Your alumni newsletters are one of the most powerful marketing tools available to you. So make sure they say what they need to say to increase your open and click through rates.
Since the early days, American marketers have created and published newsletters as a means to cultivate their audience, raise brand awareness, and build customer loyalty. Publications like John Deere’s agricultural magazine, The Furrow, have proved for over a hundred years that consistently publishing great content was the best way to engage an audience.
 The Furrow begins publication as “A Journal for the American Farmer.” The magazine’s distribution grows to 4 million readers by 1912. Today, it is published in 14 languages and read in 115 countries, making it the most widely circulated farm magazine in the world. — via Deere.com
Today, you want to use your e-newsletter to accomplish the same thing, even though you’re not printing it on paper and mailing it. (Of course, I’m a big fan of print marketing, so if you’ve got the budget and an understanding of what makes compelling print, then go for it!)
While there are differences between digital newsletters and printed newsletters, to be successful, you have to approach your alumni marketing e-newsletter with the same thoughtful commitment as you would a printed publication.
Alumni Newsletter Setup
Before you launch or relaunch your alumni marketing newsletter, make sure you take the time to…
- Craft your strategy for this content channel,
- Create a marketing budget for it,
- Identify your KPI’s, and
- Establish a workflow for your team so that someone is monitoring daily, weekly, and monthly metrics to show you if you’re reaching your goals or not.
Now that you’ve done your homework and set up everything for your alumni newsletters on the back end, it’s time to create engaging, consistent content for your alumni audience. Here are six things that all your alumni newsletters should say to increase open and click-through rates.
Outcomes and Successes
First of all, your alumni newsletters should focus on the outcomes and successes of your college or university. This is one of the first things on your alumni audience’s mind. They want to know, “How is my school doing?”
Now this can be tricky, because while you’re sharing about the success of your institute, you don’t want to write these stories in an organization-centric way.
Make your audience the hero of the story.
Fill your content with gratitude for your alumni audience and show them how it was alumni engagement and support that created the win, not your organization’s skill, prestige, or merit.
This might be obvious, but your alumni newsletter should feature alumni success stories. The reason I have to mention this is because the alumni success stories are not easy to capture.
Putting a web form on your website asking alumni to share their stories with you is just the beginning of finding the stories that your newsletter needs to feature. This is simply not enough. Your alumni are not coming to your website looking for a chance to share their story. Often alumni are humble and discreet folk, not wanting to show off their success.
You’ll have to dig deep into your alumni network to get to know your alumni and hear their stories. Then, you’ll have to ask them personally to share their story with you for the alumni newsletter.
This, coupled with the work necessary to schedule and perform interviews, can make the process long and drawn-out. But once you get your story workflow ironed out, you’ll begin to have a steady stream of stories for your newsletter.
Link to Your School’s Mission
Once you’ve conducted the interviews, highlight those making a difference in the world through the lens of the mission of your school. Your alumni newsletter stories need to create a connection between the success of the alumni and mission of your school.
Again, do not write an organization–centric way. Keep the alumnus as the hero of the story. But weave a thread in there that ties your college or university to the life of your alum.
As you craft in captured stories for your alumni newsletters, try to highlight various majors that your alumni might not be familiar with.
- Use alumni success stories to show your audience the experience that an alumnus had within the major.
- Share current student stories that showcase what it’s like to be in the major right now.
- Interview a current faculty member to tell your alumni where the major is going.
Sometimes it is easy to only highlight the successful business person, as it’s more challenging to find the golden nuggets in social realms. But do your best to look for stories highlighting your humanities and sciences as well as your business programs.
Your alumni newsletters should be speaking to your audience in a very personal way. Practically speaking, that means that you should organize your mailing list by affinity groups like business, sciences, arts, parents, etc.
If you have the bandwidth, craft several versions of your email newsletter for each audience segment. If you don’t have the bandwidth, continue writing one newsletter for all of your groups, but design one-off email marketing campaigns catering specifically to each affinity group that you have.
Variable Data Email
Yet another way you can get personal with your email is called “variable data email.” At first, the name might scare you—but don’t worry! If you’ve ever used merge tags to personalize emails with the recipient’s first name or last name, then you can do variable data email.
Basically, instead of merging information from your contact database like a person’s name or address, you are using merge tags to tell your email management system to insert text based on merge tags that you’ve specified earlier. Here’s how this marketer describes it:
The system works with dynamic tags, which are specially formatted place holders within the email.
When the message is sent, a script looks for the tags and follows a set of rules to decide which block of code should replace the tag. Usually there will be a default block of content which displays if the rule doesn’t apply, and then one or more alternatives which are triggered by the values in the contacts database.
So by using variable data email, you can personalize each email based on the affinity of the alumnus, even if they’re all on the same list.
Your alumni newsletters should also feature the voices and life stories of long-term professors. Never underestimate the bond that your alumni have with their former professors. By interviewing professors and sharing about their work and interest today, you’ll rekindle those old feelings of connection within your alumni audience.
The real power in featuring your inspiring faculty within your newsletter is that more than anyone else in your organization, your alumni have connected with your professors.
Think about that.
They don’t know you. They probably don’t know much about anybody in the administration. But they know that professor who took the time to talk with them outside of class, helped them understand the subject, or encouraged them in their hard times.
Leverage these important relationships by featuring inspiring faculty within your alumni newsletters.
Showcase Alumni Engagement
Your alumni newsletters should be showcasing alumni engagement. This is a bit different than featuring the alumni success stories because with these stories you are showing how alumni have reconnected to the mission of your school.
Now, I know that our development buddies are going to want every one of these stories to feature an alumnus who made a gift…
But it’s important to show other ways in which alumni have been involved with your college or university like volunteering, recommending the school to prospective students, talking to prospects and parents, or hosting gatherings.
As you know, there are many ways in which your alumni can get involved to help advance your school’s mission. So illustrate to your alumni audience how they can get involved by featuring stories of alumni engagement within your alumni newsletters.
There are a lot of things that your Alumni Newsletters can say, but these six things should be the baseline for the content that you feature within your newsletter.
If your alumni newsletter strategy has plateaued or is failing, and you’d like an expert hand to come alongside you to get it back up and running the way it should be, we’d be happy to help!
We’ve got years of experience revitalizing higher education marketing content so that open rates, click through rates, and audience engagement go up.
So, get ahold of us. It’s free and there’s no obligation.