your best student characteristics (geographic, demographic, psychographic) and/or lists whose members have indicated an interest in pursuing higher education (responder lists would be ideal). Be willing to test both broad and highly-targeted lists to find the sweet spot for your campaigns.

Another aspect of targeting involves careful selection of the specific programs you highlight in campaigns. I have seen some email campaigns perform well when all academic programs are represented equally while others outperform when specific programs (e.g. criminal justice or psychology) are the ‘star of the show.’ Be willing to test both approaches, as the winning strategy may vary by partner, list or relative strength of your programs.

2. Experience Matters

Email marketing gives you the opportunity to reinforce the key elements of your branding. By staying consistent with other marketing channels, consumers have a seamless experience no matter where they see your brand — ultimately creating a more impactful impression. For example, if you’re running a TV spot in a particular market, try to schedule an email drop to coincide both geographically and thematically with the content of your campaign. By doing so, you’re more likely to see increased results from the combined activities.

3. Test, Test, Test

While you’re in the initial test phase, be prepared to pay more out of the gate to access the best inventory of email lists, and pull away later if needed. Intuitively, as direct marketers, we prefer to pay once a medium is proven. In the email space, there is a lot of competition and the most successful mailers have options both inside and outside of the higher education sector. If you initiate a test, be willing to pay a premium (for a reasonable test budget) to get mailers excited by your offer. They will send your email to their best data sets and you will be able to capture their attention. If, after some optimization, the results aren’t there, you’ve given it your best effort and you can move to other tests.

Another aspect of testing involves the use of creatives — and lots of it. Prepare lots of creatives for testing in advance, to avoid delays. Many mailers do extensive testing to find the formula that works and generates the highest-quality responses. If a single subject line or creative doesn’t work, it might take time to revamp a campaign. It is best to have several subject lines and creatives to test out of the gate. You gather more learning and are able to refine your approach in a more rapid fashion.

4. Be Fully Responsive, Not Just Mobile Optimized

With just about everyone checking email from a mobile device, it’s imperative to have your campaigns optimized for mobile. Nothing is more bothersome than not being able to read an email correctly on your phone or tablet. I have seen performance improvements of more than 40 percent by simply building email and landing pages in responsive design, which is significant when more than 60 percent of your traffic is likely to be mobile. With this in mind, I think building a responsive email template and landing page is one of the first steps needed when thinking about email marketing for your institution.

5. Retarget Based on Response

There are two basic ways to approach email marketing; either a “one shot” approach or a retargeted approach based on responsiveness (i.e. clicks). A retargeted approach is much more important when it comes to driving higher quality, because consumers are getting offers targeted to them. For example, if you mail a general campaign about your university and a responder clicks on the link for psychology programs, a smart strategy would be to send a follow up email with more information regarding the types of programs within the psychology major that are most unique and effective for students. Work with your marketing partner to understand how they approach ‘retargeting’ and whether a drip campaign makes sense for your efforts.

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Readers Comments

James Branden 2014/02/19 at 11:48 am

I find that a lot of people don’t understand how to properly convert a site for a mobile experience. They try to include all of the features of their main site (i.e. flash), which may fail to load on a mobile device or otherwise slow the system down. In surveys of the mobile experience, users routinely indicate that function and ease of use trump aesthetics.

Daniele Thomas 2014/02/19 at 4:53 pm

The exciting, yet challenging, aspect of digital marketing is that you never really know what will take off. We don’t yet have a model for how to predict what goes “viral” online. Thus, I agree with Sommer about the need to have a “bank” of creatives to draw from when you test your marketing strategies. This article, I feel, is really about flexibility, and the institution being able to adapt its strategy based on user/viewer response.

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