School Funding Services

September 13, 2009

Timing Your School Promotion to Optimize Success

Filed under: Marketing,Promotion,school — House @ 4:22 am

Each year school marketers are challenged with scheduling the timing and frequency of promotions that will increase their chances of reaching educators at just the right time to buy their products. While it is difficult to cut all promotional timing from the same cloth, there are some time-tested strategies that education marketers can employ to optimize success.

School Budget Cycles

First let’s talk about the three major time periods in the school market. They are linked to established buying cycles that are usually put into three distinct seasons.

Fall (August – November) – As the new school year begins, teachers often look for materials that will help them support their lesson plans. It is important that education companies are prominent in teachers’ minds as they plan out their school year. In my personal experience of selling educational video and software products, this was a critical time to boost “on-approval” orders to create a healthy sales pipeline for the school year.
Winter (January – March) – This is a time of year when several key buying trends take place. School budgets are being prepared for school board approval, teachers are planning second-half activities, and leftover money is being reviewed. Clearly, this is an important time to be in front of your customers to take advantage of the upcoming end-of-year spending as well as be included in the following fiscal year’s spending plans.
Spring (April – June) – During this period, schools often distribute leftover money for administrators and teachers to spend on supplemental materials and replacement items. In fact, April and May are typically the two busiest months of the year for teachers to submit purchase requests. Because many buying decisions are often made in the spring, this is a great time for marketers to promote year-end specials. Marketers with the right product mix can really benefit from increased marketing output during this all-important spending period.
Timing Your Promotions With School Open and Close Dates

Marketers should consider timing direct mail drop dates with actual school start dates. This will prevent promotions from being in the first-day pile if mailed too early, as well as arriving several weeks late and missing important sales opportunities. Marketers also want to be aware of school closing dates to make sure they time spring promotions appropriately and take full advantage of the important spring buying season. End-of-school-year specials can also be effective since many schools must spend leftover money by the end of their fiscal year. School open/close date information is readily available from school list providers and can easily be coded to make staggering drop dates easy for your mail house to execute.

Synchronizing Your E-Mail Campaigns With Your Direct Mail to Optimize
Response Rates

It’s been well established that marketers can significantly increase response rates by employing a multi-channel marketing approach. By highlighting special offers, new products, and increasing awareness of your forthcoming catalog in an e-mail message, you can pique the interest of potential customers to be on the lookout for your promotion piece. This approach can be used to customize incentives to various customer segments. For example, e-mail a coupon for a free gift to your best customers or offer prospects a special discount for first-time orders. You can also follow up with a second e-mail reminder about an offer deadline or promote a last-minute special.

Special Timing Opportunities

A process that often pays dividends for school marketers is to look for products that link to specific holidays and known curriculum events. Examples of these are Veterans Day, Black History Month, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Columbus Day, and Election Day. Developing targeted promotions that tie to these specific holidays will likely lift response rates if timed properly.

School Marketing During the Summer?

Many marketers aren’t aware that they can reach educators at home over the summer via direct mail. The summer provides a great opportunity to promote a wide range of products before the school year begins and when teachers have time to read about and review new products. Educators at home lists that target educators by job function, grade level, and even the type of products they have purchased in the past are readily available. Also, many district administrators work during the summer months. So if you sell your product to district-level personnel, the July/August time frame can be a great time to send special promotions. As with any promotional campaign, individual marketers need to test timing and offers and make future decisions based on their specific results. The better marketers are at tracking their direct mail results, the better they will be at eliminating waste and building upon their success.

Educational E-Marketer’s Guide to Working Effectively With Outlook 2003

Filed under: E-Marketer,Educational,mdrdbs,school — House @ 4:18 am

By Christopher Ziemnicki, MDR Analytical and Data Services Product Manager

Outlook 2003 has been available since late 2002 and has gained significant market share. Increasingly, schools and businesses are upgrading their software, and Outlook 2003 is now a force that educational marketers must be ready to deal with when sending e-mail promotions.

When Outlook 2003 first surfaced with a new feature that automatically prevents graphics from being downloaded when an HTML e-mail from an unknown sender is opened, a lot of people in the e-mail marketing space sat up and took notice. The obvious concern: This was going to decrease open rates and dilute the marketing message, thus affecting conversion rates as well.

Right from the start, a number of strategies were devised, and best practices were created to address the issue. The industry as a whole showed that it could meet the challenge. So why is it today, over two years later, that so many marketers are not dealing with the issue?
Answering the doorbell to find no one there—don’t let this happen to your message!

Click here to view larger image.

Getting Your Message Across

E-mail marketers have a lot to consider when planning a campaign—the list selection, the offer, the associated Web landing pages, the subject line, the “from” line, and more. With all that to tackle, many marketers scramble to get their message content (i.e., text and graphics) created leaving little time to think about how the message will look and work in Outlook 2003.

Let’s step back for a moment. What is the issue with Outlook 2003? When installed with its default settings, Outlook 2003 automatically blocks the downloading of images when an HTML e-mail from an unknown sender (an e-mail address or domain that is not in the recipients’ address book or on their “safe senders” list) is opened. Instead of the actual image, the recipient sees a box outline of the image with Outlook-inserted text explaining how to view images, followed by the image description tag (a technical HTML term) if one exists. See the example below:

The image box size and spacing varies, depending on how the HTML e-mail is formatted, the use of tables, and image-size specifications. What was once a very well laid-out and attractive message is now misshapen, misaligned, nearly impossible to read, and missing all of its images.

Myth Revealed: But you may ask, “I created a multi-part message, won’t my text version appear if Outlook 2003 blocks the images from being downloaded?”

Answer: No. This action to block the image downloading by Outlook 2003 has nothing to do with it “auto-sensing” and displaying HTML or text. Outlook 2003 is displaying the HTML version of your creative, so your text version—if you have one—is not going to be seen.

Steps to Combat the Outlook 2003 Issue

Many solutions to the Outlook 2003 issue center around building a relationship with your recipient so they expect your e-mail and take action to make sure that they can view it correctly. You may want to instruct them how to add the domain or e-mail address to their safe list or address book as this will solve the Outlook 2003 issue and help your e-mails get past their spam filters consistently.

While the stragegy described above usually works best when you have some type of relationship with your customer, what should you do if you are using e-mail to prospect new customers?

It all starts with the creative. The number one culprit and contributor to the Outlook 2003 issue are message creatives that rely on a graphic-centric presentation, especially those that are repurposed print or Web site creatives rather than HTML e-mails created from the ground up.

You’ve been hearing about the benefits of creating HTML messages from scratch for some time. But many marketers still use an existing creative and repurpose it into a graphic-centric e-mail creative. This is the critical design flaw that creates the Outlook 2003 disconnect; when the graphics are turned off, the message cannot stand on its own. For this reason alone, in my opinion, it is well worth the extra time and effort to design an optimized-HTML creative.

Admittedly, there are some marketers who argue that their graphic-rich HTML presentation looks much better than an e-mail message that uses text with a few supporting graphics. They accept the risk that there will be a percentage of recipients who will not see the image-rich message with Outlook 2003. I do not believe this to be true. As good as full-image creatives look, with thoughtful design you can craft HTML text/graphic messages that look appealing and will perform better across all users whether the graphics are turned on or off.

Tips to help you survive the Outlook 2003 “no image” issue:

1.Design your e-mail creative from the ground up—do not rely on a graphic-centric presentation to convey your message.
2.Keep your value proposition concise. Place it at the top of the message in text so that even without images, your message will still impact the reader and hopefully prompt them to turn on the graphics.
3.Host the e-mail creative locally on your server. Include a link at the very top of your message that uses the following description: “Click here if you are having trouble viewing this message.” This link will open up the identical HTML message hosted on your server in their Web browser unfettered by Outlook 2003.
4.Optimize your HTML layout to keep the formatting intact with the images turned off (such as setting images sizes, etc.).
5.Use the image description tags to either identify yourself (i.e., a brand lead) or give a clear, concise reason to turn the graphics on.
6.Always test your messages by sending them to a computer running Outlook 2003 with the images turned off so you can preview them prior to deployment.
No images—no problem! Example of a great-looking e-mail sans the images.

Click here to view larger image.

Designing your messages without considering Outlook’s 2003 “no-image issue” is leaving money on the table. Here’s the bottom line: Your customer or prospect received your e-mail in their in-box, and they were compelled enough to open it, so you need to make sure you create a message that is effective whether or not they’re using Outlook 2003.

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