26 50

CMO50 2022 #26-50: Sofia Lloyd-Jones

  • Name Sofia Lloyd-Jones
  • Title Director of future students (CMO)
  • Company University of NSW
  • Commenced role January 2019
  • Reporting Line Deputy vice-chancellor, education and student experience
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 100 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Education
  • 2021 ranking 26-50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    At the height of the pandemic and when Australia’s international borders were firmly shut, University of NSW marketing chief, Sofia Lloyd-Jones, assumed ownership of international student recruitment. The responsibility meant devising the post-Covid rebuild strategy while there were still many unknowns.

    “Responding to early market signals, I devised a tailored approach for international diversity markets where affordability was a conversion barrier and introduced a geo-targeted scholarship scheme to improve our customer value proposition,” she says.

    “As a result, in 2022 our international diversity enrolments doubled year-on-year, representing an increase from one quarter to one third of total enrolments. UNSW has performed ahead of the market, achieving 5 per cent market share improvement in diversity markets.”

    Customer-led thinking

    The first step was transforming the approach to student recruitment for a digital-first world to reach international students despite closed international borders, she explains.

    “Our pivot to digital prospective student acquisition, nurturing and conversion campaigns saw a steady increase in activity performance indicators in key markets,” Lloyd-Jones says. “We found new ways to connect with international audiences by putting the student’s need at the heart. Using new technology platforms and content and channel experimentation, we delivered Digital Open Days, which attracted record leads and attendance numbers.”

    Overall impact of this activity helped UNSW exceed international student revenue targets by +17 per cent in 2021, reaching 90 per cent of pre-COVID enrolments while Australian borders were closed.

    While commercially successful, new student enrolments through 2021 were skewed to China as other international markets were reluctant to study online. To de-risk revenue concentration, Lloyd-Jones then evolved her strategy for 2022 and in anticipation for a reopening of Australia’s borders. 

    “A different approach was required for international diversity markets where affordability was a conversion barrier,” she says. This resulted in a geo-targeted scholarship scheme to improve UNSW’s customer value proposition in diversity markets.”

    The strategy has delivered strong customer and commercial outcomes in 2022, including the doubling of international diversity enrolments, representing an increase from one quarter to one third of total enrolments.

    Business smarts

    This willingness to take on a tough job and deliver results permeates Lloyd-Jones’ three-and-a-half -year tenure with UNSW. And it’s at the heart of her 2022 CMO50 submission.

    Just take her persistent efforts to bring the tertiary education provider’s approach to market into the future. Notably, this has meant recognising university is no longer a rite of passage, but a critical investment for the individual and society.

    “Offering a return on investment is paramount. In a rapidly changing employment market, now, more than ever, Australia needs to match the skills of its young people with job opportunities to fuel our post-Covid recovery,” Lloyd-Jones comments. “This context was my catalyst to fundamentally change the ‘product’ development process – up until now, an exclusively academic endeavour – and drive improved performance of UNSW’s product portfolio.”

    Throughout 2021, Lloyd-Jones led a product portfolio review to shape UNSW’s future education offer, bringing a 'Market Smart’ lens to the conversation. Recommendations were informed by a robust evidence base, deep analysis, and high levels of consultation involving staff from all UNSW faculties, providing valuable contextual insight.

    The review led to establishment of a ‘Market Smart Framework’. Lloyd-Jones describes this as an evidence-based portfolio evaluation tool for identifying opportunities which strengthen portfolio competitiveness. It’s also informing decisions to cut underperforming programs as well as to establish strategic growth priorities.

    “The framework has been embedded through UNSW’s academic governance mechanisms and annual planning process,” she says.

    It’s also helped enhance the product marketing approach. Results include a 2022 improvement in ROI year to date, exceeding stretch growth targets for priority programs across domestic and international market segments, with flat year-on-year marketing expenditure.

    “Beyond the marketing function, the review has shaped our institutional strategic agenda by orientating UNSW toward future growth in the postgraduate market, with life-long learning forming a critical element of our medium- to long-term institution financial recovery plan,” Lloyd-Jones says.  

    “Just as importantly, what students learn at UNSW and the skills they develop for their future career, will be better informed by what the market needs and wants; ensuring our graduates are resilient and successful in the post-Covid world, and reinforcing UNSW as the AFR’s ‘Most Employable University’ for 2022.”

    Innovative marketing

    Lloyd-Jones demonstrates a similar panache for discipline and methodical improvement with her work around the postgraduate market, or what she describes as UNSW’s untapped opportunity. Prior to putting an emphasis on improving the status quo, UNSW was relatively small player and had experienced long-term market share declines.

    “As soon as I started at UNSW, I led a new approach to put our customers at the heart of our planning, starting with postgraduates,” she explains. “Bringing new in-house capability and discipline around audience insight and segmentation, we created a diverse set of lifelong learning journeys.

    “This deeper customer understanding informed more sophisticated campaign planning across paid, owned and earned channels. We devised a postgraduate creative campaign under the UNSW Masterbrand creative platform of ‘The World Needs U(NSW)’, with segment-specific creative and content, an ‘always on’ lead generation approach, and trigger-based Omni-channel communications delivering ‘the right message, in the right channel, at the right time’.”

    Achievements include a dramatically improved sales pipeline health, with lead generation driving 88 per cent net marketable lead growth in 2022 YTD, off the back of 76 per cent year-on-year growth in 2021. Significant paid media ROI of +33 per cent across 2020-2021 was also maintained in the first half of 2022 amid a change in macro domestic market conditions. And there was an upswing in database member engagement, with lead email conversion up 20 per cent YOY.

    “Our customer-driven approach has delivered strong, sustainable results for UNSW. Early on, we saw a reversal of long-term performance declines. And when the global pandemic unfolded, we were perfectly poised to leverage increased domestic demand,” Lloyd-Jones comments.

    “UNSW postgraduate enrolments increased by 17 per cent in the last two years, and 3 per cent year-on-year growth in enrolments has been achieved in the first intake of 2022.

    “UNSW has risen from fourth to second position in the market – driven by the new performance marketing model and organic core portfolio growth.”

    Data-driven maturity

    Helping Lloyd-Jones fine-tune her marketing approach is an ever-more sophisticated data-driven operational engine. As she points out, student recruitment customer journey is long and complex, and the journey differs depending on the study area of interest, career goal and experience of the student, and their global market context.

    “Digital responsiveness is critical, and when I started in the role it was lacking. So digital transformation and a shift from a traditional to data-driven performance marketing model was part of my change agenda,” she says.  

    As the pandemic unfolded and UNSW went through an organisation-wide downsizing, Lloyd-Jones led the Adobe Digital Marketing Platform (DMP) roadmap to transform the student recruitment digital ecosystem, transitioning this into ‘business as usual’ in 2022.

    Critical future student website information and inspirational content showcasing UNSW degrees and student stories has been deployed onto the Adobe Experience Platform, delivering more connected, personalised and market specific experiences, she says. Student recruitment email nurturing and conversion campaigns are deployed using Adobe Campaign with personalisation and responsiveness at scale.

    “We invested in upskilling and building in-house team capability, and established data and content communities of practise to imbue a performance marketing team culture,” Lloyd-Jones says. “With a richer view of audiences, the team can better understand the impact of activity on business outcomes for ongoing optimisation.”

    Building a performance-driven culture, underpinned with scalable technology and strong data has significantly impacted the business. For one, UNSW has seen up to eight times the expected annual lead target uplift. The marketing team has improved campaign conversion rates from leads to applications and enrolments and seen YOY improvements across all stages of the marketing funnel.

    Exceeding sales revenue targets across all customer segments, with sustained business growth across 2021 and 2022 and market share gains, also demonstrate the extent of impact.

    Commercial acumen

    Even as she’s spearheaded long-term programs of work, Lloyd-Jones hasn’t forgotten about the short term. During the onset of Covid, and with the closure of international borders, UNSW faced a dire financial situation. With responsibility for delivering about $1.5bn in tuition fees across domestic and international markets, two thirds of UNSW’s overall revenue, her portfolio was critical to assuring the University’s financial health.

    Throughout 2020-21, Lloyd-Jones led a marketing pivot to increase domestic student recruitment, including a new brand campaign, tactical activations plus a pivot to digital event engagement. These efforts helped UNSW out-perform local market growth rates and deliver a 27 per cent YOY increase in local undergraduate student enrolments in 2021. The team also scaled up paid media investment to leverage increased domestic demand for postgraduate study, delivering a 9 per cent YOY increase in 2021 enrolments.

    “New student enrolment targets were exceeded in 2021, with a 16 per cent YOY increase in overall new students, representing a 1.8 per cent increase over 2019 pre-pandemic levels,” she says. “This helped UNSW navigate the Covid crisis and deliver a small operating surplus in 2021.”

    Leadership impact

    The results were achieved despite significant team disruption. At the height of the pandemic, the University announced significant redundancies and the marketing team was not immune.

    “Leading the team through a major downsizing exercise at the height of the pandemic and rebuilding through subsequent Covid waves proved challenging, but today we are recognised as a high-performing team in UNSW,” Lloyd-Jones says.

    “Our streamlined operating model has improved connection between audience, product marketing, digital marketing and sales disciplines, and an imbued evidence-based culture to improve the connection between activities and business impact.

    “Cross-functional team collaboration and innovation workshops helped to drive a stronger customer-led approach, while faculty-embedded team members have improved product expertise and academic connection.”

    Just look at UNSW’s highly innovative events program, including the 2021 UNSW LinkedIn Broadcast Event #Careersunlocked series, nominated by LinkedIn as a best-practice case study. 

    “We have experienced sustained business performance, exceeding of new enrolment targets 2021-2022 and performing ahead of the market,” Lloyd-Jones says.

    “We are maturing agile marketing principles within our operating model, which has helped to improve our responsiveness to fast-changing market needs. Weekly, fortnightly, and monthly team rhythms help to drive continuous, data-driven campaign performance optimisation and improve connection to business impact.”


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