This Digital Marketing Team Hacked its Process and Shifted Half its Media Spend
In the past year, the marketing team at Deakin University has experimented with hacking agile marketing process in a conscious effort to become faster and more responsive, with the digital marketing team at the vanguard.
Under executive director of marketing Trisca Scott-Branagan, Deakin has developed a reputation for being open to innovation and experimentation in marketing.
There are about 60-70 people in Deakin’s marketing team covering brand, market insights, digital and domestic student recruitment, with Alumni and International separate.
In September last year, the marketing team launched an integrated brand campaign ‘Think Young’, featuring forward-thinking academics, students and alumni in a bid to showcase Deakin’s commitment to “open-mindedness and new ways of thinking”.
Around the same time, Deakin University launched Deakin Explore Bot, a Facebook Messenger bot designed to help high school leavers discover their perfect course or career, claiming it as a world-first.
The university’s marketing team also kicked off a national campaign for its fifth ‘Cloud’ campus, offering online courses, with just a few weeks to get work to market.
“We knew we didn’t have 8 weeks to spend on development,” said performance marketing manager Gemma Anderson. “It was about progress over perfection: getting something to market and then iterating.”
Hacking the agile marketing process
Much of the language and the principles Deakin marketing staff were using borrowed heavily from the agile marketing lexicon.
Marketing had begun to institute daily standup meetings — sometimes called daily scrums – in which different team representatives come together on a daily basis to look at what needs to be done and to report progress. It was also using scrumboards to visualise and communicate the progress of jobs from start to completion.
According to Scott-Branagan, those agile practices — developed originally for the software industry but adapted for marketing — helped marketing collaborate better across teams.
“How to operate as one rhythm across multiple teams has been key,” Scott-Branagan told CMO.“That delivers agility, speed to market, ensures we get the best out of everyone and also helps to make sure everyone sees that bigger picture.”
Meantime, the University’s digital agency Hardhat had been using a framework known as ‘agency agile’, which helped build awareness of the benefits of fostering more agile ways of working in Deakin’s digital marketing team.
Changing the culture
Traditional work-in-progress meetings (WIPs) can help create a culture in marketing in which action is delayed by the need to get consensus and approval, and while some team members are active participants in the ensuing meetings, others are passive.
But at at a time when social, content and digital marketing automation is seeing more marketing work created in-house, the days of successive meetings that eat up time that could be spent getting work done are numbered.
In agile marketing Scrum methodology, each team member also needs to speak up in the daily standup and be accountable for the work that is attributed to them.
“(In agile marketing) there’s more open communications and sharing. Everything’s more about the work and what’s being done than navel-gazing,” Anderson told Simple.
“Marketers are starting to in-source everything more but you have to fix your processes. You can’t have death by meetings — you have to change.”
For Deakin’s digital team, “hacking processes” to bring in some elements of agile for marketing felt like the natural place to start, including weekly scrum work cycles and daily standups (short meetings in which each team member discusses what they did the day before, what they’re undertaking to do that day and any obstacles they’ve encountered).
“WIPs weren’t working and scrums changed the dynamic,” Anderson said. “They’re more action-driven. The energy is different. It adds structure to meetings.
“(Agile) is a way of working. Are people considering how they can be more productive when they go about their work? Are they comfortable working at speed?
“It’s about culture. And it’s about mindset: staff might put things to air without checking everything with their managers, for example.”
Agile adoption is a work in progress, however. While the digital team is committed to particular agile marketing principles, it’s taking a phased approach and structuring scrum teams around programs of work.
“It’s still evolving,” Anderson said. “But what we have done so far has had such an impact on our velocity and our ability to react to the data that we’ve seen.”
New process drove 50% shift in media spend
According to Anderson, the shift to agile processes and a test-and-learn approach to digital for the national Cloud campaign has seen Deakin shift as much as half of its media spend to get better results based on how work is performing in-market, significantly boosting campaign effectiveness.
“The campaign that went to market is unrecognisable from what it is today,” Anderson said. “The insight and intent is similar but what we’re investing in is different from where we started.
“We didn’t know what market would be more successful or which courses were going to be successful,” she said. “We launch new landing pages constantly.
“We made assumptions about what was going to work in certain channels. Some, such as search, were predictable.
“But we were very surprised about what worked and what didn’t in social channels where something that was good suddenly got superseded by something that was better.
“About 40% to 50% of our media spend has probably shifted as a result.”
There are areas of the business that don’t need to be disrupted and changed, such as overarching strategic work, according to Anderson. But when those teams come together to work with other divisions in marketing, they use elements of agile marketing process.
“It’s a process,” Anderson said. “We’re adopting more agile marketing practices over time.”
Gemma Anderson addressed the Digital Marketing Strategies for Higher Education conference, sponsored by Simple.