Email marketing can be tricky communication method. Used incorrectly, it can alienate your audience or even hurt the goal you are trying to accomplish. But if used effectively, email marketing is a powerful tool that can help you achieve results like increasing event attendance or strengthening your relationship with your alumni base, donors or parents of students.

If you’re considering an email marketing campaign, take a moment to read through this helpful guide of best practices that includes audience considerations, timelines, content and more.

If you find yourself with questions, please feel free to contact us or the communications manager of your area on campus.

Pre-Project Questions

If you’re considering an email campaign, ask yourself these questions before getting started.

  • What is your goal as a result of the campaign? Is it to increase attendance at an event? Create awareness for a project or news item? Generate admission applications? Whatever your goal may be, clearly defining it will help you measure success later.
  • How should the message be delivered? Loyola Marymount uses Emma for formalized email campaigns. The sender’s address should always be an lmu.edu email address.
  • How should the email look? Sample templates are automatically uploaded into Emma accounts. Template customizations are available but may take extra time and would possibly need to be created at the cost of your office. If you are in need of a custom template, please contact us.
  • When do you want to send the email? Please take a look at the campus’ master email calendar in Outlook to see what days are available around the time you would like to send your email. When you choose your date, please add your email to the master calendar so others can see when you are blasting. The purpose of this calendar is to avoid bombarding our audiences with emails, which could result in them unsubscribing from any emails from the university. In the calendar, add a note indicating which audiences you are sending to, and do not send emails to the same audiences around the same date, if possible. No emails can be blasted on the same day that LMU(update) is scheduled to go out.

Audience

You’ve thought through all of the project considerations listed above and are ready to launch your email campaign. What’s next? Successful execution starts with knowing your audience.

  • Who is your audience? Are they alumni? Donors? Friends of the university? Who your audience is can shape the style and tone of your email. (For instance, an older audience base may not be best reached via email, and could be better communicated with using a printed, mailed piece.)
  • Who else is talking to this audience, and when? If your recipients are being frequently hit with similar messages, it may limit your effectiveness – or require a layout and content that will catch their attention.
  • Is your audience in a state to be receptive to your message? For example, a frequent complaint from recent graduates is the plethora of donation solicitations they receive; if you had a similar goal in mind, it might be best to wait a few months to reach out to your audience.
  • What kind of content does your audience want? For instance, dance program alums have shown a high level of interest in learning what current students and faculty are working on; an email intended to promote an upcoming concert might also include a short video of a recent performance or a link to a Facebook photo gallery. Making your content relevant and interesting for the specific audience is essential to email marketing success.

Content

You know your audience, and now you’re ready to tackle the content and layout of the email. Marketing and Communications can assist you in the creation of content; but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A good subject line can help increase your open rate. Think about what will motivate your audience to open the email and try to communicate it in a few words. A bad subject line would be too generalized and broad. A good subject line like, “Lion Dance alums, you’re invited to a special event!,” recognizes the division in the subject line and shows the recipient this message is specifically intended for them.
  • Shorter is better. Marketing messages are competing more than ever before for the attention of their intended audience. Make an email too long, and you’ll lose the reader’s attention; even worse, you’ll train them not to open your next communication. The longer the email is, the more important it is for the content to be valuable and engaging. Mixing various forms of media such as photos or videos will help the reader stay interested longer.
  • Looks are important. The look and feel of the email should match not only your intended audience but also LMU’s visual identity. Our department can work with you if you have any questions regarding the branding of the university in your email.
  • Consistency is vital. Your message should stay true to LMU. As you craft your content, make sure it is consistent with the overall brand and our marketing strategy. If you have doubts or questions, contact us.

Timeline

You’ve crafted great copy for your audience, and your layout looks polished and ready for the public. Now it’s time to determine when to send your email – it can be a deciding factor in your campaign’s success or failure!

  • Many times your email campaign will require hitting the same audience with the same message more than once; this occurs frequently with event-based projects. In general, we recommend hitting the audience no more than twice with the same message. Consider the first email’s goal as to create awareness and urge early action; and the second email (closer to the event date) as a strong call to action (i.e. Last day to register).
  • Email marketing messages from universities face a unique challenge: they are frequently hitting the same audience over and over (for instance, a theatre alum might receive two emails from the division during a semester; but would also receive general emails to Lion alums). Keep this in mind when you plan your timeline; could you send one email with three short pieces of content rather than three separate emails?
  • If you are beginning a “regular” email communication project, establish a schedule and stick to it. Consistency helps establish a regular readership; your audience knows you will be emailing them and trusts that your message is of value.
  • Make sure to time your message based on the action you want the audience to take. If you want them to attend an event, a general rule of thumb is to send the first notice two weeks in advance; and a final reminder a few days before the event. Sending the email too early will lack urgency; and sending it too late won’t allow enough time for the audience to plan their action. If your audience will require travel, you should consider sending the email at least six weeks in advance.

Analytics

Numbers can tell us a lot about the success of your campaign, as well as help us adjust your strategy going forward. The response tab in Emma gives you the capability to track the analytics of the emails that you send out. These numbers are an important tool that you can use to see just how effective your email communications are.

The following is a quick definition of terms and what they can tell you about your campaign.

  • Dates/Times – Emma keeps records of all email messages that are sent, and you can analyze when and what time they were sent and the resulting success of the email.
  • Sent – The number of contacts your email is sent to. Used to calculate the percentage of recipients who opened the email.
  • Bounces – The number of emails that were not successfully delivered and an indicator of the health of your subscriber list. Soft bounces occur when an email address is valid, but the message was not delivered (servers down, recipient inbox full, etc.). Hard bounces occur when an address is non-existent or invalid. Too many bounces can damage sender reputation, and unusually high numbers should be addressed immediately.
  • Unsubscribes– The number of people who choose to not receive any further communication from your department; they “opt out” of the email list. If your opt-out number becomes a significant percentage of your list, you may need to re-evaluate the content and frequency of your campaign. For larger audiences, opt outs should be less than 1 percent.
  • Opens – A measure of how many people open or view a particular email campaign. For higher education, a good open rate by industry standards is anywhere between 19 and 24 percent.
  • Clicks – The number of people who click on links you include in your email communication. The higher the number of clicks, the more engaged people are in the content you are offering them.
  • Unique clicks – A unique click is a click from a single computer. If your clicks are the same number as your unique clicks, then there was only one click from each person that viewed your email.
  • Forwards –The number of times that recipients are forwarding your email to someone else using the ‘official’ Forward button (in other words, hitting “Fwd” in Outlook does not count). Indicates a high level of engagement and the desire to share your communication with others who they believe will also value the message.

Additional Best Practices

Congratulations! You’re almost finished. Here are just a few more tricks of the trade to keep in mind as you build your email.

  • Pre-header text – Always utilize pre-header text – it’s the short summary that often follows the subject line in several email clients. It is another tool to entice recipients to open the message.
  • ALT text – Many email providers automatically block images from being downloaded. Including descriptive ALT text in your images (such as “Students gathered in front of William H. Hannon Library”) will ensure your message is conveyed, even if images are not visible.
  • Preview emails – When previewing emails, view on a variety of devices, internet providers, and applications (Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, Outlook, Gmail, etc.)  to ensure proper formatting and sizing.
  • Personalize – Our official email marketing service provider, Emma, allows you to personalize email content. These special fields allow you to automatically populate names into subject lines or body text. When used correctly, personalization can increase open rate, engage readers, and help emails avoid being marked as spam.
  • Call-to-action (CTA) – Make sure this is a prominent feature in every email. What do you want your audience to do? The CTA can take many forms, such as an event registration button that says “Join Us” or a link that includes “Read more.”