Miles DePaul

// Marketing Manager, North America

Despite what you might expect from students, especially teenagers, email remains the primary channel for students researching and communicating with universities and colleges.

While students probably spend more time on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, email continues to be a preferred channel (even among students) for more professional, official, communications.

In a recent study, nearly 68 percent of teens and 73 percent of Millennials said they prefer to receive communication from a business via email. So keep the snaps and the grams for promoting your culture, building your brand, and building a community, but keep the email for the important pieces of content, and direct promotions.

 

Email is the preferred channel for university marketing

76% of high school students ranked email as the preferred medium for researching colleges in the United States. This far outranked direct mail, in-person seminars, phone, and messaging apps. While social media certainly plays a role in advertising and capturing the attention of students, it is not a channel used for communication.

Preferred Channel for University Recruitments by Students

Source: Statistica, 2016

The fact is email still drives conversions, across all sectors, and is the preferred form of communication for both university and college students.

We’ll let some of the best in their field handle other questions like social media marketing for universities, and focus this article on what we do best – email.

After speaking with universities about their challenges, we wanted to go beyond some of the basics of email marketing and have compiled three unique tips to help you and your institution think through your email marketing strategy.

  • Use sub-accounts to manage campaigns for different departments
  • Maintain brand consistency across all departments
  • Ensure responsive design on all devices and inboxes

There are also a lot of great tips on our own blog that can help you think through broader email questions like how to send email marketing newsletters, conduct A/B tests, template design, and more.

Manage all departments’ email campaigns

Higher education institutions like universities and colleges have a unique challenge on their hands when it comes to email marketing. Among other things, they are concerned with recruiting students, raising money, communicating events to existing students, engaging alumni, and, of course, educating their students.

They also operate as one brand with dozens (maybe hundreds) of separate brands, whether that is different academic departments, associations, publications, athletic teams, or housing and hospitality. Sending the right message, to the right audience, with consistent branding, and a shared voice is no easy feat.

Simplify account management by using sub-accounts

Our first tip is to implement sub-accounts on your email platform to easily separate and manage email programs across department.

Sub-accounts allow you to separate your email campaigns across different API Keys. By default, all accounts come with one active (Master) API Key where all mailings are sent through. You also have the possibility to create a second (Sub-Account) API Key for other departments, types of emails, or other unique use cases.

A university’s marketing or communications department can own the master account, and using sub-accounts and API keys, they can create separate accounts for different departments, sending needs, purposes, and users. You could have the Science department on one sub-account, the alumni relations team on another, student recruitment on another, and so forth.

When setting up your sub-accounts, here are some recommended best practices:

Use a separate API Key for Marketing & Transactional Emails

If you are sending both marketing and transactional emails on your account, you should use one API Key to send your transactional emails and another API Key for your newsletters.

In the event that one API Key has an issue (for example, a sending rate limit on your marketing campaigns), it will not interrupt the sending of your transactional emails, and vice versa.

Use separate API Keys for each Department

If you do create a master account and manage email accounts for different departments, you can assign a different API Key to each department (or even 2 API Keys to each department if they send both marketing & transactional emails).

Should an issue arise with one department’s mailings (a rate limit or sending is temporarily blocked due to abuse complaints), it will only impact their one API Key, and not your entire school’s emailing.

Separate Your Templates & Contact Lists

You can also separate templates and recipient lists into separate API Keys, and give another department access to that specific sub-account with Account Sharing. The Math department will ever have to sort through templates from Biology department. And the Fine Arts department won’t have to ever deal with the those rowdy Athletic Center emails.

Maintain brand consistency across all departments

Brand consistency is important for any organization, but perhaps is most difficult in institutions like universities, where there is no central marketing department that every department works with, or reports to. As a result, a change to a university’s brand, whether it’s large changes like logo, tagline and color scheme, or day-to-day changes like seasonal campaigns and messages, can be a difficult task to coordinate across campus.

Brands that are presented with consistency are 3-4x more likely to experience brand recognition. In fact, something as simple as color consistency can increase brand recognition by 80%.

Click to Tweet this insight 👆

So if your college is trying to build the brand loyalty and recognition of, say, a Harvard University, but your Sociology department sends emails with your college’s horizontal logo, and your recruitment team uses primarily green colors instead of the your core brand of red, then how do you expect to build that consistent brand recognition?

 

How Consistent Brand Colors Drive Engagement

Source: Lucid Press

And this is a challenge amongst well-established departments in the university, but what about ad-hoc clubs and groups, or course emails from professors?

Without consistency, your brand is everything and nothing at the same time. With consistency you are one brand, one identity. Which brand do you think wins out in the end?

Quote This👆

Protect your brand with locked sections and bulk template editing

All of this is to say our second tip is ensure brand consistency across all emails by using locked sections and bulk template editing.

With one master account in Mailjet and many sub-accounts for your different departments, clubs, and sports teams, you can control where and how your brand is used.

First, by using locked sections in selected templates, you can ensure that no user (without proper permissions) can edit certain blocks within an email template. For example, you could create a footer with your logo, social media links, and a recent headline and lock this section so that no other user can come in and edit the logo, the colors, or the content. You can do the same for the header section, or even content blocks throughout the email.

This ensures that no matter what department your email comes from, the end user will have a consistent experience with your brand.

Mailjet’s Locked Sections

Similarly, you can control your brand consistency using bulk template editing. The larger your organization, the larger your template gallery likely is. Can you imagine changing the logo, or the footer of hundreds of templates?

Do you… do you really want to imagine that?

Bulk template editing allows you to edit that section once and apply the changes to all the templates that has the same section. That way, you can easily update the consistent footer, logo, or tagline across all your emails in just one click.

Mailjet’s Linked Sections for Bulk Template Editing

 

Design your emails with a mobile-first approach

If there’s one thing you’ve been told too many times as a marketer for a universitty, it’s that students are on mobile devices more than desktops (or laptops, or really anything else in this world).

Today, more than 70% of readers will delete an email that is not optimized for mobile, meanwhile over 25% of emails are first read on a mobile device. This number jumps to 40% for people aged 14-18… in other words your prospective students.

You’ve done so well to capture a user’s email, design a campaign, optimize your deliverability to land in the inbox… don’t lose them because you didn’t optimize for mobile.

Click to Tweet this insight 👆

Ensure responsive design on all devices and inboxes

Our third tip then: optimize your emails for mobile devices and all inboxes.

Here are five things to look out for when designing your emails for all contexts:

  1. Alignment is Key: Opting for a single column layout will prevent you from having to re-arrange the design as the screen gets smaller. Simple is your friend.
  2. Image Size: Images are a great way to break up text, but it can cause some problems as well. Pictures that don’t render properly can appear too big or too small on some devices, ruining your killer background or making your banner unreadable.
  3. Clearly identifiable Calls-to-Action: Make primary calls to action as buttons (instead of hyperlinks) so it can be easily found and clicked with a finger on phones and tablets.
  4. Too much text: Don’t make your recipients scroll more than 2 or 3 swipes on their device. If you have a lot of text to share, simply share a snippet in the email and add a link to read more.
  5. Hierarchies of importance: Most emails are read for less than 3 seconds on a mobile device, so make sure you are putting your most captivating, engaging, and attention-grabbing headlines, CTAs, annd images above the fold. Don’t give your reader a reason to swipe left.

But even with all of this, you can still make some mistakes that affect responsiveness. So make sure you use an email builder or a coding framework that can do all the heavy lifting for you.

Responsive drag-and-drop email editors

Many email builders (Mailjet’s Passport included 🤠) allow you to create a well-designed email using a drag-and-drop interface. These editors (the best ones at least) will automatically ensure the sent emails are optimized for any device and inbox.

Responsive Drag-and-Drop Email Builder

 

MJML

You could also code your emails if you want to go above and beyond, or create some custom designs. This is great, but coding for responsive design can be tedious because there is not a global standard amongst inboxes and devices on how to render emails. For example, an email will look one way in Gmail, and another way in Outlook; one way on Gmail’s Android app, and another on a Macbook.

This tedious process led our Product Team at Mailjet to look for ways to make coding responsive emails easier. This is how and why MJML was born, the leading responsive email markup language.

Using everything you know about HTML, MJML simplifies the code for you so you don’t have to worry about writing lines beyond lines of code to accommodate different devices and inboxes. An email that could be hundreds of lines of code, can be written in less than 50. Speed matters.

 

MJML for Responsive Emails

 

If you’re interested in learning more about MJML and how to use it too send responsive emails, you can try it live here, or download here, and be sure to say hi to Nico and the team in our dedicated MJML Slack Group.

Final Exam

It’s no secret how important email marketing is to universities, from recruitment and fundraising to simply communicating campus activities. As a marketer in universities, you already understand this, however hopefully this article outlined some of the often overlooked aspects of email marketing in universities.

Namely – how to optimize your email platform, create efficiencies by managing all email under one platform, maintain control of your brand across departments, and of course how to design and code responsive emails.

This semester’s exam is a practical exam. You can choose your own assignment, either:

  1. Create a Mailjet account and try out sub-accounts to separate sending practices for your department.
  2. Try Mailjet’s collaboration suite to explore locked sections and bulk template editing
  3. Code your next email in MJML

 

No pressure. 🎓