Millennials and Gen Z are an audience that is heading toward spending $1 trillion yearly in the U.S., and marketers are still learning how to best reach these demographics.
If being authentic is proving to be the most important aspect for marketers to have success engaging younger audiences, interestingly the email marketing channel is also proving to be a key component to a winning strategy. In fact, research by email tech company Adestra found that found 68% of teens prefer to be contacted by email versus 7% for both text and push notifications.
Dormify, a dorm décor e-tailer, is a brand that has found success reaching college students. A recent year-long campaign that included personalized email led to a 92% increase in email revenue and a website conversion rate two times Dormify's average.
Nicole Gardner, chief operating officer at Dormify, shared how the e-tailer achieved these results with Marketing Dive, including details about how the campaign came to be. Gardner also provided her insights into how marketers can best reach the younger demographic.
“Before you can market effectively to a younger audience in particular, you need to establish a solid brand and product offering that will appeal to them,” Gardner said. “We worked hard in our initial stages of the business to establish a voice that appeals to our audience base coupled with compelling, high-quality products.”
Dormify's focus is on creating authenticity and relevancy with its communications, she explained. With email there was an understanding that the marketing team's younger target audience was sensitive to the frequency and tone of blatant marketing outreach sometimes associated with the channel. Gardner explained that keeping that in mind, Dormify looks at email as a place to connect with consumers in playful, native ways.
"We create compelling content to deliver via email that can resonate, and we have fun with it," Gardner explained. With the right message delivered to the right person at the right time, Dormify believes email can be a powerful path for building a loyal and engaged audience.
Inside Dormify's email success
Given the surge of mobile phone use and ownership in the U.S., she said Dormify prioritizes having an email strategy that is designed to be mobile-first and responsive. Mobile is "where they [Dormify users] are most," she said, adding that a majority of Dormify's emails are now opened on mobile devices.
"Our brand is young, fun, and witty, so we’ll use a twist on a song lyric or fun saying that goes with a topic at hand to stand out in a cluttered inbox," Gardner explained. "We’ve always done a great job at delivering email campaigns that grab the teen and young adult customer with catchy and engaging subject lines that you won’t see from any other retailer."
The challenge for the year-long campaign was scaling that success without losing what she called "the intense customer focus" that is at the heart of the brand. That focus began when Dormify was founded by a mother-daughter team when they discovered a void in the marketplace while shopping for freshman dorm décor in 2009.
Even though the primary target audience for the company is incoming college freshmen, it has grown to include additional segments such as young adults decorating bedrooms at home, upperclassmen with off-campus apartments, graduates furnishing their first apartments, and even young parents.
"Within each of these groups, customers have different interests and needs that we can address," Gardner said. "Ultimately, even with our strong creative, we found ourselves sending too many messages that lacked relevance for specific pockets of recipients, and without relevance, we ran the risk of training our subscribers to ignore us."
She added email continues to be an effective channel for the team because it drives great revenue and traffic, as well as being a cost-effective option for up-and-coming brands with limited resources.
How Dormify executed the campaign
By doing that the team was able to send highly targeted emails based on information collected on its website, as well as track results more effectively, and adjust the individual campaigns for maximum impact. "We set up three triggered email programs to deliver timely messages to specific audiences," Gardner said. The first initiative was an automated welcome program that featured a three-part series of emails sent to new website visitors after they provided an email address.
The initial email send included a dynamic coupon code along with a general welcome message. The second was informational and provided more background about Dormify. The third email send was a reminder and follow-up with a social call-to-action encouraging recipients to connect with the brand on social media platforms including Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. She added, "We also use welcome emails to encourage potential customers to 'Meet our Style Advisors,' our student tastemakers and content contributors around the country."
The second of the three trigger email programs was for abandoned carts, sending emails to customers who left something in their cart. The first email encouraged customers to complete their purchase. Subsequent messages added a discount. "We’ve found that the first message performs the best, but the follow-up offer has enabled us to generate additional conversions," Gardner said.
The third triggered program was a post-purchase program contacting customers after they’ve bought something from Dormify to get them to make more purchases and to encourage them to share what they purchased with their friends and followers on social media. The overall campaign also included segmentation in order to create more personalized marketing outreach featuring tailored content based on insights such as past purchases and behavior. An example of one such targeted efforts was for their sorority product line that added specific call-outs for the sorority buyer in larger email campaigns, Gardner explained.
Though Dormify's Greek life products admittedly aren't relevant to a large portion of subscribers, "by tracking which customers click on and engage with smaller callouts to Greek content within our broader campaigns, we’ve been able to identify these users and market to them directly with more focused sorority messaging to drive incremental revenue," she said.
As a final step, the team measured consistently, making adjustments as needed to keep the messaging fresh. Gardner said, "We’ll change a subject line based on testing or change the frequency of emails in a series after evaluating open rates. We also often conduct A/B tests to determine whether or not to include an offer in the subject line, and we evaluate timing, subject lines and content on a monthly basis."
The testing provided information that helped the team understand how to provide increasingly valuable content as well as how often they should contact specific consumers via email.
Measuring the campaign
Dormify typically tracks 18 separate email metrics for each individual campaign, with the most focus going to conversions, traffic, and revenue.
This entire process, after the first year of automating email marketing communications, led to: a 92% email revenue increase; triggered emails accounting for 28% of total email revenue; and email campaigns driving nearly 7% of Dormify's web traffic. Moreover, the automated welcome program generated 22% of Dormify's total email revenue and Dormify's email audience has converted at almost double the site average. Visitors who come to the site through email campaigns are also staying 42% longer and viewing 20% more pages than any other visitors, according to Gardner.
Going deeper into each of the three triggered series metrics, Dormify reached these key email marketing metrics:
- Welcome series
- Open rate: 25%
- Clickthrough rate: 3.13%
- Click-to-open rate: 12%
- Cart abandonment series
- Open rate: 32%
- Clickthrough rate: 1.09%
- Click-to-open rate: 12%
- Post-Purchase series
- Open rate: 27%
- Clickthrough rate: 1.76%
- Click-to-open rate: 6.67%
Maximizing email marketing
For marketers looking to get the most out of their email campaigns, and give them just the right amount of punch so they stand out amid inboxes full of brand messages, testing and segmentation are two areas to focus on now.
When it comes to marketing to younger demographics specifically, email marketing can serve as an expansion of the user experience they have on brand websites. What's most important is getting the timing right so as to be able to offer the most relevant information when consumers want it. Gardner said that email can even be seen as a service to consumers, rather than as a marketing tool, that can help provide valuable insights along their decorating process.
"You can increase your email impact over time by becoming more selective about the content, frequency and audience for each campaign," she said. "Segmentation has helped us bring the personal touch to our email marketing, and that has strengthened our brand with an audience that has challenged other marketers."