Cal Poly University Store launches first email marketing program in 2016

The University Store extends reach to new audiences with engaging and relevant communications.

Kara’s Role – Content Strategy, Art Director, UX Designer

Current Situation

The Cal Poly University store faces several challenges when developing a customer relationship communication plan. First, their website is hosted on a platform built for college courseware programs, not for e-commerce. While trigger emails are used for transactions, there are limited features for customizing the design and experience. Second, the University of California and CAN-SPAM guidelines prevent the University Store from sending promotional communications to the distribution list. Third, the captive audience of 25k students, faculty and staff located within a 5-mile radius—although an opportunity in many regards—means that most events and promotions are only offered in-store to benefit the campus community.


To retain loyal customers and expand reach to new audiences such as alumni, prospective students and Cal Poly sports fans, the University Store launched its first email marketing program using Mailchimp. Audiences were segmented and a content strategy was developed across the user journey with drip campaigns to onboard, educate, entertain and retain customers.
Digital list growth tactics included paid promotion on social channels, incentivized pop-ups and welcome mats and native ad placement in emails sent by the distribution list owned by the Admissions office. In-store there were timely and relevant activations which captured customer emails, including the chance to win $250 in free textbooks.

An always-on monthly newsletter,“The Insider,” used a blended content approach by varying sources, formats and types to appeal to each audience segment. Cal Poly smartphone wallpaper downloads designed by graphic design students, tips from upperclassman, exclusive subscriber-only deals and sneak peeks at new apparel styles were part of this mix.


  • 730% list growth in the first six months of program launch (vs. existing database from e-commerce sales in 2013-2016) and 2,417% growth YTD, or 24 times the original list size.
  • 48.5% average open rate for the always-on monthly newsletter
  • Leveraging the Admission’s office database of confirmed incoming freshman, the University Store sent their first ever digital communication to parents and students May 2016. This native ad placement was an exclusive Apple® offer to incoming freshman to save $300 on Apple products. The communication had a 63% open rate and 10.75% click-through rate, resulting in 1.67% conversion—over 90 Apple devices sold.


VP/Director of Marketing & Communications: Ellen Curtis
Developer: Lauren Barker
Student Designer: Morgan Gutierrez
Student Copywriters: Jacob Lauing, Joseph Pack, Skyler Hubler


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