By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Consider this – More than 281 billion consumer and business emails were sent per day in 2018. And research firm Radicati Group projects that figure to grow to more than 333 billion by 2022. Wow!
What the means for you is pretty simple. It’s becoming harder and harder to get (and keep) the attention of the student or parent that you’re sending that email to.
I’m going to help you with this today, because as you may or may not already know, besides leading staff training workshops, the other big thing that we do for colleges around the country is message creation – unique email and letter campaigns.
For emails, it starts with using the right subject line. Think about it. Every time you go to your inbox, what is it, other than who the email is from, that ultimately leads you to open, scroll past or delete (without reading) each message? It’s the subject line. The same holds true for your target demographic.
Here are a few recommendations to consider:
- Chop-off half the sentence (like I did today). Doing that makes the other person wonder what the other half says, especially when the subject line clearly offers value for them.
- Use a call to action. For an ad hoc email we recently created to help a client with cold inquiries we used the subject line, “Don’t leave me hanging!” This produced a 56.8% open rate and 28.1% clicks. Even a simple “Check this out!” can serve as a motivating push to open because a response is being requested.
- Ask a question. Make it short, make it compelling, and create curiosity. If you’re asking a question in your subject line that you know is relevant and matters to the student or parent, it will draw them in.
- Make it personal and relatable. Another recent ad hoc email we created for that same client I mentioned earlier was designed to help with admitted students who had completed all steps. We used the subject line, “Making your college decision is tough.” We validated what we all know is true at this point, and then we offered some suggestions in the email to help with breaking a tie between schools. You could also use the recipient’s name in the subject line. According to the Science of Email Marketing, emails that do that have higher click-through rates.
- Make it really, really short. Short words or phrases get attention. For example, “Deadline” or “Scholarship.”
- Be different every single time. This is a recommendation we provide a lot, most recently in a summer comm. flow audit we completed for a school last week. That particular school had a series of summer messages for juniors that used the school’s initials in every single message.
One other extremely important thing that will help you with open rates has to do with who the sender is.
Too often I see schools using a general Office of Admissions account, or having the email come from a person in a position of leadership (ex. Director of Admissions, or VPEM). According to our research with students, an email from OOA screams mass and impersonal, while a message from leadership can be intimidating, and most students (right or wrong) don’t believe the Director or VPEM actually has time to sit and write such a message for them.
Instead, have just about every email you send a student (regardless of stage) come from their admissions counselor. Establishing the counselor as early as possible as the student or family’s “go-to person” (and then reinforcing this idea) will pay off in a number of ways.
Now, once your email gets opened, let me give you two quick things that will help get your message read and have action taken:
- Personalization is the number one thing in our ongoing survey research that students tell us they want when a college communicates with them. That means the language and tone of your emails need to be less formal and more conversational. You should also lose or minimize the fancy headers, and avoid bolding, underlining, italicizing, and using multiple embedded links. It all screams mass email. If you do have a link, write it out instead of using a hyperlink. This helps with the casual, authentic feeling. The goal should be to create a message that feels, looks, and sounds personal. Plain looking is okay because it’s more authentic.
- Always end each email with one single, clear call to action. Too often I see multiple CTA’s like visit campus, apply, contact so and so, and check this out. Narrow it down to just one thing. And keep in mind that there’s value in asking for the student’s opinion about something that you just shared with them. (Ex “Is this something that’s important in your search?”). The more calls to action you include, the less likely they’ll do any of them.
Change can be hard. I get that. But if you’re not happy with your open rates, or you’re struggling to get students to take action and/or reply back, I want you try one or more of the recommendations I just gave you. They continue to work for our clients and other colleges I’ve recommended them to, and I’m confident that they’ll work for you too.