An Effective Email Marketing Strategy That Works to Reach Education Inquiries

You ’ve Got Mail: It’s a fact email marketing has lost a good portion of its ROI in today’s world filled with status updates, tweets and text messages that can reach anyone at a moments’ notice and grab their attention away towards something else. Five years ago our prospective students didn’t have the Internet in their pocket and it was a lot easier to reach them when they sat down in front of a computer to check their email after dinner. With so many messages filling an inbox from a variety of sources, how does a school reach an inquiry that gave them permission to email them in the first place?

Let’s start with taking a look at the current climate of our student’s inboxes. A 2012 Silverpop Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark study found that open rates averaged 19.9 percent in the US for the five quarters ending 1Q12, down from an average of 21.3 percent in 2009. This current average rate is in alignment with recent studies showing the education and service sector open rates being the same. Students do want to hear from institutions that they have asked to be contacted by, but as a whole we are still missing a huge part of the equation to be reached.

As a marketing and media agency, we use direct response email campaigns to reach out to current and potential clients. We typically follow a twice per month schedule and tend to be more informative than delivering a sales message. Over time, we noticed our own email open rates dropping and were determined to try new tactics to pull ourselves out of the trenches and make sure our messages were being heard.

We decided to conduct an experiment that would show the effectiveness of the subject line and how it could be used to increase open rates. We sent out an email to our mailing list with the subject line: “Amazon and education for the win.” The open rate for this email was 17.1 percent with 73.2 percent of our list not opening the email at all. A week later, we sent the same exact email but only to the 73.2 percent that didn’t open it the first time. There was one thing different though; we changed the subject line to, “Did you miss the news about Amazon and education for the win?” By creating awareness that the recipient might have missed something important we saw our open rate total for this email jump to 24.0 percent or an additional 9.4 percent.

After our initial success, we decided to do the same with our next email campaign. This time the subject line was “What are the top three things we undersell to our students?” Not surprisingly, our open rate was 17.3 percent, which is consistent with our previous open rates. A week later we sent the same email to the 72.9 percent that didn’t open it the first time and changed the subject line to read, “Did you miss the top three things we undersell to our students?”

Again, we were able to reach a portion of our subscribers that didn’t open the original email; 7.4 percent open rate on the second attempt bringing our total open rate for this email campaign to 22.7 percent. With both campaigns we were able to reach an average of 8 percent of our mailing list that wasn’t reached with the initial campaign.

Now that you’ve been able to increase your open rates, what’s inside the email is equally important. Let’s take a look at two email opportunities a school has to reach a prospect. First, is directly after the inquiry submits their request to be contacted. Your autoreply email should not only mention that someone from the school will be calling shortly, but also give suggestions on questions the recipient can start thinking about to ask the admission rep. These questions can range from “How is financial aid calculated?” to “How long will it take for me to complete my degree?” This is also a great opportunity to include links to your Facebook page and a video tour of your campus hosted on your YouTube channel.

The second opportunity is the follow up email when an admission rep is having difficulty reaching a prospect. These emails can have the same tone and feel of the initial autoreply but the subject line should be changed to one with urgency. Be sure to personalize the email with the person’s name and include information about the program they are seeking to learn more about. Do this through a link back to your website program’s page or an attached pdf file.

How to use our data to increase your open rates and conversion with your email marketing:

  • Create email campaigns with subject lines that entice an inquiry’s interest to open it.
  • Follow up unopened email campaigns with the same email, changing the subject line to one that creates urgency.
  • Include pertinent and useful information in emails you send to prospective students.

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