Data, disruption and some discussions over dinner - reflections on the UK HE Market after the CASE 2019
By Dan Beynon
Ed Layt, our Lead Consultant, and I spent last week at the CASE Europe Annual Conference in Birmingham. It was my 13th CEAC and as ever it was a busy week. The conference theme of disruption was enthusiastically adopted not only by the conference planning team but by Birmingham’s city council as the city itself was having some serious work done! Thanks very much indeed to Alex Miles, Bruce Bernstein and the whole organising team at CASE for making it all happen.
SMRS hosted our quarterly event The Know on the middle evening of the conference and were delighted to be joined by more than 60 people including Vice Chancellors and university marketing leaders (including many members of the Universities Marketing Forum – many thanks to Justin Cole and Mark Garratt). We also thoroughly enjoyed delivering a session at the conference entitled ‘The Best of Times or the Worst of Times’ and it was a real pleasure to share the platform with Andrew Hargreaves, the Founder of dataHE and our Chair, Jane Chafer, from my alma mater, University of Exeter. Andrew provided an excellent, detailed and thought provoking insight into what the HE market data is telling us and importantly warned against every institution simply holding tight and waiting for the demographic uplift. It will mean very different things for different parts of the country.
We then focused on the fact that even in this changing and challenging environment, from a marketing perspective, there has never been so much opportunity. And a big driver of that opportunity is the vast amount of data we all have access to - whether that’s the market data, institutional internal data, campaign performance insights or profile data from myriad channels. All this data enables us to make decisions differently, understand performance differently and is ultimately changing our profession.
This is creating a new marketing landscape – where the most senior marketing roles must be data driven - but this is not at the expense of other more traditional skillsets. CMO’s in Higher Education now have to be analytical and utilise data into every part of their work. But at the same time they must also be creative and free to innovate. Universities need to build a serious, long term relationship with their students, staff and stakeholders – and that relationship must be based on mutual benefit and understanding. Doing that successfully requires us all to create positive connections and great moments for the right people – the people that we know will thrive at our institutions. Data helps us do this but can’t do it alone!
We then explored how the marketing landscape we operate in is being disrupted and why is it so different. It seems that this is happening in 4 main ways. Firstly, what is physically possible is changing dramatically and we can now reach audiences in a way that we never could before. Whether by micro-targeting techniques or predicting behaviour based on millions of data points we can identify trends in the behaviours of audience segments enabling us to pre-empt and intervene.
Secondly, there’s a number of digital transformation projects going on across the sector right now and this work will enable us to take advantage of all these new opportunities more easily. Many of these projects are oriented towards improving the customer experience and the personalisation of the entire customer experience, moment to moment, at scale, on any channel and in real time.
Thirdly, we need new talents and skillsets in our teams. We all need to be numbers people to some extent, not all data scientists, but certainly able to to look at the outputs of data modelling and understanding how to develop strategies using that information.
And lastly this all impacts on our structures. When digital marketing began to emerge 25 years ago, it started in a discrete team but it’s now integral across all teams. We now all need to understand data and that might mean a dedicated person or unit for the short-term but we really need to work across our teams and remove silos across marketing operations and the institution as a whole.
The new marketing landscape certainly disrupts. Our problem is no longer too little data. Our problem is turning all of the data we have into meaningful action and ensuring that we are customer focused. We can now focus on identifying the right audiences for our institution and using all the insight we have to really understand and segment those specific audience groups. And we can then use that information strategically to deliver really positive, valuable and engaging experiences. And in this new world, it opens up opportunities for CMOs in Higher Education to own the whole customer experience to drive efficiency, performance and growth and lead the way for their universities.