We don’t have to tell you that technology moves quickly. There’s one area, however, where we haven’t seen much change. Email has remained relatively static—or in Silicon Valley parlance, it’s one area of online life that hasn’t been disrupted. Sure, you get email today that contains videos, graphics, and HTML, but in the end you’re still clicking (or tapping) on a message in an inbox. Given that even browsing the web is now done through so many different channels, email is arguably the most widely shared online experience. No matter what demographic you’re trying to reach, chances are you can reach them via email.
This makes email marketing particularly effective for higher education, where there are stakeholders of many different ages and backgrounds, each with individualized needs and preferences. You won’t send the same messages to your alumni, current students, donors, athletic boosters, campus community, and prospective students—but you can speak to all of them via email. It’s effective, but it’s also a tremendous amount of work.
Email automation can help you take care of all of these constituencies, and do so efficiently. By properly segmenting your email lists, you make sure you’re sending the right message—literally and figuratively—to the right people. Using triggered email campaigns lets you keep the connection you’ve made going. Here’s how to get started.
Why Triggered Email is More Effective
A triggered email is a message that is generated because a web user had some kind of interaction with your school. For example, a student added their information to an interest list at a college fair, or an alum signed up to receive news about upcoming on-campus events. For email addresses that you already have—i.e., your existing student body—email messages can also be triggered by specific events (such as sending second-semester sophomores information about junior year study abroad programs) or status changes (like declaring a major).
Whatever the “trigger” is, its relevance is what drives better open rates and more click-throughs compared to standard email messages. Research from Epsilon estimates that triggered email boasts 70.5% higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates than regular email.
What Types of Campaigns Work?
If setting up a triggered campaign sounds tough, that’s because it is. This may be one reason why even though more than 60% of marketers use email to stay in touch with customers and leads, only 13% use marketing automation software—most just compose marketing email messages and then send them.
Research from MarketingSherpa showing which kinds of email campaigns are the most effective points to reasons why non-automated email marketing might not work. They found that the most commonly used email campaign was the newsletter (64%), closely followed by email subscription (63%) and email opt-in thank-you’s (63%). None of these, however, were the most effective types of campaigns. Instead, loyalty campaigns (79%), exclusive deals (78%) and promotional content (77%) came out on top.
What’s the big difference? Newsletters are usually composed and sent as news happens. Email thank-you’s are triggered emails—they get automatically sent to confirm a user’s email subscription—but they’re one-and-done. That means these are easy to set up, and for many marketers, that’s where the relationship ends. It’s unlikely you’re going to check the stats on an email that just says, “Thanks for signing up!” The other commonality between these types of messages? It’s easy to have one person on your team take care of them.
In contrast, emails in a loyalty campaign are much more complex and specific than a simple thank-you. For one, they go out to a specific segment of your email list, not just every email address that you receive. Second, it’s more likely that multiple team members and departments will have to work together. Your admissions office is going to have a say in nurturing prospective student leads, for example, and your alumni relations team will likely want a hand in email going to potential donors. At the same time, it’s important to keep all of these different messages on-brand, which means cross-team coordination is key. That can make these campaigns more difficult to create, but it’s worth the effort.
How Drip Campaigns Make it Rain
An email marketing campaign, like a loyalty campaign, is an example of what’s called drip marketing. Though these are often initiated by a specific trigger like an email sign up, the subsequent email messages might be based on user actions or spaced over time intervals. The idea of a drip campaign isn’t water torture—the name comes from the irrigation system, nurturing your leads just as a gardener would ensure a plant gets neither too much nor too little water.
A major difference between drip campaigns and one-off emails is that drip campaigns require an extensive amount of prior set-up. It’s important to think through not only the email messages’ content, but also the timeline and triggers that you’ll use. One way to do this is to literally diagram the campaign as a flow chart, because you can have triggers within triggers. For example, one action might trigger an email that contains a link. Users who click the link may get a different next message than users who ignore the link. This can also help you to maintain the campaign: If you find that you’re losing subscribers at one point in the life cycle, you can be strategic about making changes.
The content for drip emails is generally written beforehand—you won’t be coming up with new material on the fly. There are many different types of messages that you can use in a drip campaign. You might simply provide additional information, helping to inform your lead and also keep your university top-of-mind. Not getting opens or clicks? You may need to come up with a message that can help re-engage these users. (It’s not especially common, but the kind of psychology you use to set up a drip campaign is one reason why these are sometimes called behavior emails.)
It’s important to remember that even though the majority of the work is done on the front end of your drip campaign, it’s not over. You can create an amazing drip campaign, but if you never check back to see whether it’s working you won’t get optimal results. When you’re creating the initial plan for a drip campaign, it’s smart to identify metrics that will help you know whether your campaign is successful. That might be traditional email marketing metrics like opens and clicks, but it could also be more specific—campus visits, money donated, or applications received, to name a few.
Again, executing and measuring drip campaigns may require coordination between multiple areas within your organization, but the potential results are a pretty juicy incentive. Drip campaigns have higher open rates (80% higher than single sends), click through rates (3x higher than single sends), and can deliver a higher ROI—by some estimates, 80% more conversions—at a 33% lower cost.
Want to learn more about email marketing solutions? Higher Power SEO can help with everything from creating content to training your team on automation software. Call us at 760-881-4736 to get started.