• General Best Practices
4 Ways to Improve and Personalize Your Online Communications
Danielle Schollaert

I'm not one to normally click on online ads, but I recently found myself very intrigued by a particular clothing article that appeared on my screen while innocently checking the weather.

So I clicked. I bought. And that was that.

The method by which the clothing store got the intel to target me so pointedly felt slightly suspect (most companies call it re-targeting, although sometimes it feels a little invasive) but it worked.

They understood my personal preferences. And I succumbed to their efforts.

Improving Online Communications

Although the tactic is seemingly — for lack of a better word—creepy — I then thought about all the un-targeted marketing out there that offer no hint of personalization: the emails about products and services that have no relevance to my life; the snail mail that makes me wonder..."why waste a stamp?"

Poorly executed communications are disappointing...and all too abundant. A basic understanding of your audiences and a little personalization can go a long way in aiding your marketing objectives and communications plan.

For example, studies show that:

  • Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates
  • Nearly three-fourths (74%) of users get frustrated with websites when content (e.g., offers, ads, promotions) appears that has nothing to do with their interests

Surely, companies and independent schools alike can benefit from a more personalized approach to communication. But, because of the smaller, more targeted independent school audience and personalized nature of the "product" being offered, customization becomes critical.

Here's how to do it.

1. Segment Your Audiences

The process of segmentation and list management is the most important step in the personalization process, as it defines your different audiences and lays the foundation for your messaging.

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Use website forms and surveys to collect valuable information about your target audiences and use this data to classify them into different segments. Students versus parents is an obvious categorization, and from there you can create segments within these groups based on lower school or upper school and, further, by grade level. You can get even more granular than this to provide extra-customized communications.

For example, you may want to assemble all applicants who express interest in joining the soccer team and alert them about try out dates. Or create groups of younger versus older alumni so you can adjust your suggested donation amounts. Or target only upper school parents with information about spring break.

The level of personalization you offer depends on how granular you can get with your data. Once you get into it you will see that it's very easy to get carried away with segmentation!

When you have decided on your different segments, keep them stored as lists in your email platform — like Finalsite's eNotify— for quick and easy access. Lists can be managed and updated as information changes or gets added.

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2. Tailor Your Messages to Different Audiences

Once you settle on your segments, you can craft messages that address the needs of each one. Your communications will not only contain your high-level brand messaging, but also specific content that is tailored to the individual groups you've defined.

For example, lower school students and parents will receive information that is different from upper school students and parents. An upper school parent doesn't need or want to know the happenings in the lower school, so provide them with only the information they need to create a better experience for them.

Between school, sports and other outlets, students and parents receive a large number of emails each day. You want to help alleviate the overload and diminish frustration by sending only the information that is pertinent to them.

To ensure that you are including the right messaging for each segment, consider creating a checklist that outlines the messages that must be included for each group.

Remember to also create a strong subject line that is customized to your specific segment since this will help to ensure a higher open rate.

Furthermore, email tools like eNotify allow you to get really personal. Bring in personalization tokens like "first name," to make the email feel like it was written just for them.

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3. Choose Your Marketing Medium

While the above steps address how to customize email communication specifically, they might not be the best way to reach everyone. A big part of personalizing your communications is knowing how and where to reach your audience. Different generations are receptive to different messages on different platforms — you can't talk to all of them in the same way using the same method.

For instance, younger generations favor social media as their method of communication while parents prefer email.

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It's important to understand how your audiences want to receive communications to provide them with the best experience possible or you won't get the response you're looking for. You may consider asking applicants, students and parents for their personal preference to fully customize the experience for them.

4. Personalize Your Website

Creating a personal experience for all audiences is critical to enrollment and retention. Therefore, it's also extremely important to customize your web site and password-protected portals as well.

The first step in doing this is to decide whether your site is more of a marketing vehicle for prospective families or a communications-based resource for current students and parents. A good solution for these dichotomous objectives is to have your site address the informational needs of potential applicants and create a password-protected Portal for current families. This will help personalize the experience for both constituent groups and make sure they are only getting the information they seek.

Portals and Website

It's also important to periodically check your analytics to see what pages of your site are being most visited and where users are spending no time. This data can help you remove pages that prove to have no value to visitors and strengthen the content on those pages that do. This same evaluation can be done on the portal as well. This helps to streamline the content being offered and personalize the overall experience.

Independent schools need to maintain a level of intimacy with their many constituents. Embracing this practice of personalization can help achieve that goal by solidifying relationships with prospective and current families; will aid in strengthening your reputation amongst your audiences; and, hopefully, improve your bottom line.

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Danielle Schollaert

Danielle has over 10 years of digital marketing experience including positions at Advertising.com/AOL, Weber Shandwick and 906 Creative. She holds a B.A. from Colgate University and an M.B.A from the University of Maryland and currently resides in Maryland with her husband and two children.

  • Marketing/Communications
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