June 03, 2014
Case Study

Email Marketing: Persona-based email campaign drives 7% conversion rate with targeted content

SUMMARY: Collegis Education created an email campaign focused on retargeting to soft inquiries by sending an email and having the recipients self-select an option that best fit where they were in the sales funnel.

By identifying the main persona pathways, the Collegis team was able to create a strategy around providing highly targeted content to help prospects overcome their pain points. The results of this effort drove a 7% conversion rate.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


Working in the higher education space means a longer sales cycle, according to Grant Tilus, Associate Inbound Marketing Manager, Collegis Education.

"A lot of our potential students could be looking anywhere from three months to 12 months out before actually enrolling into a degree program," he said.

Collegis Education is an education services company, focused on integrating technology to assist educational institutions through marketing and analytics. Tilus manages a team of inbound marketers in creating content and managing social media, and integrating those assets into email marketing campaigns.

Tilus and his team needed to develop a better email strategy for introducing people to the Rasmussen College brand, a client of Collegis. From there, the company would begin the process of helping people access information to assist them in pursuing a different career path at different colleges.

This campaign focused on soft leads — someone who had downloaded one of Collegis' six e-book career guides. This was not necessarily someone who inquired about information about particular schools, but who had an interest in learning more about certain career fields.

"What the soft leads campaign allowed us to do is start very, very light, introduce them to the brand, and introduce them to the idea of how a college education can assist them with pursuing the career that they would want," he said.

Then slowly, he added, the team provided potential customers with more targeted information about their potential career path and "eventually, how this particular college could be the right fit for them."


"Our team created an email campaign that is focused on retargeting to soft inquiries by having the recipients self-select an option that best fit where they are at in the sales funnel," Tilus said.

This campaign focused on prospects for a particular school, Rasmussen College, and the first step, according to Tilus, was identifying the main pathways the marketing team thought customers would fall into.

They created a strategy around providing customers with high-level content within landing pages and emails to help move them through the funnel.

This campaign consisted of an email that prospects could self-identify their potential career path, and then be led to a specific landing page featuring relevant content.

Step #1. Identify main customer pathways

By first identifying the main customer pathways, the marketing team was able to create a strategy to provide highly targeted content within both the landing pages and emails to help move soft inquires further through the funnel.

"This has enabled us to hone our messaging so that we can provide content that helps them overcome concerns, fears and hesitations," he said.

Also, since building this email campaign, it can be replicated with new prospects, which Tilus said made it efficient and effective for the amount of initial time put into it.

Six e-book downloads are available for Rasmussen College, and Tilus and his team had to consider the personas for each of these soft prospects:
  • Business

  • Education

  • Health care

  • Justice studies

  • Design

  • Technology

"The first step in the process is after they would become a soft inquiry by downloading our e-book, we would send them an email with different pathway options," he said, adding that they mapped the messages by different stages of the funnel.

Tilus described the stages as discovery, trigger, search and close, "targeted toward a specific persona for a specific degree program, to really deliver the message that would resonate with the person reading it."

The corresponding pathway options built out in the email was:
  • I know what career I want to pursue, and I'm ready to take the next step

  • I'm still considering my career options, and need to do some more research

  • I'm not sure what my next step is, so I need guidance

  • I'm great where I am, and I found your career guide helpful

Customers self-selected using a call-to-action in the email which path they would best fit into.

For instance, if consumers are still considering career options, such as health care, "but they're not quite sure where in health care they best fit … we would be able to provide them with further targeted content around the different types of careers, around the different types of educational opportunities," Tilus said.

Market to the undecided consumer

If a consumer was unsure and still considering career options, they would be provided with high-level career information to help them compare different data visualizations.

The goal of that information is to "hit them with more value-type messaging and, [say] 'A college education can do this. These are different areas where there's career growth that you might want to look at.'"

Anyone who has downloaded an e-book guide was also added to the monthly content newsletter. Each month, they're sent three of the latest blog posts that Tilus and his team have written, depending on the school they're interested in.

Getting people to self-identify their place in the funnel is an informational tactic, he said, and previously, there wasn't much targeted messaging aimed at moving people further through the funnel.

"So we developed this campaign to be a little bit more of a sales focus to help them to really start considering how a college education can help them, as opposed to just casually looking and thinking about going to school," he said.

Collegis has also created a new "Which career is right for me" career hub for Rasmussen College to help students learn more about where they would like to go. After students have branched into one of the three career paths and identified their position in the funnel, the team can add those prospects to the specific campaigns that are going to deliver targeted messaging.

Step #2. Repurpose content

According to Tilus, Collegis Education was already in possession of a "good amount of blog content that we were able to utilize" to link to for this campaign. They were able to repurpose or highlight previously written content to help educate prospects at every stage of the funnel.

For this campaign, the team just needed to gather and properly organize it. Based on the call-to-action in the email, the content on the landing pages had to be seamless and provide intelligent next steps.

"We were able to link out to a lot of different assets that would further assist [prospects]. But a lot of the email content [and] the landing page content had to be developed just because it differs from what is usually on a website," he said.

Typically on a website or landing page, the team tries to create and place content that is for a wider audience, because "you're not quite sure where they're at [in the sales funnel]. But we were able to hone our messaging and the language that we were using because we were well aware of where they were at within their path, so those pages had to be built out."

The team had several data points that were able to help, the first being the career guide the prospect downloaded. Tilus worked with the inbound marketing team to "determine what kind of messaging we want to use for a business student, for a justice studies student, within these different phases."

Create messaging maps

Tilus and his team created message maps that would allow them to determine what kind of messaging they wanted to use. They took each of the e-book categories, then the funnel placements, and determined a content strategy for each one by answering three questions:
  • What is the message?

  • What landing page do we want to send them to?

  • What is going to resonate for the soft inquiry persona?

"That really gave us and our creative team a good baseline target," Tilus said.

In answering those questions, they were able to work with the Collegis copywriting team to deliver that messaging consistently, "whether it be a landing page, whether it be email, and then we go through the revision process and focus the messaging as we see fit," he said.

The biggest challenge of this campaign, from Tilus' perspective, was "just determining what type of messaging we really wanted to hit them with. And then not only that, but what other content did we already have that would basically streamline the process?"

Collegis was in possession of "a lot of great content that assists people in their college searches through our blog," he said, but through this campaign, it had to be repurposed for another delivery mechanism.

"We know that we have good content, but the surrounding content that will lead them there is really something that's new. We want to really hone how we could really speak to people within those unique stages as opposed to just a general, high-level type of a messaging," he said.

Gathering and repurposing content was "really a team effort to help collect those pieces of information that would help get this campaign moving quickly without having to put in a lot of work as far as the original content creation," he said.

Step #3. Set up landing pages consistent with email messaging

After the initial pathway email to determine where a prospect sits within the sales funnel, prospects were sent to a landing page specific to their needs and position in the funnel. They were also immediately added to the monthly newsletter campaign.

First path landing page

The first path landing page was for "individuals that had indicated that they knew which career they wanted were ready to take the next step. We immediately sent them to one of our specific degree pages targeted within the close phase," Tilus said.

The business school first path landing page, for instance, contains information on credit transferring and an academic calendar. It also features recent blog posts on entrepreneurship and human resources.

Second path landing page

The second path landing page was created from scratch, according to Tilus, and was focused on assisting individuals who were still considering their options by helping them "compare your career options." It provided prospects with more information to help them gain a better understanding of the career field, as well as eventually growing confidence in the decision.

It specifically listed blog posts generated to help in this stage, such as, "Should I get a business degree?" and featured sections discussing pain points for the step in the funnel the prospect self-identified in the initial email, such as: "Find the career path that is right for you" and "We can help you."

Third path landing page

"This page was built from the ground up and provides some very high-level guidance for individuals that are still in need to further explore their career options," he said.

This third path was for a prospect not sure of the next step to take, and who needs even further guidance than the previous two paths. Because of this, the landing page encourages the prospect to reach out to Collegis for guidance, and speaks about how the company can help them.

Fourth path landing page

"This page was designed to provide those individuals who downloaded our e-book guide and had a positive experience, but do not need any further information and will continue to receive our monthly newsletter," Tilus said.

The fourth path landing page focuses on gathering more information from the individual so Collegis can continue to stay in contact with them. These prospects are at the very top of the funnel, and do not need as much specific information.


"I think the biggest thing is it allows us to speak on more of a one-on-one type of a level. By truly knowing where they're at in the funnel, it allows us to hone our content and our messaging like never before," Tilus said.

By knowing exactly what prospects are looking for, this campaign has allowed Collegis to streamline and personalize content and email messaging.

Across this campaign, the team saw:
  • A 28% average open rate

  • A 7% conversion rate

Because of the size of the campaign, which was less than 1,000 recipients in total, "we were happy to see a 7% conversion rate," Tilus said, adding that the open rate is five points above the education industry average.

Tilus believes that inbound marketers and content strategists have such a strong knowledge of customer personas, they will soon have much bigger influence in email marketing and database campaigns. That knowledge leads to focused messaging and better use of existing content.

"I think that those worlds will definitely continue to merge, or at least work more in unison as campaigns become a little bit more targeted and efficient," he concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. Email

  2. First path landing page

  3. Second path landing page

  4. Third path landing page

  5. Fourth path landing page


Collegis Education

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