Leading the way in higher ed email marketing

Email is dead. Email is alive! Email is mostly dead (slightly alive). Email is totally back! Sound familiar?

“You’ve got mail!” The medium that some love to hate is a favorite target for on-again, off-again declarations of death or vibrancy. For now, email is back and better than ever. Citizens of the internet are bombarded on all sides by messages, so is the resurgence of email due to the fact that it takes a little longer to digest? Are we yearning for less instancy? Something we can actually read that doesn’t disappear in 6 seconds? Maybe.

Even with the rise of messaging & collaboration apps like Slack, Hipchat, Messenger, Whatsapp, and beyond, email is still central to many functions of our daily lives. Many key transactions of our always-connected lives are tied to email, and though changes are happening, it doesn’t look likely to relinquish that cornerstone position anytime soon.

It’s the same for the higher ed marketer’s target audience. Teens are tuned in as they search for colleges. As the piles of college postcards roll in, so do the virtual stacks of communication from might-be-their-future-alma-maters. College students (who may be looking for graduate schools) are nearly 24/7 attentive to their emails for announcements, grade reports, and their exasperated teacher’s answer to that last-ditch plea for extra credit. And don’t forget their parents! They’re likely Gen X or Boomers, and the latter is especially tuned into email (92% will click the website in a promotional email.)

Some email marketing best practices are “evergreen.” Always get opt-in. Be mobile-friendly. Have a clear CTA. Personalize, target, and segment. Don’t get cute or manipulative with subject lines.

So with all those tucked neatly into your email marketer Jansport, let’s talk next generation email marketing for higher education. As email roars back into prominence, what are some ways you can set the standard?

True personalization & smart automation

Let’s get beyond the “Dear Jimmy” in the greeting. 91% of students said they’d love to receive tailored content from a college, so how tailored can we get?

What if you sent web visitors tailored emails based on the pages they visited? “Hey, here’s more info on the athletic program” or “Interested in architecture? Here’s a video that shows a day in the life of a first-year architecture student.”

What if we treated applications like shopping carts? Abandon the app (like 31% of students) and you get a personalized email that knows where you stopped, and offers personalized tips on getting past the roadblocks.

What if you offered a wider range of newsletters that could be finely tuned so students actually get info about what they want to know about, not what you think they do? Don’t have the writers to complete multiple newsletters? Try curating existing content instead of creating new content (more on that later). Most schools aren’t short on content, they’re just lacking new ways to organize and present it.

Real interactivity

Now, buckle up, because some of these might sound like technical feats, but I bet you have a developer somewhere (or a computer science class full of them) that would love to tackle a challenge like this and blaze a few trails.

What if you could complete a simplified application within an email? “Whoa now”, I hear you say. Well, I did say “simplified” — -any way can you make the barrier for entry lower may be worth a try. Don’t make that first step so hard, let them take baby steps from there.

What if you could live-chat with a student ambassador within an email itself?

What if you offered a VR campus tour within an email?

Getting back to newsletters for a minute, what if you offered an easy “list management” solution within an email? If your prospects can easily sort out their email subscriptions in one place, they may be more likely to tune in and actually read what you send them.

The power of curation & user-generated content

As I said earlier, you might not have the staff to create a cornucopia of fresh newsletter content, but (going out on a limb here), I’m going to guess you have these things: students, faculty, and things students & faculty do. Got some of those? Perfect. Then you have content sources for next-level emails.

What if you handed the keys (with supervision, of course) to a student group to run an email series of real-life, day-in-the-life emails that showed students what life is really like? We do social media takeovers, why not email takeovers? Students want to hear from students, so take them straight to the inbox. User-generated content wins on many platforms.

What if you curated campus stories into an easy-to-digest newsletter by pulling in existing content from campus news feeds? Clemson needed help with that, so we built them a solution.

Real-time, location-based messaging

If Starbucks can pop a message on my lock screen every time I go near a certain store, why can’t you? Utilizing existing data about interests (email clicks, web visits) and location-tracking technology like GPS, RFID, and beacons, the possibilities will make marketers smile.

What if a student was on a campus tour, strolled by the gym and got an email with info about athletics? What if they were sitting in the cafeteria and got a link to details on the great restaurants on campus?

Video returns to email

Can I get an “amen”? With the advent of iOS 10, video has returned to email in HTML5. While it does have some limitations, when done correctly, videos can play inline in Apple Mail for desktop and iPad and full-screen on iOS devices. You’ll want to pay attention to the tech requirements, build in fallbacks and test, test, and test again, but since so you’re likely spending a large amount of time and money on video, why not feature it front and center in your emails?

I hope these ideas help spark some amazing innovations on your team. Email is back, and higher ed marketers can make the most of it!

Tell Me What You Think

Is email truly back in higher ed? Have you seen success in your higher ed email marketing campaigns? Share your thoughts in the comments.