Inbox Insider: Want to be 'down with the kids?' Don't pander

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I had several interesting conversations about e-mail marketing to teens while working on an upcoming feature about college marketing for our August 9 issue. The bottom line? Kids are sophisticated and savvy, so a marketer's approach to them must reflect this.

Josh Mabus, founder of Tupelo, MS-based Mabus Agency, emphasized that personalization is key. In a program his agency began in Spring 2009 for Northeast Mississippi Community College, he and his team created an e-mail marketing campaign focused on information relevant to each prospective student. For instance, if a student listed soccer as an activity of interest, they would send an e-mail to him including the university's soccer-related offerings.

The Mabus Agency also created testimonials by existing students to attract prospective students with similar ethnic backgrounds.

“We wanted to let them know there are students out there like them,” said Mabus.

He pointed out that these efforts may seem like pandering, but measured results show enrollment was up 12% in 2009.

One of the school's HTML marketing e-mails would include the college's heading and logo, the head shot of a student, his or her testimonial and a list of pertinent activities.

“It has to be personalization instead of representation [of the university],” he said.

Deborah Broderick, associate VP of marketing communications at New York University, agreed that teens are wise to marketing. Direct marketing, particularly e-mail marketing, may initially make a student feel singled out, she said.

“I think very quickly, when they become inundated, they are pretty savvy. They begin to realize how schools have found them — that it may not be a reflection on how great they are, but how available their name was,” she said.

The personal touch is the way to go.

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