Starfruit Story

Massey University’s automated lead nurturing programme

How we cultivated an engaged audience

Our Goal

We wanted to increase the number of students we were talking to and to move into a more digital approach. Additionally we wanted to be able to build more meaningful relationships with prospective students to support them through the decision making process.

Our Starfruit

Most universities don’t really do automated email programmes.

At least that’s how it seemed to me when I was researching best practice in email marketing amongst universities. My study wasn’t particularly comprehensive but it involved a number of different countries, and looked at top and mid-level universities. Enough for me to feel I had a good sense of what was out there.

There were two main issues:

  • Most universities don’t make much effort to collect student details for marketing purposes on their websites. It’s either non-existent, or a long-winded process.
  • Those that do collect information don’t do much with the information they get.

Examples we found:

  • Seminars that were scheduled during my night time;
  • Very lengthy emails with an overwhelming amount of text;
  • Repetitive emails;
  • Irrelevant emails;
  • Some tried to call me immediately after I signed up without telling me anything more about their programme;
  • Some automation programmes were very short and fizzled too early.


Limitation is your friend.

Limitation was in many ways a key factor in our success because we simply had to be creative in order to get results. 

Firstly, like many institutions, Massey University doesn’t have limitless budgets for international marketing to draw upon. So, we have to be clever. We looked to find ways to make the most out of the students we were engaging with, in as inexpensive a way as possible.

Secondly, our University was in the midst of a large scale Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system migration which meant it wasn’t worth getting involved with the old system as it was archaic and didn’t really do what we needed it to anyway. We weren’t really capturing and managing leads in a way that we could leverage for marketing purposes.


The case for automation.

In international education, it can be very difficult to reach prospective students in a way that is useful for them. The best ways can be very expensive.

On top of this, once you have a lead, it’s also easy to let it slip away without converting it. So often we fall into the trap of seeking out new leads rather than making the most of the ones we get.

So often we fall into the trap of seeking out new leads rather than making the most of the ones we get.

We decided to look for two things:

  1. New ways to source leads, outside of the traditional routes we were already taking.
  2. New ways to maximise the chance of success with those that we did connect with.


We needed to generate new leads, and lots of them.

We looked around at different approaches and found the Hotcourses platform which Massey had used in previous years without much success.

Hotcourses is a directory service that many institutions around the world will have heard of, especially those interested in targeting South East Asia and Latin America markets as this is where they seem strongest.

Hotcourses became our first paid lead generation tool and could be relied upon to regularly send through leads – one by one, or in bulk as a csv file. They can send you as many leads as you like so there will be a package available whatever your budget.

We have since broadened into a more diverse range of lead sources but still retain Hotcourses as a part of our portfolio.

Getting leads of itself isn’t enough though.


We needed a lead nurturing plan.

For us, simply using an email platform, rather than introducing a new CRM, seemed the best option for us at the time.

We began with a four-part email series that we sent to all prospective students. This introduced them to our University, our campuses, our programmes and how to apply. We personalise the content to them as much as possible, depending on the information they chose to provide.

Since this initial series we have expanded it significantly to include additional aspects of university life and it now includes a lot more emails, while still remaining relevant to the individual.


As our experience grew – both of the technology and our audience – so did our success.

We now have a successful programme firing off automated emails to people coming from a variety of different sources. We provide relevant information based on what we know about them.

If we know they are from Malaysia, then we send them info about how to apply from Malaysia. If we know they want to study agriculture, then we tell them all about our agriculture programmes. These things happen automatically when new people are added to our database.

We are now sending out lots of emails every single day, and it all happens automatically. Literally as we are sleeping, as so many of our prospective international students are in different time zones.

The more emails you add to your automated programme the more reach you have. This seems like stating the obvious. But, for example, if you build a list of 10,000 students and send them 5 emails, with a click through rate of 20%, then you are going to get 10,000 visits to your website.

But why stop there?

Your list can handle receiving more emails than that, it has a high saturation rate. In fact, if you are sending them useful information you can send a lot more than that and still maintain your click through rate.

Again, it’s stating the obvious, but if you expand your email programme from a four-part intro series to an eight-part series, then you are now getting 20,000 visits to your website instead of the original 10,000, simply by creating four additional emails.

If you expand your email programme from a four-part intro series to an eight-part series, then you are now getting 20,000 visits to your website instead of the original 10,000, simply by creating four additional emails.

We use personalisation to differentiate ourselves.

There is so much competition out there – we’re all competing on:

  • Country and/or city;
  • Programme offering;
  • Accommodation offering;
  • Price;
  • Lifestyle;
  • Flexibility;
  • And so on.

Whilst there is a huge amount of competition, many of the offerings are somewhat indistinguishable from one another at first glance. In international education marketing we’ve all heard the ‘three and a tree’ line about how all university prospectus covers have three students sitting under a tree in one configuration or another. Whilst obviously not strictly true, it certainly does highlight a valid point.

In New Zealand, all our universities are ranked in the top 3% worldwide so they are all very good universities. A lot of the decision making is therefore about these other factors. But it can be difficult to find a clear winner.

We’re taking the view that we can increase the likelihood of students joining our university by building a relationship with them.

We’re taking the view that we can increase the likelihood of students joining our university by building a relationship with them.

If a student visits a typical university website, will they remember them in a day’s time? A week? A month?

If someone visits our website, and subscribes to our list, then they will be very well aware of who we are a month later. Not only that, they will have been well informed about what it’s like to study in New Zealand.


So what do we talk with them about?

University life. Simple as that. We communicate all aspects of what they will experience, and we’ve not run out of ideas yet.

It’s actually a part of New Zealand’s Code of Practice for the pastoral care of international students that we do so. As a university, we are bound to adhere to this. Most of it is common sense but the part about marketing makes some very important points. We need to ensure we tell students what they are signing up for. It’s not enough to roll out the standard phrases about our rankings and the quality of our research. We want to really, openly and honestly tell students about their experience so they understand what they will find when they get here. And this is what our email automation programme is doing.


And we’re learning a lot!

Students are engaging with our emails. Perhaps the most surprising thing to me is that in any email, about any subject, sent at any time, one of the most clicked links is always the ‘how to apply’ link. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first email in the series or the last, it’s always the case.

The opens and click-throughs of our different email topics have shown us what is important to them at this stage of their journey. The ease of applying, and actually getting a place, is very important by the time we’re communicating with them. So, we have to ensure we answer the questions they want, while still being sure to tell our story when we can.


So what about results?

We’re not including figures here but we can say for sure that:

  • Open rates are high, above industry averages, and also remaining high throughout the sequences we send; they don’t for the most part seem to drop off because of boredom.
  • Click-through rates are also high and above industry averages.
  • Time on our website is high when they click through from our emails.

The more personalised the content is, the better. Getting bulk lists of prospective students are a waste of time – they never perform well and it’s just a waste of everyone’s time to even bother. But if you can get students who are genuinely interested in what you have to say, and you provide them with information on exactly what they are interested in, you can really see some great results.


Email is not dead!

There are still plenty of people using it and it has been very successful for us. Sure, there are other platforms that we are looking into, and perhaps my next article here will be about our hugely successful Facebook Messenger programme, as that’s our next work in progress. Stay tuned! J

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Frequently grown in Southeast Asia, starfruits can be either sweet or sour depending on the variety. Although the skin is a bit waxy, it is edible, along with the tiny seeds too.


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