Marketing Decisions Blog

Don’t SPAM Your Future Students – A Practical Guide to Digital Marketing for Every Australian University


I have one daughter who started university this year and another in year 12 currently evaluating university for entrance next year. I have been to the university open days, the expos and roadshows. I have browsed around university websites and read countless emails from universities across Australia which have been sent to my daughters. Marry this experience with my professional life of bringing the best of evolving technology to digital lead generation and I find myself writing this article as a result of my observations. I believe that universities have a significant opportunity to improve how they communicate with future students. Sending recipes to my daughter who is not so inclined was enough to eliminate the university responsible from any further contention in the eyes of my daughter.

Of all the clients and segments that I work in, this segment stands out as the one with the most potential to benefit from automating communications in response to prospect behavior in my view. Just ask yourself – do you feel comfortable that you understand the needs of those visiting your website today? Are you reliably fulfilling those needs with the right message, at the right time via the right channel? Forget trying to do this manually because there are too many visitors and time is of the essence here. Their needs must be satisfied within minutes, not hours or days. This can only be achieved by automating marketing processes in real time.

This discussion sets out a path for university marketing teams to achieving your Marketing 101 goals of right message, right time, right place through marketing automation.

Let’s Keep this Simple

I wonder how many of your future students think like my daughter. Her initial thinking as she evaluated universities across Australia was “I’ve worked hard at a competitive school to achieve a high ATAR so I want a university with competitive credentials to match”. In no particular order, she wanted to know:

  • University reputation
  • Employability – is the degree closely tied to getting a job?
  • Course reputation
  • Course information – structure and options, lecturers and reputation
  • Entrance ATAR – was this equating to high demand or was it easy to qualify?
  • Overseas exchange options
  • Scholarships e.g. for sports achievers
  • Housing/colleges
  • University life
  • What are teachers/advisors saying about the university?
  • Support for internship placement
  • Clubs and sporting options
  • Open day and personal tour information
  • What are people saying about the course?
  • Information/suggestions for part time work whilst studying

From a digital perspective, not one university considered by my daughter came close to
serving content by web, email, social or phone to satisfy the above needs in an intuitive and fulfilling manner. At times, getting the information needed, even by phone, proved just too difficult and she gave up.

Our end goal as digital marketers is to make the experience with a future student as personal and satisfying as possible, at every touch point. Digital marketing tools will help us to get there but we must not fall into the trap of thinking that these alone will solve our problems. The “magic pill” here if ever there was one is to think like a future student, take yourselves as marketers through that journey and work hard to improve that journey on behalf of your university. Do not believe that you can do this alone – you need the insights and experience from professionals who know marketing automation inside/out; have implemented hundreds of campaigns; experienced successes and failures; thrive in both B2B and B2C digital marketing and can take your own insights and apply them to your particular use case, ensuring best practice along the way.

Here are my tips to get you started.


As digital marketers, by now we have come to realise the importance of data, or have we? Yes, yes, we know, I hear you say and I hear my clients say it all the time. But it’s importance cannot be stressed enough. Each of the below is driven by data:

  • Personalisation
  • Lead scoring
  • 360 degree view
  • Tracking
  • Analytics

Yet we rush into campaigns, ask some questions in forms and the data we gather is rarely
even used in lead scoring. Management seeks a certain report, but we don’t have the data to
produce it. Marketing automation starts and ends right here, with data.

If you think I am overstating the importance of data let me show you what I know you do not have enough of today, and yet you need it if you want to be relevant to your future students.

1. Where are your digital leads coming from?

Are your leads coming from ads, search, social, direct, referring sites? Which sources outperform others, deliver enrolments and we may therefore score higher?

2. Search term

This is a high value data point and often brings critical insight into future student motivation. We sometimes manage how we communicate with prospects according to this data point alone. We certainly adjust lead scoring according to what we capture here. We call this data point “gold” but it is difficult to capture and few will know how to incorporate it effectively into your automated processes.

Consider the lead form data submitted below in Eloqua Marketing Automation. Imagine how your university might benefit from this level of data insight.

Figure 1: Eloqua Lead Capture Form Data

Eloqua Lead Capture Form Data

3. Web visit clickstream history

In Eloqua marketing automation we start tracking anonymous web visitors before they have identified themselves. When they do submit a form to identify themselves, Eloqua associates the prior 12 months of web visit history to their individual contact record. This is where marketing automation web tracking is different from Google Analytics (GA). GA is a wonderful web analytics tool that presents aggregate data, but it does not drill down to individuals. Some of our clients imply a persona based on collective web visit patterns. Eloqua marketing automation brings some handy tools to support this. Firstly we group pages and tag them (manually or even automatically as further pages are added).

Figure 2: Eloqua Web Tagging

Eloqua Web Tagging

We then apply rules to group visitors into segments or personas. This can be a combination of stated information, web visit and other behavioural data. We then stamp a record according to their derived persona.

Figure 3: Eloqua Persona Matching

Eloqua Persona Matching

4. Data integrated from other systems

Data data everywhere but we cannot access it. This is too often the case. Universities have data in recruitment databases, in CRM systems, social software and marketing automation platforms. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the problems presented by disconnected data but at the same time we need to develop a practical approach. Not all data needs to be integrated and in fact it may be detrimental to do so. Here are some examples of data points that we have integrated into Eloqua marketing automation from other systems:

  • Is the student enrolled (in current year)?
  • Unsubscribed in CRM?
  • Clicked a particular post published in the social platform?
  • Social originated support case?

These data points all enrich our profile and understanding of a future student and can impact how we treat them.

Lead Score Landscape

One of my favourite reports Marketing Automation provides is a snapshot of the lead scores across the prospect database. At any point in time we can review how many hot leads we have and how this has changed since we last viewed. These two insights alone say a lot about the performance of your digital marketing efforts.

Look at the following Eloqua lead scoring landscape report.

Figure 4: Eloqua Lead Score Landscape

Eloqua Lead Score Landscape

Our goal is to move leads from a score of D4 to A1 and to do this as quickly as possible for least cost. In the context of a university it is easy to get confused about how we should cluster our future students in order to try to treat them differently according to their persona, their course of interest, their lead score or even their maturity in the buying journey. The ultimate level of personalisation treatment would be to have a sophisticated matrix with for example different personas, each broken down into course of interest, journey stage and an overlay of lead score applied. This becomes very difficult to manage with so many potential iterations of treatment. So generally we strike a balance between perfection and practical implementation.

Lead score values provide an excellent determinant of where to place or move our future students at any point in time (according to their lead score). We want their score to increase so we strive for engagement that brings us more insight. When they reach a certain score threshold that we consider as “hot”, we generally send them to a call centre for outbound follow up. If you are struggling to think of how you might nurture your future students with relevant information go back and review the information that my daughter was seeking as she evaluated universities. You can even ask your web visitors what they would like to know and satisfy that with targeted email. One of our clients derives a dollar worth value of their prospect database based on the above lead score report. At any point in time an A1 lead is worth $x and a D4 is worth much less, with all the combinations in between. This is a powerful derived metric to work with and quickly exposes the value of marketing efforts over time as the overall database value increases.


I breathe a sigh of relief when my new clients tell me that they have a wealth of great content to serve in digital relationships. If they do not then this can take time to assemble. Universities need to think in terms of content matrices i.e. content by persona, content by course of interest, content by journey stage, content by lead score and manage content accordingly. The Oracle Content Marketing solution which integrates with Eloqua marketing automation manages content production and use, by persona. It serves latest content to Eloqua for use in automated email nurtures, by persona or by journey stage. But don’t get overwhelmed by this. Choose a practical starting point for automating the serving of content e.g. by stated course of interest or by implied persona type.

Figure 5: Oracle Content Marketing

Oracle Content Marketing

Oracle Content Marketing

This same Oracle Content Marketing solution is used by universities to crowd source content from students, lecturers and any interested contributor, moderate and then publish on a content hub. The content can be reused by passing to Eloqua through the native integration or even pushed to Oracle Social Relationship Management for publishing.

Oracle Content Marketing

Present Your Messages Consistently Well

There are countless articles written regarding email best practice, including one on our own website which can be accessed here so I do not want to delve into this further. However, it is vitally important for universities to understand that they are targeting an unforgiving generation of future students who will be unimpressed by poorly presented marketing content, whether this be in emails, ads, social or other channels. Universities need to deploy templates in their digital platforms. These templates will be designed well, tested for performance and empower marketers to focus on their current copy and content rather than being concerned with branding, layout, responsive behaviour or deliverability. Leading universities will want to push boundaries here and trial new techniques such as movement in emails and server based active content. These techniques, when deployed well, cannot help but impress and result in improved response rates.

Right Message, Right Time, Right Place – Automation in Action

This brings us back to our Marketing 101 goal which proves to be so elusive for so many. We want to deliver the right message at the right time and in the right place (channel). We can see now that this can only happen if we have the right data driving triggered campaigns with personalised content. We can build out layers of automation by interest or persona (and more) and then steer leads through the available content according to their lead score. In that sense lead score can underpin a master lead routing program.

In summary, my recommendations for success are as follows:

  1. Establish clear organisation goals as they relate to digital marketing. Ensure alignment with wider marketing and organisation objectives.
  2. Understand your university marketing calendar and the range of upcoming activities. Plan ahead to leverage digital marketing in support of these activities eg open days. Leverage every activity to identify and nurture leads.
  3. Identify your weak points with digital marketing and address them. Do you have enough target visitors reaching your website? Are they engaging when they are there?
  4. Find where your visitors are in volume and make sure you extend that visit interest through marketing automation.
  5. Do you have adequate fresh content and a plan to maintain this?
  6. Audit your data preparedness and your ongoing ability to maintain data quality. Are you capturing appropriate data points from your web forms, events and social to inform your ability to be relevant? Are you capturing lead source data? Are you integrating other key data points needed to drive your campaigns effectively?
  7. Acquire digital marketing tools which have depth. To be effective you need tools which can take you the distance. Eloqua marketing automation has served thousands of customers around the world and continues to evolve. It is rated as the best by Gartner for Lead Management. It also integrates with Oracle Service Cloud, Oracle Social Relationship Management and Oracle Content Marketing. This presents a perfect combination for a university with ample room for improvement in digital marketing over many years.
  8. Acquire the best support that you can find to implement this technology in your specific context. Upskill your staff generously and learn software “how to” but be absolutely sure to acquire best practice as well. To do this you need a partner who has superb digital marketing skills and knows the technology inside out.

About the Author

Bill McNamara is the founder and CEO of Marketing Decisions – a specialist digital marketing agency, established in 2007. Bill has held senior marketing roles in global corporations in Europe, The United States and Australia. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering, MBA and is a Scholar of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Marketing Decisions has served brands such as Google, Optus, Network Ten, Western Sydney University, Ernst and Young, NSW Government, Mitre 10, Real Estate Group, IOOF and many more. Bill is considered to be one of the most experienced practitioners of Marketing Automation in the world.

Posted on

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

View latest guides