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CMO50 2016 #7: Trisca Scott-Branagan

  • Name Trisca Scott-Branagan
  • Title Executive director, marketing
  • Company Deakin University
  • Commenced role December 2014
  • Reporting Line Deputy vice chancellor, global engagement
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 73 staff, 7 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Education
  • 2015 ranking 16
  • Related

    Brand Post


    Australia’s education sector has been given a mighty shake-up thanks to the hefty combination of digital disruption and deregulation. So it’s not surprising Deakin University’s marketing chief, Trisca Scott-Branagan, sees the ability to harness ambiguity as a vital attribute for the modern CMO.

    “Marketers relying on toolkits they have used for their entire life aren’t being challenged enough,” she tells CMO. “You need to create structures out of uncertainty, methodologies and frameworks you and your teams work towards and within, which haven’t existed in the past.”

    Scott-Branagan also highlights interpersonal and personal awareness as critical if marketers are to survive at the cutting edge of a new idea or approach, and win over disparate internal stakeholders.

    “We need to be really in tune with who we are as individuals,” she continues. “We may not work with people who are always easy to work with, but that’s life. It’s about how we communicate and build relationships with those very different to us in order to work collaboratively with them.”

    Which means CMOs requires resilience as well. “You’re not always going to be praised and thanked, so you have to rely on your internal gauge for what the right thing to do is as a marketer and as the business, then have resilience to see it through,” Scott-Branagan says.

    Opportunity for change

    As executive leader for marketing at Deakin University since December 2014, Scott-Branagan has had to get rather used to change. She built her marketing career in the financial and professional services arena locally and in the US with the likes of Deloitte and Australian Unity, and says she was attracted to working in a sector experiencing so much flux.

    “I believe if you go into a sector on the cusp of disruption, you have an opportunity to be much stronger leader and do exciting things,” she says. “There’s also a greater appetite to explore new and different ways of doing business.”

    As Scott-Branagan points out, most of us wouldn’t have considered universities as hotbeds of marketing innovation five or more years ago. Today, however, Australia’s education sector is the third fastest growing for ad spend.

    “It’s an incredibly competitive space - competition is regional and national, there has been an explosion of online learning options, and it’s also global,” she says. “New providers that don’t offer degrees are offshoring to courses also taking parts of the market from us.”

    In the face of such disruption, Deakin University has gained a reputation for its dynamism and technological edge, and is embracing digital as part of its overall DNA. Scott-Branagan says her priority has been to understand the business objectives and where the future direction lies, translate that into marketing priorities, and ensure marketing becomes as strategic a partner as possible.

    “It’s a broad, complex, matrix of an organisation, with many different facets, so identifying core strategy and achieving that level of focus to get people behind you is sometimes challenging,” she says. “The way I look at strategy is that’s it more about what you choose not to do, as what you choose to do. In choosing not to do things, you have to hold those stakeholders close to make sure they understand the decisions you make.

    “My greatest challenge personally over the last 18 months has been identifying stakeholders I need to work with closely, and taking them on the journey I am on while understanding the journey they’re on.”

    Scott-Branagan agrees the way marketing leaders go about their jobs has undergone significant transformation in the last few years.

    “In the past, it was about creating myths and selling it. Today, it’s more about finding the truth and sharing it,” she says. “We’re dealing with consumers who are sophisticated, who know how to they want to interact and be communicated with, and who know how to source information.

    “As marketers, it’s less about pushing messages out, and assuming an ad will be heard and found interesting. Today, we need to engage with that market in a really tangible way, based on personal experience, entertainment and contextually relevant information.”

    To achieve this, Scott-Branagan and her team have created a ‘New reality’ marketing strategy, which is all about seeking out the “net new”. Core pillars are engagement, finding the truth and being authentic to the brand while ensuring Deakin is contextually relevant.

    One initiative listed in Scott-Branagan’s CMO50 submission that highlights this is Deakin’s content hub and customer engagement initiative, this. This sees faculty staff, researchers, students and alumni all contributing original content around life, learning and career development that’s then distributed in relevant channels including social.

    Technology investment has been another investment, and Deakin has implemented CRM and marketing automation over the past year, significantly shifting its communications approach to prospective students. This required increased investment in strategic planning and asset production, a cultural shift in the cross-channel planning process, and development of ‘nurture tracks’ optimised through A/B testing, Scott-Branagan says.

    To date, email marketing’s lead indicator measurements have improved, with open rate averages increasing from 28.7 per cent to 32.9 per cent, while clickthrough rates are up to 5.5 per cent. Marketing automation has also nurtured current students with no or low re-enrolled scores, and helped convert 155 additional students, a significant success. Nurture programs for Open Days including intelligent lead acquisition campaigns have also resulted in more than double the unique online leads collected this year compared to 2015.

    Increasing marketing's scope

    Marketing’s scope has been increasing too. Scott-Branagan’s team has taken over day-to-day management of the university’s website, and in September launched a rebuilt online offering based around audience journeys andengagement that required collaboration with more than 320 internal stakeholders. Alongside this, marketing created a tool, Deakin Explore, to assist school students and career practitioners to pair courses with careers. Using the mobile-first, social network styled tool, students can browse courses and the careers they lead to; or start with a career and then discover the relevant courses.

    All this has seen Deakin’s marketing team double in size in the last 18 months, with specialist skillsets brought in around digital and strategic campaign management, content production and media planning. In addition, marketing has established a dedicated contact centre with phone, email, live chat, SMS and outbound capabilities.

    “The traditional skillsets of a marketer sit at the core, but we’ve built out from there,” Scott-Branagan says. “Part of my challenge is career opportunity and advancement of staff, which is incredibly hard to do when specialisations have to be so deep, particularly across channels and the tools we use to operate.

    “Before a marketer, was a marketer, was a marketer. Today, we have specific individuals with specific skills that collectively, create the full marketing package.”

    As a CMO, it’s also impossible to be an expert at everything, and Scott-Branagan stresses the importance of gaining conceptual knowledge around new technologies and opportunities while giving employees the freedom to execute based on their specialised knowledge.

    What’s helping Deakin keep everyone on the same page is a real-time marketing dashboard, based around return on marketing investment, which measures, monitors and visualises performance and enables real-time optimisation of activities.

    “How to operate as one rhythm across multiple teams has been key,” Scott-Branagan says. This really came to life in the last month, she continues, after introducing daily scrums, where different team representatives come together on a daily basis to look at what needs to get done and what has progressed.

    “That delivers agility, speed to market, ensures we get the best out of everyone and also helps to make sure everyone sees that bigger picture,” she says.

    The other unifier is customer journey. Traditionally, university marketers have only had responsibility for getting students through the door, but Deakin’s marketing division is increasingly gaining accountability around the whole journey. Informing these efforts is an online research panel, University Talk, comprised of prospective students launched in 2015.

    “There’s been a trend in the last 10 years of seeing operational effectiveness as the hero,” Scott-Branagan comments. “That was great for the business, and organisations built incredibly powerful machines where things ran well internally. But often it wasn’t a great experience for the customer externally.

    “Because we have the voice of the customer, we have a voice of authority [as marketers] not many parts of the university can hold up to. When we talk about the customer, we can back it up with research and analysis. We can be more objective about what the customer journey is, then work closely with those parts of the uni touching the customer to help make their journey smoother.”

    This may not always result in operational improvements internally, Scott-Branagan admits. “But if that means we get a customer who becomes an advocate, it’s far more valuable to us,” she says.

    “People are getting that – it’s too competitive for us not to. When we see we’ve lost a student and we understand the reasons for why, we want to fix those quickly. There is a huge desire and appetite for that internally.”

    These efforts to lift marketing’s reputation are working. In a biannual university-wide staff survey conducted in late 2015, the marketing division’s leadership metric was up by 58 per cent.

    Tackling the many perceptions of marketing

    Nevertheless, everyday internal stakeholder management is Scott-Branagan’s most significant challenge as a CMO. To help, she’s using brand positioning and revenue as key metrics to communicate with faculty members, heads of schools and executive peers.

    “Everyone experiences marketing, so they have a perspective on it,” she says. “But today, marketing is so targeted, you no longer personally experience all of what marketing does. It’s about educating my stakeholders that they will have a different experience of marketing in the market now.”

    This is vital if marketing are going to successfully balance brand health, revenue and growth. As a university, Scott-Branagan notes Deakin can only sell its core products three times per year.

    “Sometimes you have to compromise one or the other to meet your goals,” she says. “It’s a real and regular challenge we scrutinise ourselves over, and the business scrutinises us on.

    “The future challenge is working closely with faculties and heads of schools to choose what products to invest in, and do so thoroughly to make a big impact.”

    What has helped is a supportive vice chancellor who understands the value of brand, Scott-Branagan says. Another strategic ally has been Deakin’s deputy vice chancellor of education, who focuses on product development.

    “Marketing has influence on that product through our insights team, as we can see where future demand might lie and we have our data scientists analysing the impact and results,” she says. “But marketing isn’t the function with the deep technical expertise at a product level. We need the product to be continually refined, improved and worked upon.

    “It’s very valuable to have an ally on the product side. This helps ensure the message I send out to market is authentic and believable. And if we have that standout product, we can be far bolder in the market with what we say about it.”

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