CHARTER EDtalk: Email Marketing for Charter Schools
On this CHARTER EDtalk, Stephanie Ristow, Sr. Marketing Programs Manager at Charter School Capital and Janet Johnson, CMO at Charter School Capital sat down with Michael Barbur, SVP, and Chief Creative Officer at Godfrey to get his insights, expertise, and perspective on email marketing for charter schools. Below are the video and transcript from this informative episode.
Janet Johnson (JJ): Hi everyone, welcome to Charter EDtalks today. I’m honored to be speaking with Michael Barber. He has been a digital marketing guru for many – including working with Charter School Capital– for many, many years. Welcome. And, Stephanie Ristow, who is leading up all of our digital Demand Gen efforts at Charter School Capital. So, if you’re seeing this, it’s probably as a result of Stephanie’s work. We’re going to be talking about email marketing today for charter schools. So, Stephanie and Michael Take it away.
Stephanie Ristow (SR): To get us started, let’s begin with the obvious question. Does email marketing still work, and why?
Michael Barber (MB): It works really, really well. I mean, no matter where you look across the research studies, we continue to see that consumers, regardless of audiences, regardless of industries, this continues to be a channel that they gravitate towards.
Adobe has probably done the most work around this channel in terms of research and consumption habits. And, for the past five or six years, they’ve put into the market a really, really good study on email consumer behavior. And, year over year over year continues to show that email is still the number one revenue generator for organizations and it is still the channel that brands are going to be using to push out content to consumers, or to their constituents, or their audiences. It’s still the place they say they want to receive that message from. Now, on the why. This one’s an interesting question. I think personally, there’s a lot of research out there that’s looking at the why of this, but I think it’s got to do with everything that consumers are being faced with in terms of choices of where they’re participating online.
They’re getting bombarded by Facebook, bombarded by Instagram, Twitter. You look at what’s happening from a geopolitical perspective right now, and the inbox is the one place that everyone understands. It’s been largely the same for the last 25 years, if you will, since Hotmail came out in 1986. So, they don’t have to get accustomed to the Facebook newsfeed changing or wonder how they post a story on Instagram … reply, forward, reply to all, contact lists. They’re largely the same as they’ve been since the beginning of email. So, it’s a place where people are really comfortable.
SR: It all totally makes sense. So specifically, when we’re looking at charter schools, how should they be using email marketing?
MB: I would say, not for students, anybody under the age of 18, unless they’ve got a very specific reason to have an email, like an Amazon account or they signed up for one of these social networks using email. They probably don’t even have one unless they’ve been required to by their school, which you do see some high schools require students to have email addresses, but it really just depends on the school. So, this is a marketing channel that you’re going to want to use for parents. You’re going to want to use it for potential board members, for community and government involvement with your school. For all of those constituent groups that surround your students. So those are the audiences that likely have an inbox if not multiple email addresses. That’s the place you’re going to want to use email when it comes to charters. Largely for all the audiences that surround the students in the cause you’re trying to bring forward.
SR: That makes sense. So, I know for a lot of these charter schools, they want to know which tools – which platforms– they should be using from a thousand-foot level (like if they have the budget) and then at a grassroots level, what realistically makes sense for them.
MB: So, a thousand-foot level just really depends on how you want to use email from a tactical perspective—from a marketing perspective. A lot of the turnkey student enrollment platforms, especially as you’re maturing as a school, will have some sort of email marketing component built into their platform. So that can be used for student enrollment activities, or for letting people know what’s happening at the school on a weekly basis. What activities are students participating in, what do parents need to know on any given week, month or year, if you will? Most of them have really robust toolsets built into their platform so that you can utilize them as a sort of 360 solution or an all in one solution.
At a grassroots effort if you’re just starting up and you’ve got no budget, and no time, and no energy… Almost all the really great platforms that are out there offer some sort of either free or sponsored model around their platform. For the sake of example, MailChimp is a great one to use. If you have under 5,000 subscribers, they will allow you to use the platform for free as long as their little logo can be at the bottom of your email footer. There are multiple platforms that are out there (Constant Contact, Vertical Response, MailChimp, Emma) that do the same sort of monetization model that aren’t going to charge a lot for a small subscriber base. Now, as you get more sophisticated, those platforms have got be able to grow with you and as you add more subscribers, you’re probably going to be having to pay for that email service provider. That being said, not a huge expense, even at 10, 20, or 30,000 contacts. If you’re not doing significant activities around the platform, you’re probably getting away with something under the neighborhood of say, $100 per month. But as you get more sophisticated, these platforms get more expensive and there’s certainly more platforms out there that you could do a lot more with as you mature as a school.
SR: There are definitely some folks out there that haven’t used an email platform before and might not understand the benefits of it. What’s the benefit of say a MailChimp over a just using thousand-person BCC line? Cause I’ve seen it before.
MB: This is a really good question. This comes down to really two things, one—deliverability. When you’re BCC-ing a thousand people, if someone marks your email address – your @charter school’s domain or whatever your domain is – as spam, that reflects against your domain really heavily. And the last thing you want to do is compromise the deliverability of just your normal day to day, professional ‘to’ and ‘from’ emails getting characterized as spam. So, having an email service provider gives you some layer of protection from that deliverability perspective.
The second big piece of this is just all the data that goes around these users and these contacts. Any one of these email service providers, whether it’s Constant Contact, Vertical Response, MailChimp, Emma or the like … or anyone of the hundreds that are out there, allow you to build data profiles around individual email addresses—from what’s her first name and last name—so that you can do some personalization inside of that email campaign. It allows you to segment groups. So, let’s say you’ve got grades one through five. You can segment your parents – or whoever is in those lists – by where their students are at so that you can target those communications really well. Also, it’s a lot easier to manage those communications. If somebody unsubscribes, the provider deals with that unsubscribe for you. You don’t have to manage your list that way. There are a lot of benefits that get you so many better features than just having a thousand people on a BCC list.
SR: We laugh, but I’ve seen it.
MB: One of the most important things that schools can do is build their brand, right? What does the school stand for? And how do you bring that to life visually through your logo and your identity and your colors and your fonts? And, certainly designing an email inside of Outlook or Gmail is not great. You know you can only do so much. You want to have an email that looks great, regardless of whether you’ve got a parent that’s on a phone or whether they’re on a Mac, right? Then all of those email service writers will help you create templates that’ll look great, that will work for your brand, that will build that brand identity for you. There are any number of key features – going outside of Outlook or Gmail or wherever you’re doing that thousand-person BCC list – that you’ll get from an email service provider like MailChimp.
SR: I totally agree. And one more bonus question for you, because I think we have the time. I know often when we talk to these schools, they’re like, great, I want to do email, but how do I start my list? How do I create the list to send to people? I know that that’s a gorilla of a question, but in a 30-second clip, what do you think you’d say there?
MB: The first thing is to make sure you’ve got your data cleaned up. So, you’re not going to want to import what we would call a ‘dirty list’ of old subscribers or parents that aren’t part of the school anymore. The second thing is, is there’s a couple of key campaigns that you want to try and set up if you can and have the bandwidth. Your “Welcome” series – which is the first email that someone receives when they subscribe – is by far the most important email you’re going to work on because you want people to get that right away.
Beyond that make sure the data’s clean and test your campaigns. Always makes sure – before you send out that first campaign – to have a group of subscribers (could be a parent, a teacher, it could be admin individuals or a group of people that you trust) to send out a test so they can see what your emails are going to look like and then you get a little bit warmed up to actually having to hit that send button and send to hundreds – or thousands – of people.
SR: I would like to make one more plug. If you want additional resources on how to get those leads in the first place or some of the tools and platforms that Michael talked about. We have those on our site. Just go to our Charter School Capital resources page.
MB: Thank you, Stephanie.
SR: Thank you, Michael!
JJ: Michael, we can’t thank you enough for coming and being here with us today. We really appreciate all that you’ve done for us. For sure.
MB: My pleasure. Thank you.
JJ: Thank you, Steph. Thanks, Michael. And, thank you for showing up for Charter EDtalk.
Watch our Webinar On-Demand: Digital Marketing for Charter Schools
If you want to up your digital marketing game for your school, you can watch this informative webinar at your own pace and on your own time! Charter school growth requires solid student enrollment and retention programs that position schools for future replication or program growth. Having at least some digital marketing prowess can help you reach and exceed your school’s growth and/or expansion goals.