How to Start Email Marketing for Your School

If your school hasn’t started an email marketing program, there’s no better time to jump in.

Email marketing has changed significantly over the past 25 years or so since Hotmail launched the first free web-based email service. When that happened, marketers had the opportunity to communicate directly with internet users. Some forward-thinking marketers recognized the power of email marketing and jumped in head first.

But even though we’ve come a long way since that first Hotmail launch, what hasn’t changed is how effective email marketing continues to be.

Research has shown, over and over, that email marketing outperforms other digital marketing channels, including paid search and social media. Email marketing has an impressive return on investment (ROI) of $36 for every $1 spent.

The golden rule of email marketing is that it’s not about you or your school. Email is about your subscriber groups, which for most schools includes parents of enrolled students, parents of prospective students, staff, faculty, administrators, alumni and community partners.

Email is one of the few marketing vehicles you can use to build an authentic connection with your subscribers, especially parents of prospective students, and it is one of the most important elements of your digital marketing strategy.

Used correctly, email can be both a relationship building tool and an inquiry generating tool, but how do you use email both effectively and responsibly? The answer is that you have to treat and speak to the people on your list in a way that builds trust and invites engagement.

How to Get Started with Email Marketing

Here are 8 steps you can use to start email marketing for your school.

  1. Define your audience

Like all marketing, start with your target audience, making sure you understand what they want, what problem you’re solving for them and what value you’re going to be providing. Do this for each subscriber group / target audience.

Learn more here: How to Create Accurate Personas that Work for Your School

  1. Establish your goals

What are you hoping to accomplish by emailing each subscriber group? Are you trying to get traffic, downloads, awareness, engagement, likes, comments, shares, or something else? You have to decide what goal you’re trying to accomplish with your email marketing campaigns.

  1. Select your email service provider (ESP)

You can’t just go out and use a normal Gmail account to send out hundreds or thousands of emails to people because, if you do,  your email account will be immediately tagged as spam. If Google deems your emails are spam, your account will be immediately knocked down and all your emails will go straight to junk.

Wondering what email service provider to choose for your school marketing? Check out this post: 12 Top Email Marketing Services for Schools

  1. Create a way for people to sign up

The best way to do this is to create an email sign up form on your website, if you don’t have one already. Some schools will put this in the footer or some will have a separate landing page.

  1. Create a reason for people to give you their email address

You want to create landing pages on your site or sign up forms (pop ups work great). A lead magnet is a free download they will get in exchange for giving you their email address and signing up for your email list.

Typical lead magnets include:

  • eBook
  • Webinar
  • Mini-course
  • Daily emails (i.e. daily parenting tips)
  • Virtual library
  • Cheat sheet
  • Checklist
  • Audio version of an ebook
  • White paper or report
  • Guide
  • Toolkit
  • Case study
  • Resource list
  • Calendar
  • Worksheet
  • Plan or planner
  • Recipe or activity instructions
  • Printable pattern (think Pinterest)
  • Round up (collection of curated information in one document)
  • Inspiration list
  • Quiz
  • Giveaway, coupon or discount (maybe local merchants can help with this)
  • Free consultation
  • Move up on a waiting list

The important thing about a lead magnet is that it needs to be highly valuable to the prospective parent and it should make them want to learn more about your school.

  1. Choose an email campaign type

There are many different types of email campaigns, such as newsletters, announcements about blog posts you’ve published, a drip campaign that gives prospective parents nuggets of information about your school to make them want to learn more, to targeted information for staff, faculty, administrators, donors, alumni and community members. Most schools utilize a mixture of all of these and more.

  1. Create an email calendar or schedule

Decide how often you’re going to email your list(s) and create a calendar that includes topic, date and time when your campaign will publish. Determine a consistent publishing schedule and then let your audience know how often and on what days you’ll be sending their emails out. If you already have an editorial calendar, include your email marketing schedule within your master calendar.

  1. Measure your result

Measuring return on investment (ROI) on email marketing is a big subject, and it’s probably worth a blog post all on its own, but you can start off by tracking your open rates, what links and how many links are clicked within your emails. Use the dashboard of your email service provider account.

How Can Email Marketing Be Used?

As mentioned earlier, email is great for building relationships. It puts a human voice and a personality and a face behind your school. Parents want to feel they know, like and trust the school before enrolling their child, and email helps personalize your school.

Email marketing is also great for building awareness about your school to keep your school top of mind, so when parents are ready to submit an inquiry form or meet with an admissions officer, your school is at the forefront of their minds.

Email marketing is also great for content promotion. Share relevant content and useful assets with your email campaigns.

Email marketing is great for inquiry generation. With email, you can foster the engagement over time that will lead to a relationship with a potential family.

Email marketing is also great for promoting your programs as well as for lead nurturing. Lead nurturing is where you provide your potential families with content that’s really going to help them succeed as parents. When you give up so much value, you build up what is called “subliminal reciprocity” so that, over time, they really want to engage with you on a deeper level.

Additional Tips for School Marketers

Concentrate on great “subject lines” to improve your open rates. Make sure the subject lines are interesting, not too click-bait-y, but also not too boring. Do not use all caps, because all caps and exclamation points can trigger spam filters, so your email will be sent into people’s Spam folder.

Learn more here: Headline Analyzer – the #1 Free Headline Analyzer

Also, remember email service providers (ESP) and all sorts of internet bots read your emails, and not just your subject lines. They will read the content of the email. What you write in your emails can actually trigger spam filters that send your emails to spam. And once they go to spam, it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever be seen.

Be sure to use .JPG images in your emails to make them interesting. And, if you do use images, use ALT TAGS because spam bots like to see all images have ALT TAGS. This can also help with your SEO.

You can also use GIFs in your emails to keep your emails visually interesting. Since you can’t include videos that play within emails, GIFs are a great way around.

Another tip is to avoid too many links in your emails.

Since email bots read the content of your emails, having too many links within an email can sometimes trigger a spam filter, lowering your open rates.

Try to remember to keep your emails “snackable”. No one wants to read a long, incredibly dense email.

This means you should:

  • Keep a lot of white space in your email
  • Avoid areas of super-dense text
  • Keep your email light with images and text

Finally, here is a power tip you can use in your school marketing right now.

You need a call-to-action (CTA) in your emails. Don’t forget email is a two-way street. Engagement goes both ways.

With your CTA, what action is it you actually want people to do? At the bottom of each email, add a simple action, such as “Hit reply and tell me what questions you have about our school?”

When people hit reply, it shows your email service provider people are engaging with your emails, and this improves deliverability and cuts down the triggering of spam filters. And of course, make sure if people respond to you, you reply to them. Not only will this improve deliverability, but it also builds those relationships.

Is your school following these 8 steps to starting an email marketing strategy? If not, which ones aren’t you following? Are there any steps you think should be added to this list? Please comment below…

About the author 

Brendan Schneider

Hey, I’m Brendan, and this is my blog. After 28 years working in private, independent schools in mostly admissions, enrollment, marketing, communications, and fundraising roles, I decided to make SchneiderB Media my full-time job, where I help schools get more inquiries through my Fractional Digital Marketer program. I also started the MarCom Society, a membership created expressly to help, support, and train marketing and communications professionals at schools.

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