Step away from the computer: When NOT to send a marketing email

By Karlyn Morissette - Tue, Apr 7, 2009-->

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Email, General, Marketing

Every time you send a message, you are telling your users how much you value them, because you’re asking them to put their time and energy into what you have to say.  Yet all too often, colleges blast out emails without putting half a thought into it and then wonder why their users don’t respond.  I’m not talking about fiasco’s like UC San Diego - that was a reasonably well-planned email (as far as I can tell) that got the wrong mailing list attached to it, a mistake that can happen to anyone who’s pressed for time and trying to get a message out the door.  Instead, I’m talking about messages that are ill-advised from conception.

Next time you’re contemplating an email marketing message, ask yourself the following questions: 

Is there something for your users to do? One of email’s biggest benefits is the fact that users can take immediate action on what you’re asking them to do just by clicking a mouse.  If you don’t have something for them to do after receiving the message, then think twice about sending it.  The most common mistake I see colleges making in this category is the “hurry up and wait” email.  It goes something like this: “Be on the lookout for this thing we’re sending you in the mail!”  Why on earth would you send me an email to tell me that you’re sending me something in the mail? Send me an email when you want me to go fill out a form on your website, or you need to articulate some important information to me, or you have a special offer for me that I can fulfill today.  But do not send me a message telling me to be on the lookout for a message you’re going to send me.  That’s ridiculous and a total waste of your users’ time and good will.   

Would you send the same message in a print mailing? Print marketing takes both time and money to execute, so marketers tend to be mindful with it when they are considering their tactics.  Because it’s cheaper than print, oftentimes people confuse email as less valuable.  But email is not the red-headed step child of print mail!  If executed correctly, your return on investment in email will be staggering.  Of course, I would hope that you wouldn’t send the EXACT same message over email as you would in print - it has to be optimized for the medium - but the point with this question is to assess whether or not this is really something that is valuable enough to be sent at all. If you wouldn’t send it over print, then don’t make an email out of it.

Would you respond to the message if you were on the receiving end? It’s such a simple question to ask, but one that is so often overlooked.  If you got this same email from a school, or any organization you’re loosely affiliated with, would you open it? Read it? Click on the links in it? If you can’t honestly answer yes to any of those questions, then why would you expect you audience to behave differently?

Email needs a long-term vision.  Every time you send a message, you are impacting whether or not your users will open and respond to future messages.  I call it “creating a promise” with my users. If you keep your end of the bargain with them by only emailing when you have something of value to offer, then they will keep their end by opening and responding to your messages.  This doesn’t happen overnight, but if you are disciplined about when you hit the send button, it will happen over time.


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audiences, colleges, email marketing, mail, marketers, uc san diego, users

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This post was written by:

Karlyn Morissette

Karlyn Morissette - who has written 45 posts on .eduGuru

Karlyn Morissette is a thought leader and innovator in higher education. With over 12 years of web experience (half spent working exclusively on higher education web marketing initiatives), she helped pioneer many of the web strategies considered best practice today.

Today as the Director of Marketing Communications at Fire Engine RED, Karlyn works with colleges around the world to execute integrated marketing campaigns as a part of student search. She also teaches courses on Internet marketing and strategy at Champlain College as adjunct faculty. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Boston University and a Master of Business Administration from Norwich University.

To quote a friend of hers: "Karlyn is a super rad ninja marketing genius who will make your target demographic submit to your every whim through sheer willpower. Oh, and she's smarter than you."  We're not sure about the smarter part, but "super rad ninja" is true enough.

Compulsory disclaimer: The views expressed in Karlyn's posts are hers and hers alone, and do not represent those of any company she's affiliated with. Yes, it's true - the girl has a mind of her own. 

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19 Responses to “Step away from the computer: When NOT to send a marketing email”

  1. Avatar image
    jaime Says:

    Great article. It’s very true. It’s so simple to understand after you read this article, however, as you say, often overlooked by the author of the message..

    Thanks…good stuff!

    Reply

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    Todd Says:

    Good advice. I replaced “email” with “fan update” as I read this. :)

    Reply

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    Rob S. Says:

    Karlyn, in a blog post somewhere you mentioned the usefulness of a marketing plan in higher ed (and, if I remember correctly a (coordinated) e-mail marketing plan), and the shocking reality that such marketing plans often don’t exist in a written form in higher ed. Fits in well with the “long term vision” you mentioned in this post.

    I’ve been on many college admissions mailing lists, and it is clear they have no marketing plan for e-mail.

    Something “cool” (in their eyes) happens on campus and they send an e-mail about it. Down in apps? Send an e-mail. Need some more visitors? Send an e-mail. There is clearly no strategy. It is reactionary.

    Maybe the something that just happened/is about to happen on campus is pretty cool, but is that message more valuable than another message that could be sent? That’s an important marketing litmus test, of course. ROI/ROE.

    “Is there something for your users to do?” I laughed when I read your example of “Be on the lookout for this thing we’re sending you in the mail!” I’ve seen colleges send those e-mails. I’ve even had to fight off requests for messages like that from time to time myself.

    That said (and I’m not sure you’d disagree), not every marketing message has to have a call to action, and that is true of e-mail, as well. Branding and building value can be legitimate uses of e-mail. But the non call to action messages should be carefully placed within an overall e-mail marketing plan.

    E-mail marketing on college campuses right now is similar to what college Web sites were in the early days. It was some person in Admissions or IT or PR coding pages as a side project without particular expertise in that area or an overall plan for content, etc.

    Now college Web sites typically enjoy the support of professional, specialized staffing and are otherwise (at some level of adequacy) resourced.

    E-mail marketing on college campuses is still largely in it’s infancy, it seems. It is a side project where the person pushing out e-mail doesn’t have particular expertise. Given the potential for e-mail to help drive millions in revenue for colleges (through achieving enrollment goals and even lowering discount rates) and help colleges achieve other goals (admissions selectivity, donor grooming, etc.), e-mail marketing will hopefully achieve some value recognition on campus in time, with staffing/resources to back it up.

    On more progressive college campuses that has already begun to happen.

    Reply

  4. Avatar image
    Karlyn Morissette (author) Says:

    Hi Rob,

    Great comment. You’re right - I would agree that not every email has to have a call to action. That being said, I think those non-call to action emails only work when you have a relatively advanced email marketing strategy in place and an experienced person overseeing it, so when I’m speaking to beginners I use the rule of thumb that all their messages SHOULD have calls to action as a litmus test.

    We’ve certainly got a long way to go…

    K

    Reply

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    Paul Prewitt Says:

    We have found that the “happy go lucky” emails are the #1 unsubscribed category of messages that we have. Even in comparison to direct category call “Support the Family” & “Product & Services Announcements”.

    So the next time you are planning an email that goes in the “Holidays & Special Occasions” or “Thank You Letters” category I strongly recommend that you think twice. NOTE: payment confirmation is not something that should go in those.

    Karlyn is right… think about the end recipient & remember they are busy & time is money.

    Reply

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    wilhb81 Says:

    Nice and well-written article, Karyn. For your information, most of the so-called “Money generating” emails are 99% ended up in the spam mailbox. Therefore, it’s totally a waste of time to send the marketing emails…

    Reply

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    Karlyn Says:

    I don’t know that it’s totally a waste of time - in the past year I’ve watched millions of dollars being raised just from sending emails so someting must be working.

    Reply

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    Marketing Forums Says:

    A fantastic read….very literate and informative. Many thanks….where is your RSS button ?

    Reply

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    Jim Says:

    It can be difficult to find a happy medium between selling something through your email but not coming off as too promotional. Most of the email lists I am on do a terrible job of this.

    A couple marketers do it well, what they do is offer excellent content in one email, then a few days later sell a product that goes hand in hand with the previous content offered.

    Reply

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    Brenda Bunney Says:

    Really good post. Knowing what to say and when to say it is something we all must learn. It is one of the more difficult things in network marketing, for me at least.

    You want to say the right thing at the right time;otherwise,you may cause your prospect to run away.

    Reply

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    College Admissions Advice Says:

    I don’t think all emails need to have that “call to action” or “will they respond to it” aspect. Sometimes universities just need to send out those necessary, informative emails. However, too many times have I gotten emails about my colleges’ “classifieds” or “community center programs” which get deleted immediately =P

    Reply

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    john brightman Says:

    HI looks very interesting! bookmarked your blog. john brightman

    Reply

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    Search Engine Submission Service Says:

    Great information and great site, I have added this to my favorites, do you have an rss feed I can subscribe too?

    Reply

  14. Avatar image
    Burt Hayes Says:

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Reply

  15. Avatar image
    lesbienne hd Says:

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    Reply

  16. Avatar image
    elma Says:

    thank you order post mail.

    Reply

  17. Avatar image
    Wilmer Wegener Says:

    Came across this site from Yahoo and just wanted to take my time to say thanks for the advice.

    Reply

  18. Avatar image
    itspc Says:

    great post, keep update, i have bookmark and read

    Reply

  19. Avatar image
    Dave Says:

    Good post. Many e-mail marketers, in addition to being unscrupulous, ignore basic marketing philosophy: craft your message so that your target knows what’s expected of them, and why.

    Reply

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