Whether you refer to it as a series of engagement streams, workflows or nurturing campaigns, we all know that email is still one of the key channels to stay connected with prospective students throughout their decision-making process. If they have demonstrated interest in you, they will read your emails. And the opposite is also true: If they have not demonstrated interest in you, they will not read your emails.
With our client work, we focus on the quality of the leads over the quantity. You should too.
Important Note: If you are reading this blog when delivered, this morning is the last chance to register for our Intead Plus Webinar: Artificial Intelligence for Higher Ed Explained. March 28 at 1pm EDT. Ben and Ashish Fernando, CEO of iSchoolConnect, will discuss online behavior and technology trends, as well as case studies that will help you understand the role AI can play in optimizing student recruitment and retention.
Intead Plus subscribers will have exclusive access to the webinar recording after the fact (so you can share it with colleagues who are unable to attend).
But let's get back to email marketing.
If you’re like many academic institutions, you may have long standing email workflows with hundreds of automated emails structured to go out to unique audiences on a weekly basis. Many other admissions teams do not have the resources to establish this system. Either way, maybe it’s time to ask: could your email marketing program use a refresh? We’re betting the answer is yes.
If that seems insurmountable, bear with us. We will be giving some quick tips throughout that you can use to make some small, effective changes to your current workflows. You can move beyond having just one or two email nurturing campaigns that go out to everyone, regardless of their interests or geographic location. You can segment your audience effectively.
On the other hand, if you’re a one-person team or a small office looking to implement an effective email marketing strategy, you will have your work cut out for you… but that’s why you’re here! We will give you an overview of key concepts to consider and walk you through the process, step by step (we'll do it over 2 blog posts so as not to overwhelm -- and by now, your should be entertaining the thought, "Who else on my team should I be forwarding this blog post to...?" We encourage that thinking.)
Email marketing at the institutional level can be complex, to say the least. But this week we will help you break it down into a few key principles that will help you write (or edit) emails quickly and efficiently, while ensuring that the content will stand a strong chance of resonating with your desired audience.
Let’s get started.
Consider your segmentation:
As with each approach we take to marketing for international student recruitment, we recommend starting by examining your target audience. Depending on your institution, this may mean dividing your audience according to three main categories:
- Academic program of interest
- Point in the enrollment funnel (where they are in the decision-making process)
- Country or location
Setting up workflows dependent on these defining characteristics will allow you to do some basic personalization, sending messages that will be most relevant to prospective students at the most appropriate time in their journey. If you missed the 3-part series we did on audience segmentation, start here: Audience Segmentation Blog Post 1.
Depending on your unique institution’s approach to email marketing, each workflow may be 5 to 12 emails or more, with each workflow scheduled to send at regular intervals to a group with a defined set of characteristics. This may be determined by an established lead scoring technique, or simply by stages in the application process. Lead scoring is important, but smaller shops may not have the bandwidth to set this up. Frankly, many of the larger shops don't do this well either.
Pro Tip: every act of engagement is not worth points. The point of lead scoring is helping you focus the valuable and limited time of your recruitment team. Those prospects demonstrating engagement at different points in the funnel should receive different types of information and different levels of attention by your team. If you want to learn more about this, come see Ben and Hillary Dostal, Northeastern University Director of Global Initiatives present on the topic at Nafsa in May.
As a basic example, you may have a simple workflow (a set of at least 5-6 emails) for prospective MBA students from India who saw your ad on Facebook and provided their contact information. This high level, initial contact workflow may provide basic information such as an overview and introduction to the program and the school or a student testimonial.
Then, when a student has completed a defined action (for example: clicking through three or more emails, or reaching out to admissions), they may transition into another workflow. This may be another 5-6+ emails that provide deeper information like faculty bios, specific curriculum information, how past work experience is evaluated and other application instructions.
From the point of beginning an application, many institutions will shift prospective students into a basic workflow of instructions and reminders all relevant to the application process, in addition to direct contact with admissions officers.
Quick tip: Consider, the most pivotal moments for prospective students in your institution’s recruitment funnel. For many institutions, these moments will be initial awareness, engagement with marketing materials either online or in print, a conversation with admissions, application and enrollment. Define these points for your institution.
This is important: Consider each point of engagement as an opportunity to bring the prospect to the next micro-conversion in their decision making. Do not push every interaction to "apply now." That's the desperate rookie mistake. Build the relationship before you ask them for something significant.
Consider your content:
- Is the subject line engaging to your readers?
You only get one chance to make a first impression. With your email marketing, the subject line is it. One chance to grab their attention – to intrigue them, to make them curious, to make them want to read more.
This youthful crowd is tough audience. Creativity and humor can go a long way to get their attention in a sea of boring and contrived. Get approval to be a bit bold and test, test, test. If you are not tracking the success of your email content and subject lines, well, you get the results you invest in.
A subject line should draw the reader in, make them feel important, welcome and engaged with the content. At the beginning of the relationship, it should make them smile. Later it can become more matter of fact, addressing their specific interests. But then you'll still want to sprinkle in the smiles.
Quick tip: don’t give away the whole story in the subject line and intro text. For example, instead of introducing an event with its full title – consider something intriguing that leaves them wanting more. Consider subject lines in native language, even if the rest of the content is in English.
- How dense is the body copy?
We know you have so much good information to share – from program descriptions, to faculty bios, to events, to campus life, and much more.
But, the number one mistake we see higher ed institutions make is trying to condense all potentially relevant information into a single email, especially at the top of the funnel. This often results in content-heavy emails that are visually unappealing and honestly, overwhelming. They simply won't be read. Your open and click rates will document this finding.
Remember, when you are writing for an international audience, presenting your content in an inaccessible format won’t work. Many of your prospective students may be reading in English as a second language (and remember, they may share your emails with family or friends) and likely won’t have the patience to dig through all of the content you want to share. Attention spans are short, around the world.
Quick tips: Keep it simple. Remember, 3-4 lines per paragraph is more than enough. Split your content into easily digestible snippets and it stands a higher chance of being absorbed. Use emojis and other images to spruce it up.
Stay Tuned for Part II next week
Next week, we will discuss creating effective CTAs, timing and scheduling and testing your campaigns for success. Do you have tips and tricks for email marketing that work for your institution? Let us know in the comments.