University of East Anglia
Tips to Nail the Application Experience with UEA
For many people, university is their first taste of independence – a challenge that’s both rewarding and exciting. In years gone by, students secured their place and headed off into the unknown. But today’s undergrads have grown up with information at their fingertips.
They can suss out the best places to eat in a town they’ve never set foot in, watch TikToks of events they didn’t attend, and find out what people are wearing on a campus they’ve never been to.
One organisation capitalising on this thirst for knowledge is the University of East Anglia (UEA). The admissions and marketing team is transforming how it engages with prospective students to help them navigate the journey from discovery to graduation.
That requires getting inside info on what life’s really like on campus from current students, knowing how and when to complete each step of the application process, and having a sympathetic ear to talk through everything from accommodation to eco-anxiety.
Despite receiving hundreds of thousands of enquiries every year, transforming how it engages with applicants has lead to the highest demand in 17 years and boosted conversion rates.
And the North Star guiding this transformation? Good data.
Sarah Cox, Head of Data, Systems, and Applicant Engagement is behind the university’s enterprise-wide implementation of Customer 360 for Education. She helped the university quickly pivot to digital during the pandemic and oversaw the initial CRM rollout.
To create a more connected, omnichannel prospect experience, the university brought in Paul Napleton, Head of Digital and Marketing Automation. Paul combines a wealth of experience from the financial services sector with a flair for innovation and creativity.
Let’s take a look at the pair’s five top tips to create a personalised application experience at scale.
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1. Crawl, walk, run
Sarah and Paul are big advocates of the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach to transformation. The original Salesforce implementation evolved in stages from a simple pre-registration form to an enterprise-wide CRM platform, with plenty of user testing along the way.
When it came to the admissions process, the goal was simple: tell prospective students everything they need to know on their channel of choice. To proactively guide prospects through the process, the team connects multiple touchpoints in Marketing Cloud to find out who they are, what stage they’re at in the admissions process, and which courses they’re interested in.
They can then increasingly reach out with relevant communications at the right time, on their preferred channel, with invitations to events and reminders to submit their application. The team is also working on website personalisation and peer-to-peer support via an integration with the Unibuddy student recruitment platform.
With this level of insight, the team can move from walk to run with hyper-personalised, omnichannel experiences, advanced artificial intelligence for content optimisation, SEO, and analytics, and ultimately, a deeper relationship throughout the student lifecycle, spanning from prospect to alumni.
And to build momentum, the university adopted a fail forward strategy, where every bump in the road is a valuable learning experience and opportunity for personal growth.
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2. Bring your people with you
When it comes to personalisation, people are your most powerful weapon. Especially on emotive journeys like applying for university, which is often the prospect’s first time away from home.
Automating low-value tasks such as email campaign reporting via Datorama and automated email resend communications to non-engagers. This is a great way to free up your people to be able to build stronger connections, but bringing them with you on the transformation journey is crucial.
The university invests in running internal campaigns with different stakeholders to educate them on what is happening and why. It uses Trailhead to curate Trailmixes of modules to send people on fun and engaging role-specific courses, as well as creating bespoke and gamified training to help bring it to life internally. It also invites early adopters to webinars, and Salesforce Accelerators to help upskill them on relevant topics.
It’s also important to celebrate wins and milestones as a team – something Sarah and Paul refer to as ‘fist bump moments’. These could include sending the millionth communication in Marketing Cloud, launching a campaign that doubles click-through rates, or getting great results in a customer satisfaction survey, for example.
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“I’m really proud of how we’ve brought people with us on this journey. Having passionate advocates on your team is really powerful. We inspire them with the art of the possible. They then inspire each other with new ways of working that totally change their role or empower them to focus on the tasks they enjoy the most.”
Head of Data, Systems, and Applicant Engagement
3. Build audiences and track engagement
Now that we’ve established the principles of a good transformation, let’s look at some specifics. The university has a wealth of first-party data in its CRM – a brilliant untapped resource when it comes to knowing who the ideal candidate is, how they heard about the university, and how to engage with them. Indeed, increasingly the focus is on unleashing the power of the university’s data, connecting data and insights from multiple sources. Using Advertising Studio, the university created audiences based on CRM data to get targeted adverts in front of the right people. By tracking engagement metrics, the marketing team and agency partners can see which channels and campaigns have the most impact and make smarter decisions about where to invest their marketing budget. Artificial intelligence also helps to calculate the best time to send out emails to constituents, and the saturation rate to ensure people aren’t being bombarded with too many adverts or communications. Although prospects don’t realise it yet, this is just the start of a more relevant, more personalised, and more efficient application experience.
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4. Cast a wide net and capture 360-degree visibility
Of course, not every applicant comes from social media adverts, and the admissions team faces a unique challenge. When the first point of contact can come from so many different sources, it can be difficult to capture every lead and eliminate duplicate records. For example, prospective students might first engage with the university via UCAS, at an event, by chatting to a current student or member of staff, through an international scholarship programme, via the university’s website, on social media or after attending a taster session at school. That also means every prospect will be at a different stage of their journey and looking for different levels of support. But it’s just as important to start nurturing relationships with 14-year-olds who’ve not yet sat their exams, as it is to understand what a last-minute applicant needs to hear to convince them to apply. Starting at a crawl, the university can kick off a prospect journey with just a name and an email address, tailoring the experience as more information is gathered, and personalising more touchpoints as their journey progresses. Using Journey Builder, the team established a timeline of what needs to happen by when to proactively support applicants. The journey then evolves based on how the prospect engages with content, and what their needs are.
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“Prospects arriving on our website don’t always know what to ask us. The more we know about them, the more we can help them find the right information, note important dates, and tailor more relevant communications based on their interests. It helps us start to build a relationship through transparent and added-value content too.”
Head of Digital and Marketing Automation
5. Measure customer satisfaction
To make sure campaigns pack the most punch, the university carefully monitors KPIs such as click-through and engagement rates in Datorama. But no insight is more valuable than asking the prospect for their opinion. The team rolled out integrated customer satisfaction surveys to find out what people think of how, when, and where it communicates. If the average response dips below ‘very satisfied’, the team can reach out to identify pain points and act swiftly to resolve them. This is important to help shape future campaigns and processes, and to become more predictive about prospect needs. By stitching together data from multiple touchpoints, for example, the team can identify people who want to speak to a peer or member of staff and enrol them in a phone campaign, it is building that elusive 360-degree view of the constituent. While many people think younger generations would rather hide than pick up the phone, data showed the university that there’s still a place for a friendly chat with a real person when it comes to talking through their concerns. It’s about being available on the channel that suits them however they wish to contact the university.
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UEA has achieved a lot in a short time, but it’s not done yet.
To accelerate its omnichannel strategy, it’s implementing Live Agent to respond to queries more efficiently and capturing more data with Interaction Studio – something Paul reveres as the ‘nirvana’ of higher education marketing automation, as it will support real time, one-to-one engagement.
It’s also looking at how it can make the time between applying for a course and getting exam results easier and less anxious for future students.
“University should be a home away from home for prospects, we want them to feel like part of the family before they even arrive,” said Sarah. “Families are for life. We’re invested in their success from students to alumni, and Salesforce will help us stay close for longer.”
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UEA is a globally significant centre of research that drives global change. Their world-leading research covers science, health and medicine, social sciences and the humanities. It addresses some of the biggest issues facing society today, from transforming the lives of children in state care to providing the global temperature records which inform international climate change.