The following is a guest post by Scott Cohen, Marketing Copywriter at Western Governors University. Scott writes and manages copy for the university’s public website, email marketing campaigns, and direct mail campaigns. Scott also writes on his personal blog and contributes his opinions and critiques on email marketing on The Email Zoo Blog. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.
“Email is the fastest, most flexible, cost-efficient, personalized, and targeted communication medium in the world today.”
- Peppers and Rogers Group
Email marketing, when done right, delivers the highest return on your investment (ROI) of any marketing medium available. It’s inexpensive, easy to send, and provides the quickest way for someone to see what you have to offer—provided it’s done right. Here are some simple ideas for getting the most out of this lucrative, personalized medium.
Establish Your Email Strategy
Not to be confused with tactics, I strongly suggest deciding how you want to use email to reach your marketing goals. Are you going to use email to speak to prospective students? Their parents? How about your alumni? All of these audiences can be reached with email, but think carefully of how you want to use the medium to get your message across.
At WGU (where I work), we use email almost exclusively as an enrollment aide. Emphasis is given to personalization of messages, and strong calls-to-action are used to guide recipients to the online application form.
This is a critical step before diving into sending/crafting emails.
Respect Your Subscriber
It’s critical to remember that email is an opt-in marketing method—meaning people must give you permission to email them. It’s not just best practices; it’s also the law.
Respecting your customer also speaks to proper segmentation of your message (which I’ll go into greater detail below), and sending the right frequency of messages. Now if you were to ask the industry professionals, “How many emails in a week/month/year is the right frequency?” You’d likely get a response that runs in the neighborhood of:
“[Sigh]… it depends. Test, test, test.” (I’ll speak more to testing later as well.)
That said, knowing what the saturation point is will be left to you. So track complaints and feedback from the end users carefully and adjust as needed to ensure you keep your reputation intact.
Segment Your Audience Properly
A colleague of mine, DJ Waldow, wrote that the “Perfect Email is like the Perfect Meal:”
“The perfect email is like the perfect meal. You know it when you see it. You know it when you taste it. In order to send the perfect email you must: Send timely, targeted, relevant emails to subscribers who have asked for them.”
For the university marketer, segmenting means you can base the content of your message(s) on:
- Degree or program of interest
- Sports interest
- Extracurricular activity
- Parents or students (particularly useful for traditional bricks-and-mortar universities)
- Geo/Demographics (Age, Gender, Location, etc.)
Really, whatever criteria you use to distinguish between your students and prospects internally can be used as segmentation strategies for email. Just be sure whatever segmentation you use speaks to your overall email strategy.
Keep in Mind How Subscribers Encounter Email
When I attended the Email Evolution Conference in February, the Email Design Workshop was incredibly useful, particularly in clarifying how subscribers encounter email. Subscribers view your email in the following order (provided they open and read your message):
1. Sender Name and Address
Be sure to use a sender name that is recognizable. (Ex: admissions@university is better than admit103457@university). Use this sender name consistently (unless you have developed multiple “voices” and the rapport to use them properly—but be sure to test a ton if you go this route). Avoiding individuals’ names is a good idea as well. But perhaps most importantly, be sure your brand is clear in your sender name.
2. Subject Line and Snippet Text
Subject line length is everything. If it’s short, you’ll get opens. If it’s long, statistics say your click-through rate is better. (Deciding on what your key metrics are will dictate which route you take most likely.)
Snippet text is the 40-75 characters from the top of the email message that get placed next to the subject line in Outlook, Gmail, and Mobile Devices. Good snippet text can significantly improve your email metrics.
3. Images Off.
Over half of all email inboxes block images in email by default. If you’re sending a message that is just one giant image, you could be in trouble. How you bypass this suppression:
- Mix HTML text with the images. Be sure to have your HTML text carry the crux of the message—namely the call to action (CTA).
- Provide Alt-Text on the images.
- Use “Preheader” text that carries your CTA as well as possibly a link to where your completely visible message can be seen on a webpage.
4. Preview Pane. 7 in 10 use it. Bear in mind the smaller window and place critical information “above the fold.”
5. Full message.
Deliverability—Getting into the Inbox
You can have the best email message in the world. But if it doesn’t reach the inbox, it won’t matter. Deliverability is dependent on a number of factors, including:
- How many messages were accepted/rejected by top ISPs and corporate domains
- Email authentication (DKIM, DomainKeys, etc.— I won’t dare try to explain these)
- Content (though not so much anymore)
- HTML Code (Code MUST be perfect, or spam filters will find it)
- Speed of the send (if you’re sending too many messages in too little time, you’re dinged)
- Unsubscribe rate, mail blocks, and abuse complaints
Your best bet for ensuring solid deliverability and having the wherewithal to improve your metrics in this capacity would be to use an Email Service Provider or go directly to:
- Pivotal Veracity
As a university, though, the .edu does boost your deliverability reputation almost immediately. But it’s really easy to destroy your reputation, and a ton of work to bring yourself back, so be careful!
Test test test!
Perhaps the greatest advantage of email marketing is the ability to test. You can test based on segmentation, creative content, sending times; pretty much anything you can think of, you can test rather easily through email.
And since the answer you’ll get from every email marketing professional you meet is “It depends,” there’s no better way to find out for yourself how your email marketing is doing except through testing.
Resources You Can Use
Here are the resources I use for email marketing. They’ll probably be helpful for you as well:
- Blue Sky Factory Blog
- Bronto Blog
- Email Experience Blog
- Red Pill Email
- Smith-Harmon Email Blog
- Email Wars
- Retail Email Blog
- The Truth About Email Marketing (Simms Jenkins)
- Sign Me Up! (Blumberg, Forman, and Miller)
- Email Marketing by the Numbers (Chris Baggot)
- The Practical Guide to Email Marketing (Jordan Ayan)
Photo: Paint delivery by Tim Zim