Many schools send out blast emails. Any email address in their contact databases, no matter how the address got in there, receives every email the schools send out. In the early days of email (the '90s), this was an awesome marketing tactic because it worked. No longer.
People want and expect personalized content. If you keep sending information about your criminal justice program to prospective students who've expressed an interest in your medical billing certification program – it's no wonder they're not opening your emails.
When we say "personalize", we're not talking about inserting someone's first name in a field tag. The most effective personalized emails personalize the content they provide. That's how you get the right messages and information in front of the right people at the right time.
Our own research revealed that targeting different emails to different personas resulted in a 16% increase in click through rates (CTRs). That's the increase we saw merely from personalizing content at the persona level.
Persona targeting is only the top level of your personalization options. Segmenting your email database into a multitude of smaller lists is the true key to precision personalization.
A 2015 email benchmark report finds that open rates in North America remain steady at 32%. Of course, that's the average open rate. And who wants to be average.
So there's email marketing, and there's email marketing well. If your school isn't seeing open rates that get you into the top quarter of performers – take a look at how effectively (or not) you're personalizing the content you email out.
Here's our four-step process for improving your email personalization, and your open rates along with it.
Gather The Right Information
You can't segment and personalize if you don't know anything about the person behind the email address. Using online forms, surveys, and back-end data collection, you can learn a lot your digital visitors. This includes demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data.
As you collect more data, you can refine your lists. For example, let's say you create a list for leads that meet this criteria:
High school senior
Lives in targeted state or zip code
Downloaded report on studying abroad opportunities
That's not a bad start. But as that visitor continues to engage with your content, you also learn that they nearly always access content via a mobile device and clicked on a Twitter link to get to your blog post introducing a visiting professor from France. Now you can add them to an email list targeting mobile users, who also use Twitter. So the next email they get is one optimized for mobile with Twitter-sized content for them to read and share.
The great thing about smart lists is that your leads automatically get added to the right lists once they meet the criteria. And there's no limit to the number of lists an email address can be on.
Use this Data Collected to Determine a Lead's Place in Their Enrollment Journey
The more a visitor interacts with your content, as well as they kind of content they're focusing on, the better you can gauge where in their journey they are.
Define some content and behavior criteria that indicate to you where a prospect is. Use that criteria to create lists targeting different phases. Behavioral indicators can include more frequently engaging with your content; spending more time on your site, but narrowing their focus to certain pages; shifting their attention from content you tagged for one journey phase to another; they've graduated from online content to attending in-person events.
Align Your Email Content to the Lead's Place in their Enrollment Journey
Where a lead is in their enrollment journey is a critical piece of intel for sending out the most relevant content. A parent downloads your guide on how to select an academy for their child. Is now the time to send them an application package? Not really.
Instead, you send them an email with a short, embedded video interview with a current parent at your school, who's talking about what was important to them in their selection process. At the bottom, you have a call-to-action inviting them to click on a link to a virtual tour of your school. That's an email a parent at the start of their discovery phase is more likely to open and engage with.
And if they click on that link? That's more intel for you to continue to refine the content this parent receives.
Monitor Email and List Performance
How prospective students and parents interact with past emails provides even more intelligence. Do they ignore emails about financial assistance issues, but always open emails relating to your school's sports teams?
You can select content and email frequency based on whether a lead is opening most of your emails or none. A lead with a high level of engagement may be ready to get pushed into the decision phase. Instead of waiting for the lead to go through a typical, longer email drip process, you can set up a smart list to capture leads that open a specified high percentage of emails over a fixed period of time to cut short the nurturing cycle.
For the recipient who isn't opening any of your emails: Are they an outlier in this, or are they on an underperforming list? If the list as a whole is underperforming, re-assess whether you're sending the right content for the specified criteria. If the content does seem related, take a closer look at the criteria. Were just a random collection criteria grouped together because you could, but they don't really create an actionable segment?
It's Not Them — It's You
People do like emails that send them relevant, interesting content. If your leads aren't opening your emails, then you're not sending the right emails. Or maybe you are, but your subject lines are snores.
Email marketing isn't going away. Your competition is investing resources to succeed in email marketing, which raises the bar for your own efforts. Personalizing your email content is the smart way to increase your email marketing returns.
Originally published Apr 28, 2016 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017