Western Sydney University ramps up digital transformation push

Brand relaunch, new student portal, revamped website all aimed at improving the university's end-to-end student engagement and lifecycle approach

Western Sydney University (WSU) is on what its CMO says is an ambitious transformation strategy that kicked off with a brand relaunch in 2015 and has now seen the rollout of a new student portal and website.

The tertiary education provider has embarked on a major digital transformation looking at the student experiences from the beginning to end, its marketing chief, Glenis Carroll, told CMO.

“We started with a student portal, which became the go-to-place for anyone who came through the enrolment process and then became an established student with us,” she said.  

“There is different means where we are able to find out information. We are able to talk to them rather than defaulting to email. We are an email culture, and a lot of students get an awful lot of email, and don’t often notice. So to be able to switch to something that is notification-driven, and ultimately will be personalised, is a much better environment for them.”  

Carroll manages the centralised marketing function of the university and oversees strategy for brand, school marketing, student recruitment, as well as corporate and internal communications, media relations, events, school outreach and digital. The latest two projects are aimed at improving customer experience and being able to widely cater to a range of student needs, ultimately aimed at increased student retention.

Certainly, there’s a lot of change in the university sector driven by government legislation, increased competition and changing society expectations. Carroll said a key challenge for WSU, like many university organisations, is to keep pace with the students it wants to serve.

“One of our strategic initiatives is to be student-centred. It is really important we are operating in the channels that our prospective students, and our existing students, use all of the time in their daily lives, and that we are operating in a manner they are used to with all of the other platforms that they engage with,” she said.    

With latest tools like the new student portal, the ‘My Western,’ the goal is to deliver more personalised communications and experiences at scale, as well as streamlined and simplified processes. The university has re-engineered and reimagined the content that’s delivered in a way that’s attractive to students, Carroll explained.

These and other upcoming digital moves - including a big focus on personalisation - will help WSU continue to attract students to the Australian multi-campus university in the Greater Western region of Sydney, which currently enrols about 38,000 students.

Digital approach

To ensure it was taking the right online approach, WSU, in partnership with agency, whitegrey, simplified the online enrolment process, reducing it from 11 steps to four. This was about humanising what was required, and making it easy to contact student services for help where necessary.

This saw the uni introduce a personalised student dashboard, ‘My Western’, allowing each student to access to everything they need individual and navigate their university career on their phone. This stretches from their timetable and directions to their next class, to reminders about course and assignment deadlines, and information about free courses from the library and events on campus. In addition, it highlights where to access course materials, and provides relevant offers from on-campus food and beverage outlets.

The rollout of the new ‘Future Students’ website, targeted at 17-year-old kids who may or may not know what they want to do in terms of a career future, aims to help them better navigate through their choices, Carroll said.

The website is “revolutionising” the way the university presents information to prospective students and already tracking well, she continued. WSU is already seeing an improved Google ranking, and a lift in engagement of about 20 per cent via mobile.

“The site was designed to be mobile-first given that a lot of our audience are on mobiles,” Carroll said. “The site is also designed to be search-driven. The idea is that most people come into the site off the back of a search and that’s why the Google rankings are important.”

A key feature is ‘Study Themes,’ which aim to give students information about certain disciplines. For example, this could be about careers in areas such as engineering, psychology or even art which can help build a better society. Both videos and written content are being used.

The themes, which were launched in late 2017, were developed using a combination of data on people who applied for X and also applied Y, as well as putting logic behind areas of study that could naturally fit together, according to whitegrey chief strategy and customer experience officer, James Keeler.

The agency has worked with WSU over the last 18 months to design and develop the Students Portal, which it compared to online banking for a uni student, and the new future students website. Both projects use Adobe Experience Manager and rely on analytics, campaign and personalised communications.

“It’s been a complete online transformation and is already proving highly successful with 2018 online enrolment already up 14 per cent on 2017,” Keeler said. “The portal makes it really easy for those that need help, so they know what’s expected of them, whether that’s where their next lecture is, when and where, or whether they have an assignment due on Friday at 12 and it gives them reminders.”

Universities are in a race to offer enhanced CX experiences to students and need to offer more innovative and interactive elements online, Keeler said.

“It’s the experience students have within the university itself that’s really important - and there is definitely a race there,” he said, explaining digital technology is the way forward.  

“How you make life easy for students and how you enhance their university life through digital tools and experiences is a very significant process for a number of universities and in investing and developing that. If they don’t, they will get left behind. People will want to start going to universities that give them a better experience - not just a degree.”  

Data-driven personalisation

Carroll said WSU is on a mission to continue to build the digital transformation platform off of the Adobe technology. The key marketing focus over the next period is to expand digital capability and transition the marketing function to data-based decision making.

“We are moving heavily into personalisation and we have been trialling different personalisation campaigns over the last two years on a small scale with some of our recruitment activity,” she said. “But the next phase is to really flip our whole approach - from a very campaign event-based marketing, which is traditionally where universities have sat, to a very audience-driven approach, so we understand more about the different audiences coming into it.

“This could be understanding whether they are an undergraduate domestic student, postgraduate or domestic international or overseas international, for example. It’s also about understanding from their behaviour what stage of the journey they are at and, therefore, what content we can serve them that’s relevant. That’s the holy grail.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu        

 

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