Back to Email Marketing School: 6 Best Practices for Reaching Student Inboxes

After the winter holidays, back-to-school season is the largest revenue driver of the year for email marketing, with about $75 billion of retail spend up for grabs. And it’s not all about the latest backpack or a fresh box of Dixon Ticonderoga pencils — students of all ages are looking forward to a new year of making friends, learning more about the world around them, and discovering who they are as individuals.

The savviest retail marketers will take these motivations into account when designing and delivering thoughtful back-to-school campaigns straight to the inbox. Clear, concise copy, attention-grabbing images, and cross-device compatibility are the foundations of a successful back-to-school email marketing campaign — but to make the most of the season, follow these best practices:

1. Capture short attention spans with an A+ subject line.

Before you can turn leads into savvy back-to-school shoppers, you need to get their attention — and whether you’re reaching parents or students, be assured that their inboxes are likely swamped this time of year. So get creative, using school-related language in a unique, eye-catching way. You can even leverage numbers to make your subject line stand out and play on arithmetic themes: “40% off X =? Back-to-school savings inside!”

You won’t have a ton of real estate to work with — it’s best practice to keep subject lines close to 50 characters in length, and even less for mobile. So while that creativity is important, you’ll also want to make sure you’re clearly touting your back-to-school offer in a way that entices deal-hunters to open. You can also try using a school-friendly emoji (an apple, pencil, or person raising their hand, for example) right in your subject line. Studies show that adding a symbol to your subject line can increase open rates by 10-15%.

2. Segment and personalize your email message.

Did you know that personalizing subject lines increases email open rates by 22%? And segmentation strategies can boost email revenue by more than 700%? Back-to-school presents a huge opportunity to segment and hyperpersonalize your email marketing strategy, with several demographic and purchase behavior factors to optimize for. Whether you’re targeting parents of young children or college upperclassmen, you should take audience research into account and A/B test different strategies for each.

To do it right, you’ll want to start by getting to know your customer personas by doing plenty of audience research. Segment your lists, then match your subject line, product links, imagery, and copy to what the subscriber is most likely to buy. For customers deeper in the funnel, showcase products that are relevant to the subscribers’ purchase histories. For all segments, make it clear that every email recipient is a valuable subscriber — not just a another name on your list. This can include emphasizing the exclusivity of your deal in both the email copy and the subject line: “40% off for our most valued customers!”

3. Use a cheerful, student-friendly tone.

Students are growing in influence when it comes to the choices parents make during back-to-school shopping season. College students and many high schoolers happily embrace the independence and power of making their own purchase decisions, so make sure your email campaigns reflect the pep and colorful themes that captivate children, teens, and young adults.

4. Don’t sell school supplies? Get creative!

You don’t have to sell marble composition books and desk organizers to think of clever ways your product line ties into school. For example, care packages are a popular way for parents to bond with their college students from afar, so you could create product guides for care packages based on the type of student — from athletes to musicians to budding scientists.

5. Create a back-to-school landing page.

Round up all your back-to-school items, bundles, and promotions, then put them in a special section in your store — both online and offline! This makes it more convenient for shoppers to find the items they’re looking for. You can create several collections on your landing page based on the age group or item category (clothes, gadgets, dorm decor, paper goods, etc.), then design an eye-catching banner to encourage visits and sales.

After building out your back-to-school landing page, promote it in your email program. You can pair different collections to different segments based on demographics and purchase behavior for a targeted campaign — and as always, cap those email messages off with a big, bright, powerful CTA driving to the landing page.

6. Reach students where they are — on social media.  

Teens and young adults spend a ton of time on social media, gravitating toward Instagram and Snapchat but still hanging on to Facebook. These platforms are a natural choice for back-to-school marketing, so break out your branded hashtags, craft some stunning social images, break out your best GIF game, and promote! Ensure your emails are optimized for easy social following, and follow best practices for email and social integration.

Email Marketing Solutions That Make the Grade

A perfectly optimized back-to-school email marketing campaign comprises many moving parts, from segmentation to social integration. Gaining a competitive edge this season may seem overwhelming, but WhatCounts is here to help. With advanced segmentation and personalization capabilities, turnkey automations designed for the retail industry, and cart abandonment emails, our email marketing platform gives you everything you need to ace your back-to-school marketing goals.

Learn more about our retail email solutions, then request a demo to see WhatCounts in action!

Which back-to-school marketing campaigns inspire you? Share your favorites on Twitter @WhatCounts!

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