Great audience? Check. Great offer and excellent creative? Double check.
If the timing is off, though, engagement will suffer and inbox placement will fall.
In retail, holiday themed items generally sell best right before the holidays, not the middle of summer. Lobster and steak aren’t top selling items on a restaurant’s breakfast menu.
In the higher education space, timing plays a role too. Most students have made their college choice by the spring of their senior year in high school. That’s not to say that there’s no opportunity for colleges and universities to engage with students after this time. In fact, there are still plenty of students who haven’t made their final decision and are quite appreciative of hearing from schools that accept applications through the spring and even summer. The fact remains, though, that the majority of students are not going to be as receptive to marketing messages about applying to college in the spring as they were in the fall.
The message simply isn’t relevant to them anymore.
The key for email marketers, regardless of our particular industry, is to focus on the fundamentals: Who, what, when, where, why, and how. It’s so easy for us to say, “The reason I didn’t deliver to the inbox was because I had stale creative,” or “My offer was weak,” or “I segmented the wrong recipients.”
Those questions of who, what, why, and how are often easier to fix. We can’t shift time, so when can be a huge challenge. Those cardboard solar eclipse glasses that were such hot commodities the morning of August 21 were worth nothing more than the stock they were printed on by that afternoon.
Even if we recognize that the timing was the main culprit of our deliverability woes, we may still struggle with how to fix it. Simply going dark is usually not an option our management teams, nor clients, want to hear. “Let’s just wait until the timing is better” doesn’t sound so good when we say it out loud, but it may be the right answer for some of our target audience.
If we accept this cold hard fact, the question then becomes, “How can I reach the small portion of my audience that is still in play without trashing my deliverability due to low engagement or (shudder) spam complaints?”
The key is in segmentation and a deep and honest analysis of who is engaged when, given the timing and market conditions of the day. Perhaps all that needs to change is what we’re offering. In education, if it’s too late for a segment of the population to think about applying for college, perhaps we can generate positive engagement by focusing our enrollment efforts on summer campus visits, or by better involving parents, thereby leaving a much smaller and refined audience for late-season application efforts.
Being hyper-specific and even more targeted can make a huge impact at different times in the marketing cycle. As creative email marketing professionals, it’s up to us to capitalize on all aspects of the science and art of our craft. Nuance is important, no doubt. But let’s always remember the fundamentals. Aligning the best audience, with the right offer, pitched in just the right way, and at the right time is often the difference between inbox and spam.
Success and failure.
In his role as Email Strategy and Deliverability Manager for Royall & Company, Doug oversees over a billion student interactions per year. His particular areas of expertise include domain reputation and remediation, as well as tying email performance to enrollment funnel ROI. Since 2004, Doug has held multiple roles at Royall & Company, including seven years leading the Strategic Analysis team, during which time Royall’s market influence more than doubled. Prior to Royall & Company, Doug spent several years in strategy, compliance, and client service for non-profits, marketing agencies, and blue chip corporations. Doug holds a BS in Business Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University and is a graduate of the Interactive Marketing Institute, earning top honors.
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