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June 3

10 Ways to Improve Email Open Rates for your Gen Z Audience


by | Jun 3, 2019 | Blog, Featured, Email Marketing

Frustrated that Gen Z prospective students aren’t opening your emails? Buck the trend with these tips to improve your email open rates!

No matter what current email open rates might say, email marketing is far from dead.

As you can see in my post above, 99% of all consumers check their email every day. And when it comes to Millennials, 73% prefer email from businesses and organizations rather than other channels.

Of course, we don’t have near the amount of data on Generation Z prospective students as we’d like to have.

But it’s safe to assume that email is still the number one digital form of communication – even for those between 10 and 22 years of age.

If this is true, why is it so incredibly difficult to get Gen Z prospects to open their emails?!

Probably the biggest reason is inbox over saturation.

If your prospective students are anything like my Gen Z son, their inbox is absolutely flooded with emails from higher education institutions like yours.

junk email

Even if he opened every single one of these emails, he wouldn’t have the time to reply or fill out the enrollment forms for all of them.

This over saturation occurs in print marketing as well, with education marketers stuffing the mailboxes of high schoolers every year.

junk mail

While over saturation isn’t going away anytime soon, there are proven ways to improve email open rates – even among the elusive Generation Z.

Here’s my top ten list on how to raise your email open rates.

Buy lists with caution.

I have no problem with buying a mailing list for direct mail acquisition campaigns. Done right, direct mail acquisition campaigns are part of a healthy lead generation strategy.

So why the caution with buying email lists?

Because prospective students view their email inbox as more personal than their mailbox.

Unwanted solicitations are much more annoying via email than direct mail. As a result, buying email lists can depress your email open rates.

Why is email so much more personal to Gen Z?

Generation Z grew up with screens making up their view of the world.

They explored their world through screens in every room of the house, mobile devices in their pockets, computer displays on the refrigerator, school projects done completely online, and more.

For them, there’s no hardline separation between their online and offline lives. All of it is their real life.

What someone says online is just as impactful as if they said it offline to them. For many, their online friendships are just as deep as their friendships offline.

There’s also the fact that online relationships are much more controllable.

From blocking unwanted ads to unfriending those they don’t want to hear from anymore, your prospective students view their digital realm as a much more personal, intimate space than the mailbox where anything can happen.

Beyond annoying your audience, there are anti-spam laws to consider.

I’m not exactly where the line is between unsolicited emails and spam, so you might not get in trouble with the CAN-SPAM law of 2003.

However, if you send unsolicited emails and they are marked as junk by the reader, your email service provider can flag your account as a potential spammer. You DO NOT want this to happen.

For all these reasons, it’s important to gain permission to market to your Gen Z prospective students in such a personal way as email marketing.

Think about purging your list.

If you have a sizable email list of 1,000 emails or more, I highly recommend an email list purge.

Start by filtering your email list to identify those who haven’t opened your emails in the last year or so. (This should be simple enough with email service providers like MailChimp.)

When you find them, send them an email asking them if they want to stay subscribed or not.

For most education marketers, the idea of shrinking their email list is scary.

But sending email campaigns to addresses that haven’t opened your emails for a long time hurts your email open rates.

Plus, it gives you bad marks with ISP’s who can block your emails or send them straight to the junk email folder.

Commit to content marketing.

It’s hard to stress enough how important it is to commit to creating a steady stream of quality content.

To improve email open rates, prospective students must know you’ve got something in your emails worth reading.

Email announcements and other campus news is okay, but these news items should be coupled with content that serves your prospective student as much as possible.

Too many news-only emails without helpful content will lead to stagnate or worsening email open rates.

Don’t fret about the best date/time to send.

Have you ever been ready to send your email campaign, but then stopped because you didn’t know when the best date/time was to send it?

While I’m sure there are times when your emails are more likely will be read, I think people make too much of this mythical best time.

When's the best time or date to send your email to improve email open rates? It's as mythical as a unicorn.

Finding the best time/date to send your email is like trying to find a unicorn.

If you want to pinpoint the absolute best time to send your email to get the highest email open rates, go for it. There are plenty of studies out there with different approaches on this.

But don’t let “analysis paralysis” get in the way.

Your audience is different than anyone else’s, so the studies, which show best send times, might not end up being true for your audience.

The bottom line is: The worst time to send is “never.”

Choose the best date/time that you can, and then watch the results in your email open rates. Then, pick another date/time, and see if you can beat those results.

After a time of sending and testing, you’ll get a feel for when your audience likes to receive your emails.

Avoid these words.

There are some words that email marketers have found to be detrimental to email open rates.

For example, stay away from words like free, help, and reminder. Other words to avoid include cash, quote and save.

Most education marketing has nothing to do with these words, so this shouldn’t be difficult, but you might be surprised how these words slip their way into your copy.

Don’t be afraid to stand for what you believe in.

Many education brands are nervous about saying anything with conviction, fearing that they might turn off someone or a group of people with their stand.

The result is they pretty much say little about anything important that could differentiate them from other brands.

But education brands should make a stand on their institutional values.

Some examples:

  • A brand can stand for excellence, which means they’re against mediocrity.
  • A brand can stand for environmental stewardship, which means they’re against careless waste.
  • A brand can stand for creative innovation, which means they’re against playing it safe.

This can feel risky, but don’t be afraid to take a stand on what you believe. If your institutional values aren’t someone’s cup of tea, they have other educational options.

You can’t be everything to everyone — so be yourself!

Get personal.

There’s nothing that gets the delete button faster than emails that come from institutions.

Emails with institution names in the “from” line appear too cold and impersonal.

To improve email open rates, try sending your next email campaign with the name of someone your audience would know, like your president, VP of advancement, recruitment officers, etc.

People have relationships with people, not with organizations. So make your campaigns as personal as possible.

No Gimmicks.

This should go without saying, but everything in your email should be as true and accurate as possible.

Don’t exaggerate about alumni accomplishments or “claim” successful people as alumni who really only took one course at your school.

If you’re marketing a capital campaign, speak only of the buildings that are going to be remodeled or built, and be accurate in your description. If it’s only a remodel, tell them.

If part of your campaign is to go to another cause, like scholarships or your annual fund, be up front and show clearly what the priorities of the fundraising campaign are.

Gimmicks and unclear promises that never come true are the surest way to hurt your email open rates.

Think through your subject lines.

After the “From” line, the first thing readers see in their email inboxes is the subject.

Consequently, the subject line could be the most important copy you write.

You should spend considerable time thinking through your subject line – it’s that critical.

Keep subject lines…

  • Personal. Talk straight to your reader as a friend. (Example: “Can you make it?”)
  • Short. All email inboxes will cut off your subject line at some point. So keep your character count to +/- 25 characters in the subject, and +/- 85 characters in the pre-header text.
  • Useful. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s inside the email. Don’t be so mysterious that your reader just deletes the email.

Use cliffhangers.

Cliffhangers are those moments in your Netflix series that make you watch the next episode instead of going to bed when you should.

Learn to write cliffhangers for your email subject lines, pre-header text, and social media copy to entice your readers to click.

Cliffhangers are a way of making your reader curious about a story you’re telling.

Good cliffhangers in email subject lines make readers wonder:

  • “What’s going to happen?”
  • “Who’s going to be there?”
  • “What happened to her?”
  • “What will I miss?”
  • “What’s in it for me?”

Here are cliffhanger ideas for email subjects.

  • “Angie couldn’t believe it!”
  • “He’ll never be the same.”
  • “Will I see you tomorrow?”

Cliffhangers like these are not gimmicks or bait-and-switch.

When readers open your email and they see the answer to the cliffhanger, your education brand loyalty will grow and email open rates will improve. They know they can trust you.

Improving email open rates isn’t impossible.

You might be struggling with this for some time. And that’s okay.

Email marketing is never done, and it takes time to learn what works and what doesn’t for your audience.

Contact us today for help raising your email open rates.

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Unicorn image by Catmando via Adobe Stock

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