So it’s been 18 months for me now in higher education, following a move from financial services marketing. My role as Head of Digital and Marketing Automation is a relatively new one for the University of East Anglia (UEA).

A lot has happened in that time in the outside world such as the Queen’s Jubilee, Covid vaccinations, and yet another PM…not forgetting the UK coming an admirable second at Eurovision. Not all this change was foreseen, and the world continues to evolve and move around us.

And in Higher Education, there are several themes in the marketing space that are influencing how we engage constituents:

  • Thinking hybrid–influencing not just events like open or applicant days, but how teams work and interact. We aren’t just going back to how things were; this is the ‘new normal’ and we must change our systems, tools, and teams accordingly to adapt.
  • Digital transformation–the shift towards an increasingly ‘connected campus’ is going to continue to gain pace, across both marketing, admission, recruitment, and more—powered by marketing enablers with CRM and Customer Data Platforms and their integration with other supporting tools. The use of digital assets allow us to create lifelong, integrated relationships with students, from the first connection through their academic journeys and finally as alumni.
  • Preparing for the cookie-less future–the trick here is to be proactive and not to wait for changes coming from the likes of Apple and Google. Transforming data privacy and being transparent about the value exchange that takes place means building trust early on to create increasingly dynamic, personalised, and 121 communications. One-size-fits-all communications are being actively replaced with something more personal.


At the UEA, I’m proud of our continued adoption of AI, automation, and analytics, using the power of our TargetX and Salesforce Marketing Cloud collective toolset. My team works closely with several other teams and individuals across our Admissions, Recruitment, and Marketing division, including data and systems, IT, and communications and content.

We’ve turbo-boosted our CRM capability and delivery across our key journeys for Undergraduate and Postgraduate prospects and students. We’re also investing in:

  • growing our peer-to-peer community for content
  • boosting our social media and wider content capability
  • ensuring our website is fully optimized

It’s important to consider this new ecosystem for the digital-savvy constituent—thinking digital (and mobile-first), considering real-time campaign interaction, growing first-party data, and leveraging omnichannel platforms.

Traditional marketing has evolved to reflect this, so institutions are adapting in response. I’m proud that we’ve presented at global conferences and events, sharing some of our thinking and progress in the changing digital ecosystem.

What’s great about the sector is the collaborative nature of what we’re all trying to achieve, despite any ‘competition’. Ultimately, we’re creating a better future for our constituents. That common purpose is almost tangible and is one of the reasons that attracted me to work in HE. Eighteen months on, that purpose-driven marketing is what spurs me on.

Here are 5 useful takeaways from my first 18 months at University of East Anglia:

  1. The power of data – and big data. We’ve never had so much data at our disposal. The trick is to make the time to analyse it and turn that data into insight, blending and stitching it with other insights to create that elusive 360 view of constituents. Then we need to be brave to action the results.
  2. It’s all about building relationships. Choosing the right university is such a big life-changing decision. The more we can build relationships early on with students, the better it will enable us to create engagements that focus on what they want to achieve rather than what we want them to do.
  3. Adopt a growth mindset – and fail forward. With so many transformative and new digital enablers, we must unlearn what we have learned and embrace the change. That doesn’t mean it all has to be perfect. Thinking agile, considering the ‘MVP’ of new delivery, learning from any mistakes helps you move forward as a team.
  4. AI and automation are enablers that help with resource challenges. Artificial intelligence sounds futuristic but has been around for 70 years. When it comes to using it in HE, for example, sending emails at a particular time to an individual or automated resends of emails to non-openers, it can help with some of the heavy lifting by freeing up much-needed resource to focus on more added-value, and human activities.
  5. Celebrate the mini fist-bump moments. Adopt a crawl, walk, run approach to implementing digital change. It’s crucial to find advocates and bring people with you, defining small wins, or the ‘mini fist-bump moments,’ that build confidence and set you up for future success.


There’s nothing that I think I’d do particularly differently, looking back. Other than try to get to grips quicker with some of the many acronyms and lingo unique to the sector! The hardest part when jumping on board is trying to get a sense of where the opportunities and challenges are quickly, and then creating a ‘north star’ of the direction of travel.

I’ve been able to do that and I’m lucky to work with a great team that wants to help create and deliver a roadmap, together. We’ve had successes along the way and we’re still hungry to see what’s coming next. This is so important as we know more change and new technology is coming down the line and students will naturally expect more of institutions.

We need to continue to bring more of the outside into the sector as constituents increasingly expect the same omnichannel, 121, and integrated experiences they have with other brands like Netflix, Monzo bank, or Amazon. Having a growth mindset means that every opportunity is a means to learn and push forward.

Looking further ahead, I think Web 3 (things like ethical NFTs, the metaverse, blockchain, and digital wallets) could have a real influence on how we build community and strengthen bonds with students. This will help bring the digital world closer to the physical one. What’s so exciting is that there’s still so much potential to deliver life-changing experiences, and build ever-closer relationships, with digital at the heart.

Written by: Paul Napleton, Head of Digital & Marketing Automation at University of East Anglia (UEA)