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How universities are using best practices to craft A+ emails

What we learned from our University Advisory Board

Here at Emma, we really love finding ways to help you become the very best marketer you can be.

Unfortunately, unlike neckties or Snuggies, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. Tips that work for retailers might not apply to universities, for example. And since over 600 universities turn to Emma for their email marketing needs, we want to learn as much as possible about the challenges and successes they face in their day-to-day marketing.

So we brought together a group of our savviest university customers and formed the University Advisory Board (UAB). By engaging in regular round-table discussions with the UAB, we’ll be able to better fine-tune our product development, account management and services to meet the unique needs of universities. Here’s just a few things we learned from our first chat. 

How universities are utilizing best practices

During our first discussion, we discovered some of the clever and interesting ways our university customers are using best practices:

1. Taking advantage of automation

Many of the biggest roadblocks our university customers face are resource-based; their marketing departments lack the time, budget or manpower to really get things done. In fact, some of our university customers work as a team of one and are solely responsible for every facet of their school’s email marketing efforts, campus-wide. Because of this, our UAB participants described automation as one of the most helpful and essential tools for the university-based email marketer.

And they all had great automation examples to share. For instance, the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy recently set up a date-based automated workflow that features a video from the dean. Not only does the automated workflow help them save a ton of time and energy, it’s also been extremely successful — 83% opens and 60% clicks!

2. Telling a personal story

Yale School of Management has noticed that the human element — Instagram photos, student profiles, faculty spotlights — helps increase engagement with their mailings exponentially. And Notre Dame agreed: they find that using images to tell a story works not just for prospective students, but also donors and policymakers; visuals always out-click written text, and their best performing subject lines are typically something like, “Meet so-and-so."

The point? Crafting a strong story is just as essential for our university customers as it is for businesses. Capitalizing on what’s cool, unique or special about your school — and showing it off through compelling images — will generate much higher engagement than a more top-down, news-driven approach.

Solving common issues our university customers face

1. Staying in sync across departments

Since most universities have several departments communicating with the same or overlapping audiences, it can be difficult to keep everything in sync —especially when it comes to marketing efforts. For example, opt-outs across departments who manage their data in separate CRMs can often fail to line up, so if a prospective student is on a few lists and wants to opt out of receiving info altogether, opting out of one mailing won't do it.

Joan from Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute realized the most efficient answer was to have all departments aligned, so she convinced the entire school to move to Emma (Joan, you rock). This helped Notre Dame streamline their processes, fix the opt-out issue and ensure that they display consistent branding across all departments.

2. Reporting to non-marketers

Many of our UAB participants noted that they report to individuals who aren’t super email-savvy, so it can be difficult to communicate the success of their mailings to them in an easily understandable way. In this situation, it’s better to have big-picture, concrete results to show the powers-that-be.

For example, instead of mentioning click and open rates, you could tell your higher-ups that an email campaign led to X number of student inquiries, applications or alumni donations. Let them know that email produces a 4300% ROI ($43 for every $1 spent), and they’ll be even more excited about the work you’re doing for your school.

3. Finding resources

During this discussion, we were surprised to find that many universities get all of their marketing information from education-focused conferences or, worse, don’t have the budget for professional development at all. If you’re a university customer who wants to learn more about best practices, you can always look to our Content Hub as a resource. Also be sure to check out The Modern Marketer’s Field Guide, which will teach you all the essentials you need to know to craft compelling emails.

We’re looking forward to learning and sharing even more from our chats with the UAB. But in the meantime, what are some things that are working/not working for your school? Let us know in the comments!