7 lessons in build scalable digital marketing foundations

Swinburne University and Hesta sharing the digital people, process and technical capabilities they've been building in order to scale personalised marketing

The Hesta team (from left): Callum Tod, Georgie Obst and AKQA's Martin Tozzi-Condivi
The Hesta team (from left): Callum Tod, Georgie Obst and AKQA's Martin Tozzi-Condivi

Providing customers with personalised experiences at scale is the Holy Grail for marketing teams today. But getting there requires significant investment into a raft of digital capabilities and processes.

During the recent Adobe Symposium, representatives from Swinburne University and superannuation provider, Hesta, shared their experiences striving for a scalable digital foundation off the back of adoption the vendor’s enterprise marketing technology stack. Here are just a few of their tips, plus lessons learned.

1. Make ways of working your first priority

One of Swinburne University senior analytics manager, Nicole Austin’s big lessons from the tertiary education provider’s digital marketing transformation has been prioritising ways of working from day one.

“People want to know what’s expected of them. Have your ceremonies, documents, processes and showcases and be consistent and commit to them,” she said. “Make it everyone’s responsibility to cross-skill and knowledge share all the time.

“It wasn’t until we had the people and process frameworks that we could we deliver a seamless experience.”

At Hesta, meanwhile, compliant content and a great workflow covering trails, history and operational process are driving strong ways of working.

“We know we have the right people approving and posting content,” its general manager of digital strategy, Callum Tod, said. For instance, the investment team can update content on investment prices without the help of marketing.

In addition, having clear communications and vision, and one strategy, means teams are talking the same language and ensures all staff are clear on where things are going.

“It’s about respecting each other’s worlds and what we bring to the table,” Hesta general manager of campaigns and customer growth, Georgie Obst, said. “But it’s always about the member. That is the North Star.”

2. Adopt a test-and-iteration philosophy

Swinburne’s comprehensively documented framework led to creation of an optimisation team to start testing out personalised campaigns. This consisted of representatives from analytics, content and campaign functions along with digital experience staff.

The cross-functional team used a series of gates, from prepare to ideate, design, build and validate. Each acted as a checkpoint on efforts and provided an operating rhythm to technical builds, personalisation and digital priorities, Austin said.

“What we then did is a brain-storming session, following a structured hypothesis process … we generated a lot of ideas then mapped them according them from impact to efforts. We were looking at the ideas with higher impact to the business but required low to mid effort. From there we identified two experiences and one A/B test,” Austin explained.

Swinburne’s test plan is also divided into visual (covering hypotheses and journey flow), concept (content as well as creative and audiences details) and technical (experience composer plus activities) briefs.

One pilot experience leveraged the work done on channel tracking. “We wanted to pick up the post-graduate parameter sitting in tracking codes from our channels, and instead of those people receiving our generic global experience, ensure they received more relevant creative, with a headline and red ‘register now’ button taking them to our post-graduate info evening event,” Austin said.  

The results include a year-on-year increase in post-graduate conversions. But importantly, Austin said Swinburne created a cross-functional, collaborative practice with reusable frameworks that can scale and grow as it extends across the business. Today, Swinburne is running a number of personalised campaigns.

Read more: How Swinburne Uni’s CMO is orchestrating a digital marketing transformation

3. Communicate internally incessantly

In parallel, it’s vital to articulate what’s going on and how it impacts each part of the organisation. For example, when Swinburne started building out its personalisation approach, people weren’t sure what it meant for them or their roles.

“It’s human nature to ask ‘what’s in it for me’,” Austin said. “Until you start to break down those uncertainties, they will continue to be barriers.

“Documentation and communication provide pathways, they encourage sharing, mitigate risk and also create a source of truth when consultants come inside.”

From there, Swinburne commenced proof of concepts, and Austin’s teams offered technical demonstrations to show how its suite of Adobe tools talked to each other and what needed to be done to bring personalisation to customers.

“We introduced staff to digital balance and reassured them we had the expertise to go through this new piece of work,” Austin said. “And we went back to the ‘crawl, walk, run’ analogy and emphasised we wanted to make sure we had foundations correct before we proceeded with anything else.

“The narrative changed: People started asking how they could be involved… if they could do anything to help. By the time we into our workshops about personalisation strategy, we had a really engaged group.”

4. Build widespread technology literacy

At Hesta, maturing campaign responsiveness and optimisation have been key to widespread technology literacy and ownership. While maturity levels vary, most of the team has strong knowledge around its Adobe Experience Manager management platform and can make changes onsite, for example. This, coupled with templates and design frameworks, ensures people can build new campaign pages in a matter of hours.

Hesta then tries to give staff focus on particular parts of the rest of platform in order to champion it, while also aligning this with the wider stack.

“We all need to know everything, but this helps spread the load, so we always have a backup, and it gives people an opportunity to improve their skills,” Obst said.  

Equally, Hesta has strived to ensure democratisation of data so it lands in the hands of people who can refine it and utilise it for member improvements, Tod said.

Read more: Hesta: Omnichannel marketing vital in low-engagement category

HESTA launches new site to boost member experience

5. Start small with customer segmentation

Data indeed comes first at Hesta, and the group boasts of a segmentation model of eight customer groups, tapping psychographic insight and based around how members scale in terms of financial wellbeing. These commence from those paralysed about talking about their future finances; and stretch to those leaning and wanting help, through to savvy members seeking reassurance around investments.

“This segmentation gives us good segway as well as other propensity modelling and other insights. It’s a stepping stone to how we communicate, and defines across the channels what will talk to them about, the level of information we’ll give them, and how we’ll talk to them,” Obst said.  

Yet Hesta didn’t start out this way. Instead, it started simply, first segmenting communications into two groups: Employer and member.

“We started with a simple targeting approach. Then marketing took that on and has moved on from that,” Tod said. 

6. Prove the value

As an example of modern campaign approaches, Obst pointed to Hesta’s welcome series of communications.

“We have a window of making them feel like a member and reducing churn rate in first 12 months,” she said. Each email in the series, sent in first eight months of membership, has a dedicated action, deemed the next-best step. If a member takes an action, they move out of the campaign cycle. Work is also complemented by social.

This has seen Hesta send 101,000 personalised communications, gain 50 per cent email open rates, and reduced likelihood to churn in the first 12 months of membership by 35 per cent.

For Obst, that first member welcome email is vital because it also ensures new members become digital members and register for an account. By the time members get to 12 months, Hesta has then placed them into its more detailed customer segments and can better line-up expectations on what they receive going forward, she added.

7. Be willing to adapt

What’s also apparent is things never go quite to plan. As a result, Austin stressed the need for adaptability.

“If you have alternatives and contingencies in place, your chances of success will be a lot higher,” she added.

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