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A marathon, not a sprint: ENZ’s Euan Howden on its award-winning digital transformation

Education New Zealand (ENZ) has kicked off 2019 with plenty to celebrate, after great success at the NZDM Awards was followed by Euan Howden, director of marketing platforms and campaigns, being named the Fearless Marketer at the 2019 Marketo Revvie Award at the Adobe Summit last week. Following the win, we talk to Howden about how ENZ is future-proofing itself with a digital transformation.

By Erin McKenzie | April 5, 2019 | news

Two years ago Education New Zealand (ENZ), a crown enterprise tasked with promoting the country’s education to international students, found itself at a standstill. The international education offers from other English-speaking countries were threatening New Zealand’s share of the market, and its budgets couldn’t compare.

New Zealand has a three percent share of the global market for international education and onshore, it’s the country’s fourth largest export industry which in 2017 contributed $5.1 billion to the New Zealand economy.

Not only did ENZ want to protect that, it wanted to grow it.

Despite the significance of international education to our economy, director of marketing platforms and campaigns Euan Howden says ENZ was up against the world’s limited view of New Zealand.

“Awareness of New Zealand as a country is low and if they do know us, it’s for movies like The Hobbit — they don’t see us as a destination for furthering study.”

Until the decision was made to go digital, ENZ worked to promote New Zealand as an education destination with traditional activity such as events, promotions, brochures and advertising.

However, with its audience being those at school or in their 20s, and also overseas, that activity no longer aligned with the online world the audience lives in.


Euan Howden

The solution was a digital transformation that’s seen it incorporate marketing automation processes and systems driven by data insights.

It’s now a few years into that journey and Howden says "it’s a marathon, not a sprint".

“There’s lots of steps but you have to have a long-distance view.”

And it’s an investment that’s paying off as its returning 19-times what it puts in while scoring a number of awards. At this year’s NZDM Awards, the wins included the Nexus Supreme, The Keith Norris Direct Marketing Organisation of the Year and the Grand Prix with its partner SpeakData.

Following those wins, Howden was named The Fearless Marketer at the Revvie Awards for Marketo customers and the Adobe Experience Maker Awards gala in Las Vegas.

Step by step

While ENZ is seeing the results of its transformation, they didn’t come overnight and Howden says it can take some time before you see a return on investment — “you have to show determination and stay true to your vision”.

He also says it had to get buy-in from the c-suite, board and other key stakeholders because it's such a significant investment. Getting that buy-in was ENZ’s first step in the journey, followed by the second step to acknowledge that data has to be at the heart of everything it does.

“Data is your IP and it is critical thinking,” Howden says, adding it had one million+ unique visitors to its website every year from which it could be collecting data.

Howden says acting on this realisation added a new level of intelligence to its marketing.

But it wasn’t enough for ENZ to make the change internally. It had to make sure its customers were along for the ride so he says the final step was to encourage prospective students to connect with it.

Also on the journey with ENZ has been its strategic partner SpeakData. Through that partnership, ENZ completed a data audit to validate what it was collecting and make sure it was capturing valuable leads. This saw it build new architecture to enable new lead capture and communication to those who sign up.

“We get data and they get value,” Howden says.

Matchmaking

A lot has happened within ENZ’s walls over the last few years and speaking to Howden, there’s one change, in particular, he credits for its results and award wins.

Comparing its website to online dating, ENZ uses smart models, algorithms and marketing automation to connect prospective students with the different study options in New Zealand.

With 60,000 different options in New Zealand, it was no easy task for a prospective student to identify what was right for them, so the system matches them with a shortlist of 30 for them to work through.

“It was a game changer,” Howden says. No longer would students be too overwhelmed by New Zealand’s offer they would go elsewhere for their education.

“Now, students won’t say ‘this is too hard to choose, I’m going to go to Australia’.”

Learning as you go

There’s no denying the ENZ’s achievement and when asked if it’s all gone according to plan, Howden says it’s not been a straight road. But that’s not to say things have gone wrong, rather, it’s been a case of learning as they go.

“At every step, there’s a lesson learned that shapes the next step. Even though it’s a marathon, it’s not a marathon on railway lines. Each time you get a new piece of activity under your belt you learn and see a new opportunity.”

It’s this evolution of its activity that motivates Howden in his role as a marketer.

“What motivates me is we have the compass guiding our journey and the light on the hill but we are always innovating.”

Navigating the maze

ENZ is not alone in its decision to undergo a digital transformation and with this, an expectation is being created that consumers will be delivered a personalized experience with all businesses they engage with.

Howden agrees with this notion and points out that the bar is being set by offshore companies that many local businesses cannot keep up with.

Expectations of online experiences are shaped by the likes of Google, YouTube and Amazon, he says, and these companies that have significantly larger budgets than those in New Zealand.

“Those giants have created the benchmark of what to expect and that’s challenging when you aren’t in the same universe with budgets, scale etc.”

For businesses to overcome this, and create the greatest experience they possibly can, Howden says it’s all about having a clearly defined and well-understood value proposition.

For ENZ, that proposition is: “They will opt in for us because we will help match them and show them the best study opportunities in New Zealand.”

He says the vision is driven by what you are trying to achieve at the business level and it informs the decisions you make to do so. It’s also a guiding light when working to draw insight from data.A common frustration in marketing land is the lack of understanding of how to generate useful insights from data and Howden proposes a solution in the clearly defined vision.

“There are lots of opportunities with the data to get lost down rabbit holes but if you keep your purpose in mind it helps you navigate that maze and use the data to inform business decisions.”

A fizzing future

And where is that maze going in the future?

In talking about ENZ’s transformation to digital, Howden says there are tools in place where once agents did the work but he’s not disregarding the importance of people.

“We still need to relate to people,” he says. “It’s not about the robots.”

He’s pragmatic about the future and as a marketer, excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.

“I am absolutely fizzing.”

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