Key Benefits of Audience Segmentation in Alumni Outreach

September 2022 — By Keith Hannon

There are many benefits of market segmentation and audience segmentation in all kinds of communication, but especially within alumni outreach.

The unfortunate reality is that our inboxes and mailboxes are flooded with solicitations. Statistics show that the average person gets more than 100 emails every day.

As a result, institutions are finding that alums are opting out and asking not to be contacted. According to one survey in the past few years, 68% of organizations have experienced an increase or have not seen improvement in opt-out rates. Only 5% of institutions saw their opt-out rates decline. How can you stay engaged with alums if they’re not receiving your messages?

These stats, coupled with declines in enrollment and funding, are leaving alumni relations departments with a series of challenges.

In our recent Bright Ideas webinar, Stanford Alumni Association CMO Page Murry addressed some of the nuances of alumni email engagement and how to better leverage audience segmentation to improve marketing efforts and in-person event attendance. Before we dive into the discussion, let's review some basics.

What is Audience Segmentation?

Audience segmentation is when contact lists are divided into strategic categories to tailor messaging and ensure relevancy in communications. In email messaging, for example, rather than sending the same email blast to your list of potentially thousands of alumni, you can separate them into categories and customize the content for each grouping. These can be as broad as class graduation years or majors to as segmented as affinity groups, zip codes, and even career industries. The best way to ensure your audience doesn’t opt out of communications is to make it crystal clear that the message is for them.

If you want to see the benefits of market segmentation in action for your own initiatives, the first thing to do is identify how you want to segment your audience. Some audience segmentation examples include:

  • Demographics - Age, income, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc.
  • Geography - Where are they located in the country? What types of areas do they live in (urban, rural, suburban, metro, etc.)?
  • Psychographics - Interests, personal values, goals, affinities, etc.
  • Behavior - How likely are they to respond based on past actions? Have they attended events or engaged in content recently?

Along with being aimed towards your audience, also ensure your segmentation strategy is tailored to you, your departmental and institutional goals.

What are the Benefits of Market Segmentation?

One of the main benefits of market segmentation for email is higher click rates. Segmented campaigns can receive up to 100.95% higher click rates than campaigns that are blasted out in bulk with no segmentation. Click rates are an especially meaningful metric because they show that not only was a message opened, but the recipient engaged with the content, wanted to know more, and responded to a call to action in the email.

As you begin tracking open and click rates from your various alumni, you'll be able to develop an engagement score for each address. (Many email service providers will aggregate these stats for you).

“That [email] engagement score, that understanding of where people are likely to engage and where they’re not, changes all the communications you are doing,” Page Murray shared in the webinar.

At Standford in particular, Murry said they’ve taken segmentation one step further.

“We started putting at the bottom of these [segmented] emails little buttons that said we also have all these other topics [if you’d like to know more about them], and 14% of the clicks that came in were on those buttons, on topics that you would have never associated with someone in [that person’s major]. Segment, do the best targeting you possibly can, but always leave an opportunity to improve them.”

Here are some of the top benefits of audience segmentation in alumni marketing:

  1. Higher Response Rates and Engagement with Campaigns

    As we mentioned earlier, you’re likely to get higher response rates from segmented marketing than with generic email marketing campaigns. This is especially critical when you’re sending surveys or looking to update your databases, which will only be as accurate as the information your alumni share.

  2. Lower Unsubscribe Rates and Negative Feedback

    Alumni organizations tend to have higher unsubscribe rates than other organization types (up to a 150% difference!). Audience segmentation is imperative in keeping those alumni on your list. Once an alumni unsubscribes, there’s no going back. By segmenting and narrowing in on the most interested people with your messages, they’re more likely to find your content relevant, allowing you to improve your engagement and avoid unsubscribes.

  3. Higher ROI

    Consistent alumni marketing is costly in time, labor, and funds, so you’ll want to see those efforts pay off through increases in engagement and ultimately giving. Through segmented events and marketing, alumni are more likely to participate, engage, and even donate. In fact, 36% of alumni who attended events are likely to donate, so it’s important to get people in the door (or in the Zoom room) to generate increases in donations.

  4. More Valuable Insights

    Assessment and evaluation are key in helping you understand your alumni populations and how to connect with them. The more alumni who respond to your initiatives or attend events, the more data you'll be able to collect. This data can not only help you learn more about your alumni but also help you improve future events for them.

Segmentation in Alumni Events

Audience segmentation doesn’t apply to just emails. It can also apply to events. Murray also highlighted the importance of including more segmented events tailored to specific alumni interests.

Here’s what Murray had to say:

“An alumni’s experience is not just that they were in a class and they had a major. The fact is, they were involved in so many other things. If you think about the types of groups they were involved in, these now break down along racial, ethnic, and identity lines, or folks that were in a band or a sports team, people who hailed from a certain region or ended up in a specific region. There are all different ways to [engage]."

Not everyone feels connected to just the university or even their graduating class as a whole. Many have a much greater connection with their affinity groups, the groups they chose to spend their free time with during college. Some additional audience segmentation examples from affinity groups could include:

  • Co-curricular activities or clubs
  • Identity-based groups
  • Academic associations
  • Fraternities, sororities, or multicultural Greek life affiliations

Events continue to be a valuable way to engage alumni. By applying the principles of segmentation to your event planning as well as your communications, you'll be able to create curated experiences that encourage engagement and participation in email inboxes and at events. Overall, segmentation is a win for both sides. Alumni event coordinators can create more unique, relevant messaging that keeps alumni engaged, while alumni will feel like the experiences are made just for them.

Using BrightCrowd’s Digital Scrapbooks to Drive Alumni Engagement Through Audience Segmentation

As you can see, making audience segmentation a priority is key to increasing your engagement and successfully creating a culture of giving among your alumni. Enhance your segmentation efforts by including BrightCrowd’s digital memory books to drive additional participation and engagement for alumni. Just look how successful Cornell University was in using BrightCrowd to help their football alumni reconnect or other universities in sharing Title IX alumni books to celebrate achievements made by female athletes.

And beyond the expanded alumni engagement, BrightCrowd also collects and provides actionable data for universities to use in their market and audience segmentation efforts. Get started today with a free 30-day trial, and you’ll quickly see how BrightCrowd is changing the game for hundreds of institutions across the country.

Keith Hannon