Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Marketing automation platforms are simply a toolbox; it’s how you apply imagination to utilise them across your customer pipeline that counts, according to Rob Brown, Head of eMarketing at Australian educational services provider, Navitas.
Navitas is an ASX-listed company that provides recruitment services and university programs for international students who want to study at universities in Australia, the USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand. It is well-known for its university pathway programs, which help international students find their feet during their first year on campus through parallel teaching in a more close-knit environment, with English language support, and more time with their tutors.
Navitas decided to invest in a marketing automation platform after realising a CRM project to integrate disparate sales and reporting systems wasn’t going to solve many of the marketing challenges around identifying, nurturing and converting potential students into paying university scholars.
An addition complication is that the majority of Navitas’ students are not recruited by Navitas directly, but through an extensive network of international ‘agents’. The buying cycle also varies enormously depending on the country of origin, meaning individuals need personalised assistance and content at different levels and frequency.
“In Hong Kong, the buying cycle could be three months and in India a year, while in mainland China it can be three years,” Brown said. “When the information gathering can start a year or two years prior to students making an application, the big question have become: How do we stay in touch with those people? How do we stay in their radar?”
Investing in Marketo’s marketing automation suite was a way of nurturing potential students automatically, and over a long period of time. It also delivered a management framework to recognise and respond to individuals at any point in the buying cycle, Brown said.
The second impetus was to capture and tag leads at the hundreds of recruitment fairs Navitas staff and agents attend globally. Using Marketo, employees are provided with a customised web form, loaded onto iPads and directly linked to the marketing platform, which they use to identify applicants details, such as whether they are the parent or student, where they come from, and which stage of the buying cycle they are at.
Having integrated lead management capability also allows Navitas to analyse which events were more likely to result in new students, improving its event return on investment, Brown said. The third reason to adopt a marketing automation solution was to allow Navitas to automate follow-up emails in a personalised way.
“We use dynamic content as well so, if a prospect is interested in Australia, they get content related to the campuses there,” Brown explained. “One week later, those leads go into an extensive, automated nurturing cycle, and content they receive remains linked to the staff member the potential student met at the original event - in the same way that every piece of marketing collateral you get from a real estate agent includes a photo of the friendly estate agent who is going to help you through the stressful process of selling your house.”
Where things become interesting is the integration between Marketo and Navitas’ CRM, Brown said. This allows Navitas to see all data from offline and online recruitment sources under one pane of glass. “We have Marketo listening to our CRM, and making an API call every five minutes to get up-to-date information on who has just applied to a college,” he said.
“Marketo then knows to stop sending pre-application nurturing emails to that individual, and to start sending a different type of message. In additionthe integration means leads coming in from other channels are pushed through to Marketo and brought into the same nurturing programs, while still receiving highly personalised content – influenced by what they intend to study and which country they come from.
“Today, we have a much better idea of the intent of a prospective student, based on their digital body language. If they keep getting stuck at the same point online, or their score has just gone through the roof, that’s a trigger to call them or refer them to an agent.”
Navitas first piloted Marketo with one college in 2011 and has since rolled the solution out to all of its university programs colleges worldwide. The company has eight super users and 200 basic users of the system, and has firmly embraced the digital marketing age, Brown said.
The next step is bringing Marketo into other parts of the business, such as its Professional and English Programs division, and its SAE Creative Media colleges.
While hesitant to give away any specific figures, Brown mentioned that one campaign alone, using some very simple marketing automation tactics, had closed “several million dollars” worth of business in the past year. A separate campaign had increased conversion rates by 5 percent at another college.
“That is how powerful it is if you use it intelligently,” he said. The technology also enables Navitas to better manage leads coming through its key social channels, Facebook and Sina Weibo, as well as automate alerts and send information to agents when those leads hit pre-determined scores.
Thanks to the tagging capabilities, Navitas is now able to run detailed analysis on each marketing channel to understand where students are coming from, the average lead scores of students from different geographies, and the unique velocity between the point of application and the point of enrolment in each of its key markets.
“We can then space out our nurturing content depending on the average time it’s likely to take a student from a particular market to get from application to payment,” Brown said. “There’s no point sending an email once a week to a student who has made an application, if the average time between application and payment is three weeks and you have 10 emails you wanted to send to get them across the line.”
Not the be all, end all
While Navitas has reaped significant rewards from marketing automation, Brown warned utilising the technology requires a huge mindshift.
“Many marketers run standalone campaigns – set it and forget it. Campaigns get launched and that’s it. There’s often little accountability, or contingency if a campaign is not getting a good response,” he said. “When you put these campaigns into a marketing automation platform, the system is going to want to know what happens next. What happens if someone clicks the link in that email – what action do you want me to take next? If someone’s score hits one hundred, then what?”Many companies are only using their marketing automation platforms for EDMs – ie, they’ve invested a significant amount of time and money in a sophisticated platform, when they could be using a free tool like MailChimp! It makes no sense.”
Navitas also requires its marketing staff to undertake a three-day course on using Marketo, before they are given access. It has also appointed a dedicated Marketing Automation Manager to facilitate training and support for its 200-plus Marketo users.
“You’re only limited by your imagination in terms of what you can do with the platform, but it’s not like it comes with a recipe book,” Brown said. “You are also not just going to open the box and find everything’s there, already set up for you; you have to build this from scratch, you need some guidance and some time to work it out.”
Brown and three other marketing staff spent 30-40 hours over five weeks mapping out a marketing automation strategy with nothing but a whiteboard, before they even logged into the tool. They also worked closely with marketing automation specialists, Datarati.
“A lot of people jump straight in and get so distracted by the bells and whistles that they completely lose focus on what the tool is supposed to do,” Brown added.
Navitas continues to work on improving the content delivered to students during the nurturing phase, and is also looking to take advantage of more trigger points within the Marketo platform to enhance how it interacts with individuals, Brown said. He claimed more work also needs to be done around how its sales teams act on leads and alerts.
From a technology point of view, Brown was keen to see vendors expand automation tools across other channels of communication such as mobile and social. In the meantime, however, he claimed Navitas has built a big competitive edge that cannot be replicated by competitors overnight.
“Marketing automation will become a strategic imperative for companies large and small,” Brown claimed. “One of the reasons people don’t get CRM is because it doesn’t solve their marketing challenges. We see CRM as a strategy with our CRM system on the one side and with Marketo on the other.”