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Maricel Custodio

Maricel Custodio
Head of Marketing, Digital & Acquisition at Torrens University Australia on Digital Transformation and Adapting to Unknown Variables

At Marketing Trends we are discovering what drives Australia’s top marketers. Maricel is the digital marketing champion across the Torrens Global Education network of schools. In this interview, we talk about adapting their strategy upon international border closures, the role AI plays in their multi-million-dollar digital & acquisition strategy and the common thread in all her sources of inspiration.

Career & professional background

Maricel, how did your career in marketing start?

I graduated with a business degree which includes marketing.  However, my early passion for marketing started in university when I was the Vice President of our Marketing organisation. I can still vividly remember my first project back then.

It was the early days of a reward card linking local businesses to students.  Back in my days, the training was not about coming up with a business thesis but actually rolling out the project to validate the financial viability.  These are formative for me. From a marketing idea, I was able to create a viable business!

That confidence stayed on and helped build the grit I put in any project or product that I need to roll out.

Since then, I’ve always worked in marketing across several industries from real estate, start-ups, FMCG, telecommunications and higher education. My business background helps me align marketing to other business areas and departments to deliver our shared deliverables, not just the marketing objectives.

If you hadn’t pursued a career in marketing,  in which other industry do you think you might be?

I really wanted to be a civil engineer.  I’ve always been interested in the science of how things got built. I am fascinated by seeing something from concept to finished product.

My parents steered me into business because they thought engineering was not for women back then.

However, in my current profession, I ended with a hybrid of engineering and marketing.  Digital marketing evolved to use a lot of science, data and involves working indirectly with engineers developing the platforms we use for marketing.

In my role, I still ended up developing a concept, leading and managing the evolution of an idea to either a finished product or a completed project.

The only difference is that I can see the results faster, optimise and reiterate the test and learn methodology to improve it.  It has the element of science from engineering and the art that comes from marketing!

Could you tell us about your role as Head of Marketing - Digital and Acquisition at Torrens University Australia?

I am the digital marketing champion across the Torrens Global Education network of schools across Australia and New Zealand.  These include Torrens University, Billy Blue College of Design, Blue Mountains International Hotel Management and Think Education in Australia.  In New Zealand, we have Media Design School.  

I am responsible for driving the digital marketing and acquisition strategy.  I manage our multi-million-dollar advertising budget.

I lead a team that looks after performance media, social media – paid, organic and community management, SEO, CRO and UX and the marketing tech stack for digital marketing that includes the website.

The digital channel is widely responsible for the domestic new enrolments and supports the onshore and agent-driven international student acquisition.

What type of impact has COVID- 19 had on the education industry?

During the onset of Covid-19 in 2020, we thought we would be heavily impacted by the lockdown and international border closures. Hence, we pivoted fast to accelerate our marketing initiatives over and above our business-as-usual activities.  We activated more campaigns, events and explored new ways to make our products and messaging relevant to our target consumers.

In the end, we over-delivered against our business targets.  The challenge now is to adapt to the rapidly evolving market and consumer behaviour and how we can continually be relevant to our target market.

Note that nothing is also constant in terms of business targets, operations, platform integrations and processes. So what worked last year can’t consistently work this year.  

The Covid-19 pandemic kept us on our toes as we continue to evolve our marketing to many unknown variables that are sometimes out of our control.

My work became immensely challenging, but rewarding, as some of our best executions arose during times of difficulty!

What is the most exciting trend or innovation happening in your field in terms of growth?

I am fascinated and equally excited about how artificial intelligence and machine learning can advance the way we do marketing.

Seeing both sides of the equation, both from an advertiser and consumer perspective,  I can see more benefits than the concerns widely associated with privacy.

Our marketing operations become more efficient every time we roll out a new product, ad format or technology.  With the evolution of new technologies, marketers can focus more on creating relevant messages and creatives for their target consumers.

The platform we are using helps us build the most relevant message on a one-to-one communication to our target consumers without necessarily burdening our internal resources to create 1000s of creative ads.

We provide several choices or creative options to our key advertising platforms based on the objectives and targeting we set.  It allows us to create the most relevant messaging for our various consumers based on their stage in the path to conversion.

As a consumer,  I prefer to be targeted by a relevant ad.  If I am searching for a product or a service, I don’t consider it annoying to be targeted by an ad if it offers value and is relevant to my needs and even wants.  I embrace the information and choices presented to me.  

Time is one of our most valuable commodities.  I love using technology to save time in activating my marketing initiatives and finding a solution to a problem or a customer need.

As a marketer, what do you believe is the biggest challenge facing your industry in the future?

My work in digital marketing transcends beyond marketing. Most of the time, it aligns with the digital transformation happening within the business.

The three pillars of digital transformation are People, Platform and Process.  

With artificial intelligence and machine learning, the platform continues to evolve at a fast pace.  What used to develop over the years can now be done in a shorter period. The process needs to adapt to lean on the new platform capabilities.

The biggest challenge and sometimes the last to adapt is the people.

It is hard to believe the new digital marketing platform capabilities if you are not immersed in the technology.  As a digital marketer, if you are not good at communication, stakeholder management and taking your team through the journey with you, you will struggle to take off and implement your plan and strategic direction.

Everything can be in place from your perspective in terms of platform and process. However, it is equally important to have people from internal and external teams engage and support your project to make it a success.  Hence, I usually tell my team that an integral part of their strategy is to get people to work with them.  Otherwise, their work will never be complete or successful.

It is hard to get people with equal levels of skillset working on a project or shared deliverable.  As a marketing leader, you need grit and determination to motivate people to achieve common goals.  Otherwise, a project or task can be at risk due to misalignment in either skillset, understanding, goals or priorities.

Sometimes, you will get people that will never believe what you are saying because they can’t understand.  However, that should not deter you from achieving your goal.  It should motivate you more to deliver the results.  Once you achieve the business objectives,  even if they can’t understand how you did it, they will start believing in what you are doing.  Then the engagement can happen and it will be easier to take them through the journey because you are providing a user case in a territory familiar to them.

Tools, recommendations & sources of inspiration

What does a typical day look like for you?

I start my day by preparing myself to have the right mindset. It is also important for me to start with a grateful heart not just for the new day but for everything that I have, especially my family. It helps me prepare for whatever challenges I need to deal with for the day.

Next is checking my calendar, so I’m across what needs to be completed and how I’m going to plan my time and day.

Then, my working day starts with my digital marketing team meeting and marketing leadership team meeting.

The rest of the day can evolve to a full day of meetings across the various teams I manage and business units that I support.

In addition to strategic planning, execution, reviewing and optimising our campaigns and initiatives, I am also a people leader. A large part of my day is to get the people I’m working with to collaborate and optimally contribute to our business deliverables.  

As I work in a space that can be unfamiliar for many, it also involves a lot of education, stakeholder management, sponsorship and ensuring that my team is supported and enabled to deliver at a high standard our key performance objectives.

These can involve working with other business units to ensure that we work collaboratively to deliver the shared business objectives.

Sometimes, it could also be listening and learning from my colleagues to understand how we can support them, address our challenges and adapt to the changing business environment.

My remit is quite huge, coupled with the demands of Torrens University, Australia’s newest and one of the fastest-growing universities, every day is not the same.

Without the extreme focus on the business objectives and the milestones that I need to deliver, some days can easily be distracting and just about completing one task after the other.

Thus, having a clear head and starting my day with focus helps me have the grit to deliver what is required and identify what is a distraction, from what is a priority.

What brands do you take inspiration from?

I am a big fan of Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Apple, Microsoft, Virgin and SpaceX.

If you ask me what is the common thread across all of these brands? I love learning from the leaders behind these brands.  I don’t always agree and align with everything they were involved with on a professional or personal level but that makes it realistic and sometimes more human.

They are all successful brands because they always challenge the norm.  They continue to surprise and delight their customers. They continue to thrive because they are always way ahead in their preparation, innovation and they continue to challenge what is possible and thread into the unknown.

Software and tools recommendations: what is the one software you can’t work without and why?

Google Marketing Tech Stack. It has our performance, web and campaigns insights. They are interlinked to each other from our owned data, campaign insights, to lead signals for our advertising platforms to deliver, optimise and continue accelerating our business objectives.

As a marketer, you can never underestimate the potential of leaning on the company that owns two of the largest search engines in the world – Google Search and YouTube.

I also recommend our SEO platform, Brightedge. It is a great platform to use for web, organic search, business, market and competitor insights.

The dashboards are easy to understand and use in communicating SEO tracking and results. It is also a good tool to enable even the earliest adaptors to SEO to progressively upskill themselves.

What are three resources you would recommend for anyone working in your field?

  • Think with Google: It has hundreds of marketing, technology, brand insights, ideas and inspiration. It is a great resource to learn best practices from the Google team and how top brands use the Google tech stack and marketing platform to achieve their business objectives.
  • Linkedin has immense information available from tools, resources, white papers, the latest market insights across various industries, organisations and industry associations. I also follow key thought leaders and my peers in the industry and learn from the articles and posts they share.
  • YouTube: I am using it beyond entertainment purposes. Being the second largest search engine, it has so many valuable resources. I like watching videos on demand, especially since I don’t always have the time to go to events, attend conferences or watch live TV for the latest updates around the globe.  

The digital landscape continues to evolve at a fast pace. Hence, I tend to lean more on platforms and web resources that allow me to access the latest trends, insights and news in the industry.