Sometimes, you just can't look away.

How to Be Remarkably Unsuccessful at Alumni Email Marketing

I met one of my alumni email marketing clients while presenting at an EDU conference. She did all she could to close the project on her side. We really wanted to work together. She whispered secrets about her boss. I mumbled a few about mine. We bonded over the course of the sales process. We could be friends in the real world.

She told me throughout the sales cycle her alumni marketing team had meetings to plan email content and event invitations. She tugged at my heartstrings when she talked up her donor lists. My eyes got a bit misty when she just absorbed the importance of using segments. I felt like a jedi master when she told me right back to my face she wanted to do one-to-one communications. She got it. She gets me.

I got underway with stars in my eyes.

I laid out her strategy, surveying her previous emails. What became clear to me she was using a one-size-fits-all approach. The same broad-stroke emails sent far too often. The contact database was a single (ancient) list even they couldn’t segment.

I sat down with her and we had a heart-to-heart about what I knew absolutely had to change.

They had a batch of cookie-cutter emails to migrate from their system into our email marketing system. Having ready-made content is always fantastic. Buuuuut the folks actually should want to read it. And also don’t just change key dates in a template you use every year. Gah!

She didn’t feel they needed to do anything but migrate and send email blasts every 4-6 weeks. Even more shocking, she wanted to send the broadcast to the entirety of the list without segmenting. I cringed.

Was this the same woman I wanted to make the godmother of my child?

B-bu-but relevant emails drive almost 18 times more revenue than broadcast material, I stammered. I encouraged her to look at donation tiers, engagement levels, year of alumni graduation as well as programs and degrees for possible segments.

She wasn’t interested. Even her assistant agreed with me. I needed her to see segmenting cultivates relationships.

According to McKinsey & Company, millennials will earn somewhere in the vicinity of $1.4 trillion by 2020. That’s a lot of potential development dollars. Cultivating relationships early on will be influential to future alumni email marketing efforts. McKinsey also states an email is three times more likely to prompt conversions than Facebook or Twitter. Email has always been the motherload for ROI.

My client felt a last-ditch, 90-test doing it the “old way” was prudent. In fact, she wanted to double-down and increase her email frequency. My face scrunched up in concern.

I pushed back as diplomatically as I could. An alumni email marketing service should move you away from the mentality of lists and more towards databases. If she stayed the course, she can look forward to an even MORE gradual deterioration of her audience over time. I was here to prevent such sad occurrences.

I let her email campaign operate per her instructions. Each monthly report became more dismal. High numbers of unsubscribes, hard and soft bounces, and spam reports helped her understand. Engagement dropped and complaints increased. Alumni were turned off after our 90-day test. I am all for testing. Just not testing something you’ve done the same way for years.

Three months later, we got our paws dirty teasing out segments and putting together responsive content. We worked through a messaging exercise and defined each approach by segment. We even put together an email campaign for graduating seniors, priming them for alumni appeals. It took some time to get it all done. Plus, they had to decide on a systematic change. A change in thinking.

We looked back the next year. Email revenue rose 14%. Privately, I did a victory dance. Got up out of my chair in my office and enjoyed it. Publicly, I gave the client credit.

It’s not a secret how we did it. I am happy to share my expertise and get your alumni email marketing producing the way it should. Let’s book a 15-minute call. I got your dose of tough love.

 

Ready for a segmenting and content survey project? We’ll match audiences with content and customize everything to the recipient.

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