CMO50 #16: Trisca Scott-Branagan, Deakin University
The proposed deregulation of Australia’s university sector, allowing public universities to potentially set their own fees for undergraduates, was one of the biggest stories for Australian media over the past year. It’s also been an impetus for change right across these institutions, and not least, for their marketing functions.
Faced with the demands of the next generation of digital natives for omni-channel learning and experiences, as well as the need to sharpen up their approach to student acquisition, retention and advocacy, marketers in the university sector have had a renewed emphasis on keeping their brands fresh and relevant.
While the bill has not been passed by the Australian Senate, any deregulatory moves will increase the commercial dependence on brand, and reduce the reliance upon Australian Tertiary Admittance Rank (ATAR) scores as the key quantifier of value, Deakin University’s executive director of marketing, Trisca Scott-Branagan says.
Empowered and long-term thinking
“As the university endeavours to meet the needs of connected students, marketing’s role to reach, understand, engage and form relationships has propelled marketing from a services-based cost centre into a revenue generating strategic advisor,” she says.
“As the internal voice of the customer, marketing is the ‘customer evangelist’ – initiating, enabling, and driving market-oriented decisions beyond the scope of traditional marketing responsibilities.”
As a result, Deakin’s marketing team is focused on maximising ROI through real-time, dynamic, relevant and personalised communication, Scott-Branagan says.
“Digital and data analysis are key enablers for achieving a more one-to-one, as opposed to one-to-many, relationship with students,” she says.
Top marketing attributes
Scott-Branagan sees the role of the CMO as empowering people to reach their full potential.
“It’s about being empathetic towards the customers you serve; and curiosity about the markets you operate in,” she says. “The CMO must also be an authentic story teller who enables collaboration towards a common cause, has persistency and adaptability in the face of change and disruption, and a commitment to performance.
“Marketing’s success will be a direct correlation of the CMO’s ability to communicate with clarity, rationalise and lead across all levels.”
Marketers also play a major role in innovation. For Scott-Branagan, innovation is not always about doing something completely new.
“It’s a mindset - one that is open to looking at things differently, enabling both small and big step-changes, with a willingness to fail fast and fail forward,” she says.
From the CMO50 submissionBusiness contribution and innovation
For much of the past year, the market had been waiting to discover whether the deregulation bill would pass and what it will dictate. Decisions at Deakin University therefore had to be made, strategies and models built, operations adjusted, and marketing communication scenarios ready to go by March 2015.
In her CMO50 submission, Scott-Branagan detailed her work as part of Deakin’s ‘Pricing Task Force’, a select group of executives that used scenario planning to develop alternate pricing models. Her role throughout the process included brand, audience and marketing advice and leadership to ensure that whatever changes were made, these were in line with student expectations and perceptions.
To do this, she undertook and brought to the discussion insights from marketing-led research to answer questions about brand perceptions and positioning, as well as student perceptions around university tuition.
At the same time, Scott-Branagan said she took the opportunity to leverage pending change to redefine Deakin’s positioning in the market.
Strategic aims of the CMO
Scott-Branagan’s priority list for the next 1-2 years includes establishing the team marketing team as strategic advisors, not just service providers, to the organisation. She’s also striving to balance long-term strategic goals for the brand with short-term, economic success based on revenue and profit.
“It’s about injecting fearlessness, experimentation, agility, and belief to fail fast and iterate in teams,” she said in her CMO50 submission.
“We also need to determine relevant data, extract insights faster, and develop agile and responsive marketing processes. This is about changing the mindset from campaign-driven plans, to agile, iterative, adaptive feedback loops, where speed to market will drive competitive advantage.”
Since the beginning of 2015, Scott-Branagan has sought to embrace the changing landscape in higher education for the better through her New Reality Marketing approach. In her CMO50 submission, she described her strategy as:
- Focusing on the student: Understand them and how to engage in a meaningful, authentic and real-time way.
- Engaging the student: Using always-on marketing activity across multiple platforms and the entire decision-making journey for more sustained engagement.
- Embracing new thinking: Development and delivery of a homogenous product offering in a sector that’s being challenged by deregulation, disruption and fierce competition.
Another recent project has been Deakin’s first online content hub, entitled ‘this’, which aims to challenge and positively influence perceptions of the university across prospective students and their networks.
In developing the hub, Deakin conducted in-depth research into branded content best practice from brands outside higher education to ensure the most immersive, engaging and rewarding experience possible.
“The end result is a first for the category here in Australia and a critical asset in Deakin’s quest to take consideration and engagement levels to unparalleled heights,” Scott-Branagan said in her CMO50 submission.