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5 Ways Brands Should Optimize Their Back-to-School Emails

By collegemktgrp | June 10, 2019 | Brands/Advertisers

For college students across the country, summer break is just getting started. But for advertisers, now’s the time to start thinking about your back-to-school marketing strategy — especially your digital marketing strategies.

Online back-to-school shopping really ramps up on the first of August. That’s less than two months away, which is a blink of an eye in digital advertising.

From notebooks and electronics to fresh threads and dorm furniture, back-to-school shopping gives a big boost to the retail industry. Considering that Americans spend close to $80 billion to send their students back to the books each year, this is a shopping bonanza you don’t want to overlook.

Digital marketing to college students encompasses everything from crafting original videos and social media posts to SEO and email campaigns. Email marketing is a particularly powerful avenue to reach new customers and increase revenue during the back-to-school shopping season.

From featuring college students to offering special deals for educators and early bird customers, here are 5 ways to make the most of email marketing to college students for the back-to-school shopping season.

Feature Students in Your Hero Images and Videos

Big brands are catching onto the power of letting youth lead the way in their marketing campaigns. Nike, for example, has led back-to-school campaigns that feature powerful images of students of all ages.

A striking hero image that keeps college students in the limelight can inspire your audience and build and emotional connection with your brand. Taking the time to ideate and execute a photo shoot featuring students could be worth it — because you can bring your original brand voice to the content that’ll wow customers more than a standard stock image.

If a photo shoot with college students is outside your budget or bandwidth, however, then scouring photo sites such as iStock is a common and more than acceptable way to find the right type of imagery for your next email marketing campaign.

Embedding videos in your emails is another way to showcase your brand’s dedication to students. A few years ago, Target gave students the reins in executing their back-to-school marketing, which resulted in memorable and effective videos — with kids writing scripts, building sets, and overseeing production, this fun marketing campaign was a viral hit.

Speak to the Back-to-School Spirit in Subject Lines

As a college advertising service, we spend a lot of time thinking about email subject lines. That’s because well-worded email headlines make a huge difference in open rates.

A bold subject line that speaks to the back-to-school spirit is a way to get your subscribers interested in your email’s content. Composing your subject lines depends on your brand voice and campaign goals, but there are a few general tactics you can employ.

Refer directly to school in your headline — this might mean using the exact phrase “back to school” or a more flowery variation, such as Nike’s “Best First Day Ever” campaign. Other options include using school-themed words and phrases like “homework”, “class”, “beat the bell”, “your first assignment”, etc.

It’s never a bad idea to reel people in with mention of a special offer or discount in the subject line, such as “40% off Back-to-School Supplies — Today Only”.

Don’t forget that you can segment your email lists for more effective targeting. With college advertising, for example, the subject line of an email to college students should look differently than the one you send to their parents.

By optimizing your subject line for these different segments of your customer base, you can increase open and click-through rates.

Tap into College Student Cultural Trends

College students (and their successors) are the drivers of cultural trends. Tapping into whatever’s hot with college students this summer can be an effective way to get them interested in your brand and products.

For college advertising in the summer of 2019, this might mean alluding to the latest season of Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, or The Handmaid’s Tale in your marketing lingo.

For another out-of-the-box option, consider creating a back-to-school playlist on Spotify featuring the most popular tunes of the summer and include that in your email.

You can even tie in actual imagery, gifs, and video of cultural trends. It’s too early to say what’ll be trending on TikTok in August, or what meme will be making the Instagram rounds when back-to-school shopping hits, but staying clued into what’s going viral is a way to stand out when it comes to marketing to college students.

Offer Deals for Parents and Educators

Though college students are generally the primary subject of back-to-school shopping, don’t forget the parents and educators who are spending a lot of money at this time, too.

Parents are a primary source for many college students’ spending money, That means parents are likely shopping and paying for supplies for their college student, too.

And while they may not be your brand’s key demographic, keep in mind that professors not only buy supplies for their classes, but they also need new clothes, notebooks, and more for themselves if they want to be presentable and prepared for a roomful of new students. Think of them as complimentary to your main audience — just like their students, they’re also experiencing the transition into the new school year.

When it comes to email marketing, subject lines and content catered to parents and educators can be powerful conversion tools. For example, an email marketing to parents of college students with the subject “Back to School: The Empty Nester’s Checklist” could be effective. To reach educators, try something like “Teacher Appreciation Event — 20% Off this Weekend Only!”

Linking to related content within your emails can help you include these peripheral demographics in your marketing effort. Depending on your business, you might even create products designed specifically for college parents or teachers — anything from office decor for a professor to proud parent gear.

Even if your business has nothing to do with school, this is a time of change for the society as a whole. Summer is ending and fall is on the way, family vacations are winding down, the weather is changing, and new sports seasons are getting geared up. Any brand can speak to these changes when planning the angles of their marketing campaigns this time of year.

Push Early Bird Specials

Let’s state the obvious: you aren’t the only one planning back-to-school email campaigns this summer. So it’s important for you to secure as many sales as possible before your competitors do.

An excellent way to do this is with early bird specials. Offer big sales incentives for a limited time at the very beginning of back-to-school shopping (the first few days of August perhaps) to lure customers away from competitors and toward your brand.

Build Before You Blast: Grow Your Email List In Advance of Your Next Campaign

Your email campaigns are only as powerful as the size of your audience. A perfectly optimized set of emails won’t help you much if you only have 5 subscribers to your list!

And even if you have 5 million subscribers, you can always use more, right? Either way, we got you.

Read our guide on how to build your email list this summer before the back-to-school shopping season »


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