Higher Education: How to increase your open rates

McKenzie Gregory



“Donate now to the Senior Class Fund!"
“An urgent message from the Dean of Students"
“Join us for the big game – tailgating, ticket info & more"
“MANDATORY Hall Meeting this Thursday!"

We often say that people live in their inboxes… but today's college students are inescapably tied to them. From August to May (and even in between!), they’re bombarded with time-sensitive emails from classmates, administrators, professors, and all kinds of campus organizations competing for their attention.

So university marketers face an incredibly daunting task when it comes to finding ways to cut through the noise. 


Overcoming obstacles to reach more students

Few people know the struggle of the university marketer quite as well as Brad Thompson, the Assistant Director of Student Activities at Texas Christian University. “My team organizes over 600 university events a year. We do regular programming in all of our residence halls as well as bigger events on Friday and Saturday nights. We want to provide students with fun, safe, and healthy things to do on the weekends so it’s easy for them to make good choices.”  

Though his mission is admirable, Brad faces a host of obstacles when it comes to getting the word out about the events he organizes.

“TCU isn't like a typical college campus where people are chalking on the sidewalk, passing out flyers, and putting posters everywhere. In an effort to keep our campus clutter-free, we aren’t allowed to do that. There aren’t a lot of ways to market in the traditional on-campus sense, so it becomes even more competitive to capture our students’ attention through the digital channels we are allowed to use.” 


The solution: A smarter email program

One of the primary methods Brad’s team uses to reach students is social media, but they recently felt a need to ramp us their efforts in other areas – like their email marketing program. 

“We've definitely wanted to do more robust email marketing for a very long time. We launched a beautiful, brand new website last year that we built from the ground up, and it’s been very effective in terms of how we get the word out to students on campus. We really wanted to bolster that through email marketing and do really attractive, quality email campaigns.”



Brad’s team would send out emails that were all text…. and they would maybe, occasionally include an image. All in all, they were very limited in what they could do. So he started investigating new options for their email service provider. 



Beautiful analytics from a beautiful partnership 

Brad initially found Emma through Dasheroo, one of our integration partners.

“Dasheroo is the system we use for tracking our metrics across different areas. Having all of our data in one place has been really, really crucial for us. We use it for web analytics, social media analytics, things like that, and we love being able to pull up all of our data anytime, anywhere."

"But the big piece that we’d been missing,” Brad explained, "was that we had absolutely no email analytics. We would send out an all-campus email to 10,000 people, and everyone would tell us, 'Nobody’s paying attention that!' And we had absolutely no data to prove whether or not that was true. So the fact that we could so easily pull our Emma email analytics into our Dasheroo dashboard was a huge sell for us."

Since getting on board with Emma just a few months ago, Brad now has the hard data to back up how incredibly effective his emails really are. “We had a beautiful custom template created to match our website, and our numbers have already been very strong. We regularly get a 60% open rate, which I’ve been told is really good. But really, it just gives me more ammunition to say, 'No, people are actually reading this. They’re interested in what we’re doing, and our content really works.”




Doing better marketing now and in the future 

Brad also loves the analytics he gets through his Response page. “It’s so great to be able to see what people are clicking on, what are they looking at, what’s interesting to them. Not only does it help us improve our emails – it also helps us tailor programs to better meet the needs and interests of our students. It’s been really interesting and really powerful for our team.” 



Based on his results so far, Brad is incredibly excited to see what all his team can do to amp up their marketing efforts in the future. 

"Our students are bombarded with emails; every college campus faces this. So we’ve really tried to do less of that, send fewer emails but have them be really attractive and beautiful – something that they’ll actually want to look at. And I guess it’s working thus far!"

“It just, again, proves that the content we’re putting out there is valuable to our students.  Now we’re having a lot of student groups ask for us to feature them, and it’s pushed our brand really far forward, which has been really amazing for us."

Higher education marketing can benefit from more from email automation

Beautiful email campaigns are a great place to begin for higher education marketing. The next step—email automation. 

Emma offers institutions the opportunity to not only build and measure the success of their email campaigns but also have access to automation, which can help streamline their processes. 

What is email automation?

Email automation is the ability to send action or time triggered emails to subscribers. Higher education marketing teams can build segmented lists that are defined in various ways, such as gender, grade, department of study, and more. From there, the marketing department can create triggers for various events, announcements, and more to send out automated emails that are more directly relevant to each of their students.

How can it help with higher education marketing?

Did you know that automated emails get, on average, 119% higher click rates than general broadcast emails? For a university, this can make a massive difference in getting vital information out to their various audiences.

Email marketing can help higher education in several ways. However, the most vital is the fact that it helps them send relevant information to students through the use of list segmentation.

Take this example from the University of Michigan-Dearborn:


A screenshot of a social media post

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Source: Emma


This is the perfect example of email automation at work because it’s a time-triggered campaign

directed towards those students who have used the Financial Aid office. This email delivered

time-sensitive information for those who need it most—students in need of financial aid to help

them pay for their college fees and activities.


Another excellent example of putting email automation to work is this email from Duke



A screenshot of text

Description automatically generated

Source: Emma


This email can be sent to all students or those who specifically have the title of “Ticket Holder.”

That could mean anyone from the general public, students, staff, and alumni. Not only does it

work because it can be triggered by the purchase of a ticket to a school Football game but could

also be triggered based on the football team’s game schedule as a reminder to purchase your



Combining Emma’s email automation features with the email template builder can be a game

changer for higher education marketing teams. 


Wrap up

You’ve seen the success that Brad and the Texas Christian University had thanks to the various tools that Emma has to offer. With Emma, higher education marketing teams have the power to manage and organize email across multiple locations. Other features that universities can enjoy, including:

  • Automation
  • List segmentation options
  • A/B testing abilities 
  • Analytics and more

Want to see what Emma can do for your university? Learn more here




About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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