What it took for this government agency to transform digital marketing

Education New Zealand's marketing platform leader shares the digital transformation story that has paid customer value, revenue and industry dividends

More than $60 million in student value and 110,000 highly qualified leads are just two highlight wins for educational promotional body, Education New Zealand, after undergoing a digital marketing transformation.

The promotional agency’s director of marketing platforms and campaigns, Euan Howden, was awarded Fearless Marketer of the Year at the 2019 Adobe/Marketo Revvie Awards in March for his efforts to bring a data- and digital-driven approach to marketing.

CMO had the opportunity to catch up with Howden post-win to talk about the program of work he’s overseen, and what it’s taken to be truly fearless in modern marketing.

A time for digital and data

Education New Zealand is a government organisation promoting the country’s learning institutions to potential students offshore. It does this on behalf of about 1000 institutions, from primary school through to post-graduate learning, offering about 40,000 new spots each year. On the B2C side, Howden and his team have 12 focus markets across 10 languages.  

“We operate in quite a challenging environment and we’re a minnow in the international study space,” Howden said of the remit. “So we’re a niche value product. One of the big challenges we face is around awareness of New Zealand itself and where we are.

“A step further in from that is when they know about New Zealand, but don’t connect it with a quality education offering.”

Admittedly, the latter isn’t hard to challenge, Howden said, as the country was recognised in the top three of this year’s The Economist Intelligence Unit list for preparing students for the future. As Howden put it, the list acknowledges the way New Zealand institutions have enabled students to engage with teachers and the environment when they’re learning.

However, with ongoing demand to grow awareness, differentiate and drive more efficient pipeline, it was clearly time to renovate these efforts.

Because it is offshore focused, Howden said most activity is digital-based. What’s more, given the product being promoting is life-changing, the emphasis also needed to be on selling the experience around what New Zealand offers.

Step one: Data cleaning

It was for this reason Education New Zealand decided to better qualify value and build out a digital-centric business model two years ago. Having first undergone a process to educate the c-suite on what digital is and secured investment, the agency brought on data services partner, SpeakData, and adopted Marketo’s marketing automation platform.

“We were looking for a data services partner to help us clean up the jungle of data we had across different databases, feeds, taxonomies and so on. But it was also to be a strategic partner in the strategy space and on the tools,” Howden explained. “We are a small organisation, so we drive business strategy, vision and facilitate connection, then get strategic suppliers to help us bring it to life.”

The first task became cleansing the data, no mean feat. “We tried to get the taxonomy right, and the architecture around it, then cleanse it,” Howden said.

“That involved setting up basic email campaigns to check someone was  still interested in our offering and experience. We had about 300,000 leads and we got it down to about 80,000 that were clean and had some level of engagement with us.”

Step two: Campaign definition

The task then became building automated campaigns. The initial priority was evaluating leads; the second was enabling new leads to come in. Education New Zealand introduced a new website lead capture form to ensure data coming in was consistent.

“From there, it’s about what you’re going to do with those leads and how are you going to help them choose, in our case, New Zealand over other destinations,” Howden continued. “It’s also about driving immediacy and getting them to take that next step ultimately to choose New Zealand for studying.”

At a baseline level, Education New Zealand built out a series of Marketo marketing campaigns, such as on-boarding sequences, segmentation by level and age of study. These took about 7-8 months to set up. All assets then needed to be configured correctly.

Step three: Get the reporting right

“One of the things you have to do before you implement any of this, is to be clear on what ‘good’ looks like.  What are you actually trying to achieve? Otherwise you have no compass,” Howden said.  

To do this, Education New Zealand worked to set up what ‘good’ looks like from a reporting perspective. “This was laddered back up to c-suite to make sure it made sense in their language, then we put a layer of BI on top so we could easily access it,” Howden said, noting the adoption of Tableau for this task.

“Marketo is great operationally, but it’s difficult to get those strategic insights out of it in a way that resonates with c-suite. That’s basically about return on investment and if we’re delivering on the purpose of our organisation.

“We also have good capability with Data Studio from Google. We already had quite a sophisticated media function, but we didn’t have the data services side. It was great to be able to plug the work we had there into Tableau as it merged all our data sources into one dashboard.”

Step four: Find the firsts

Using its data capabilities, Howden said the team could then create a number of firsts. One was a real-time data connection with the country’s border control, Immigration New Zealand.

“We can see right through the funnel in terms of business outcome and a person who has arrived on a visa,” he explained. “Given the convoluted path to purchase, and the sales and marketing construct… how do you connect that up then see through them to a visa? We have achieved that, which is pretty amazing.

“Now we have visibility through the funnel to outcome, and we can see what good looks like at the conversion end. This enables us to enrich our top of the funnel media targeting with conversion data, further enhancing our ability to target value.”

Another achievement is a ‘member centre’ employing a matching and recommendation algorithm. Similar to the way a job site matches prospective employees with employers, the My StudyNZ centre captures prospect profiles and details such as past qualifications and what they want to study. It then provides the 30 best matches out of a possible 60,000 options in NZ.  

“Prospects can favourite their best matches, and have access to personalised helpful tools such as living cost budgets, relevant information to their decide stage and ability to create study enrolment opportunities with their preferred institutions,” Howden said.  

My StudyNZ sits both on the global StudyinNewZealand.govt.nz website, as well as a mini-program on the agency’s China WeChat official account, a first for a New Zealand company.  

“We have API endpoints available for institutions to pick up the leads and introduce them to their sales teams, and we also have partner platforms that have a one-to-many relationship with NZ institutions connected via APIs,” Howden added.  

Step five: Piggyback off the wins

The results speak for themselves. In the past year, Education New Zealand returned over NZ$60 million in ROI for spend of just over $4m. In the last seven months, it’s also secured 110,000 highly qualified leads, with full attributes, including what prospects want to study.

The work recently saw Education New Zealand recognised as the Direct Marketing organisation of the year across the Tasman in the annual New Zealand Direct Marketing Awards. The agency also took out the Nexus Supreme Award for data excellence and the Grand Prix Award for best overall channel entry – a clean sweep for the first time in the 30-year history of the awards.

What’s more, each “sprint” in the transformation marathon opened up new capabilities and possibilities digitally, Howden said.

“We’re now offering real-time visibility of what good looks like from a visa perspective, a range of services for institutions to adjust the leads they’re looking at,” he said by way of example. “We have API services connected to the big end of town partners, we’ve introduced a sophisticated platform for driving events, and we have a system that integrates attribution right through that, from digital to physical then back into the digital funnel.

“Having the single source of truth in the data and that continuing flow opens up all these opportunities.”

Step six: Don't forget about content

Of course, campaign execution requires content, and alongside the data structure and architecture for the automated marketing, the agency has had to restructure its content flow. One decision has been to purchase a ‘headless’ CMS from US-based vendor, Contentful. This will allow it to push content more effortlessly through multiple digital and physical channels.

In addition, Education New Zealand debuted a messenger-based chatbot to target millennial and Gen Z audiences. “The next phase in that space is to connect it to our database to offer a personalise experience in the chatbot environment as well,” he said.  

Step seven: Making it personal

In terms of personalisation, Howden said Education New Zealand is operating on three layers. The first is broadcast communications encouraging sign-ups, which kicks off the on-boarding sequence. Then comes the personalised communications. This taps insights such as what stage of the conversion funnel a student is in, as well as a mix of engagement scoring and business logic depending on country.

“The next sequence we’re moving into is one-to-one personalisation. We haven’t got all the tools in place yet.  There’s some interesting stuff on the horizon with Adobe acquisition there for us,” Howden said.

Also on the agenda is bringing B2C success into Education New Zealand’s B2B channel.

“We’re exploring with IT how we can work together on that space. Marketo is across all stakeholders, but the B2B or industry partners piece is at the early stages of transformation,” Howden said.

Through all of the work, and even as he worked to be fearless, Howden stressed the importance of discipline.

“We have principles we adhere to, some around business rules, such as expenditure and what it looks like from a resource perspective, but also is it going to help our overall objectives, and is it going to be useful for the customer?” he asked.  

And it’s clear Education New Zealand has found success.

 “All of this has been driven by us. My team is now going through a transformation itself and some of the services we have created for B2B and B2C will be brought in to enable our employees,” Howden added.  

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Summit as a guest of Adobe.


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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