Marketing Automation: An Interview with SHSU

QuadWrangle is driven by automated engagement, so we were excited to hear that Sam Houston State University recently posted a unique job listing for a Marketing Automation SpecialistIn this special interview, we chatted with Kris Kaskel-Ruiz and Jeff Olsen from SHSU about the position and their thoughts on marketing automation.

QuadWrangle (QW): How do you all currently run marketing and communications, and what are your major priorities?

Kris: We've essentially followed an integrated marketing strategy. We approach the marketplace as a way to achieve our goals for the university and to promote our brand. It’s very important to us that our structure and systems all fit well together, and we strive to continuously improve that fit.

So, taking fit into account, we restructured. Marketing and communication were actually all separate departments and now they are all under one umbrella. The marketing automation position is just helping us raise our marketing to a different level. We’re using a system and bringing in a person that has the marketing expertise improve that strategic fit between our structure and our system.

QW: Thinking about that integrated structure, what led you all to actually create this marketing automation position?  

Kris: Well, assessing “How can we improve? How can we take our strategy to the next level?” It became obvious that with marketing automation, you get all kinds of benefits. Obviously, one is to be able to measure your direct marketing efforts. Particularly with email - who’s looked at it, how many people opened it, and how many people clicked on the link. You can gather intelligence and start to be able to chart “buying behaviors.” Overall, you know what decisions your target market is making. Not only that, we can actually program and automate responses to specific actions that our audience is taking.

Jeff: Also, not only does it benefit us, but it actually really benefits the audience as well. When you think of automation, you might think it means taking the human element out of it. But, its actually the opposite here, because when you automate the email system, it gives your audience what they want. You can see what their preferences are, you can see what they don’t like to get, you can see what the most successful ways to engage them are. So they start getting the kinds of content and email that are most successful, which are what they want. It’s a winning situation for both of us.

QW: You both touched a little on relevance to the audience and having measurable results, but are there any other ways that you see this marketing automation changing your marketing strategy?

Kris: Oh, yeah, because the position would be integrated - it doesn’t stand alone. We have an in house agency that supports the university and its outreach efforts, and this individual will help bring together elements that may have been isolated. For example, direct mail. Well, now we can enhance direct mail with email and other different channels, so that it becomes a much more effective and efficient means of outreach.

Jeff: It also makes it much easier for people to give. With automation, its not such a hassle for people to donate to the specific areas that they would like to, because fundraising is targeted.

QW: What would you see as the major responsibilities of an automated marketing engagement staff member?

Jeff: What they’re going to have to do is really work hand in hand with the different areas of advancement, whether it’s alumni or annual giving, and figure out how to effectively develop creative email marketing campaigns and gather meaningful analytics. Part of that will involve taking the database information and organizing it into some really smart groupings that will allow us to improve our outreach efforts and collect relevant data. Once they have gathered that data , they will then have to report back to the team with their insights.

 Kris: So really, that individual is 1/3 creative, 1/3 technical, and 1/3 research. The individual has to technically manage the database, and be able to analyze metrics to improve outreach. This is the founding person for this area. They’ll be able to kind of build up on their own within our framework.

Jeff: Its really taking a new platform and making it the ultimate communication tool to be able to get all of our marketing to the right people.

QW: What metrics do you think would be particularly important in terms of identifying whether marketing automation has been successful?

Kris: In the end, its going to be: did we get greater participation from those people that we targeted? Whether that’s attending an event, increasing annual giving, increasing the number of donors, increasing total dollars raised, or increasing the size of the membership in the alumni association. If we see a growth in those areas, I think we can attribute it to marketing automation.

From the expense side, it also allows us to look at how to use resources more effectively, because now, we can determine what’s successful and what’s not, and can make necessary adjustments to ensure that our marketing is effective.

QW: Do you think we will see a lot of schools adopting marketing automation in the next few years?

Kris: You already see marketing automation systems when you look at recruitment and prospecting for students. And this is just taking the CRM and marketing automation systems that are out there, and applying it to different audiences.

Jeff: Its a way to take a big volume, as far as audience, and get very specific messaging to the right people. So yes, I think it’ll be across the board and it already is.

QW: Any final thoughts?

Kris: People are very enthusiastic about having this person come on board. They’re really looking forward to seeing the benefits that this person and the system can bring to the plate. So whoever gets this position is going to be very well received.

Jeff: This person will help everyone’s numbers go up a bit. Everyone’s really looking forward to it.

Interested in learning more about the Marketing Automation position at Sam Houston State University? Check it out here! 

Kris Kaskel-Ruiz is the Associate VP of Marketing and Communications at Sam Houston State University. She has over thirty years of “soup-to-nuts” marketing and management experience.  She held executive roles primarily in the financial services industry before joining SHSU. Over the years, Ruiz has developed a broad and in-depth knowledge of marketing, ranging from product development and strategic planning to advertising.  She has been recognized for her work through numerous awards. Ruiz has a B.S. in finance and a M.B.A.

Jeff Olsen is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Sam Houston State University. He has worked in marketing for Sam Houston State University since 2014. He came to SHSU from Los Angeles, where he was a writer/producer in the television industry on shows including 7th Heaven, Secret Life of the American Teenager and WWE’s Monday Night RAW. 

NOTE: This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Rachael Stein