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How Newsela connects data across the customer lifecycle - and gives teachers a platform for remote learning

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher April 30, 2020
Helping teachers teach is a worthy mission - now more than ever. But you can't deliver without data on customer needs. Here's how Newsela put their marketing and data initiatives together.

puzzle pieces

Online learning has taken on new meaning, thanks to COVID-19. But it has been happening in some form for a while. Newsela is an instructional content platform for K-12 in the US that supports the needs of teachers now and when they are in the classroom.

Newsela provides not only the online teaching platform, but also the instructional content for a range of subjects including science, social studies, ELA, and more.

Like any other industry, Newsela has its competitors, which means it needs to understand how well its marketing is performing. I had a conversation with Joe Fusaro, Marketing Operations Manager at Newsela, about how they analyze the performance of their marketing activities, including how marketing influences pipeline.

The drive to connect the data

Fusaro had no experience with the education market when he joined Newsela a little over a year and a half ago, but he did have a lot of experience with marketing technology, including a deep understanding of data models, systems, and processes for marketing automation. A few years ago, he married that experience with a BI toolset, so he understands what's needed to dive into data.

When Newsela brought in a new CMO a year ago, the marketing team started to dive much deeper into the metrics and reporting that would help them better understand how cross channel marketing campaigns were influencing pipeline. 

Fusaro said he researched Marketo data retention policies and found that specific attributes were only stored for 90 days. They needed a solution that would enable them to keep all their data as long as they required and connect it into a data warehouse. 

At first, they tried to build their own solution but were finding it hard to get it working. The Product and Sales teams were using a platform called Fivetran to connect data from disparate systems into a cloud warehouse, so the marketing team decided to use it as well.

I asked Fusaro why they started out trying to build their own solution. He told me they had data engineers and developers who could build and maintain their own data warehouse, but there are a lot of complexities and technical details that made it challenging to do. In the end, they felt it was better to focus on what they were good at.

Understanding marketing performance

Newsela wanted to understand a few things, and to do that, they needed to connect all their data. They connected Marketo with Fivetran to bulk export all Marketo data like email sends, opens, clicks into the data warehouse. This helped them analyze brand engagement. 

They segmented this data by teachers and buyers. For Newsela, although teachers are its primary users and very important to them, they aren't the buyers of their platform. The buyers are the schools or school districts, and these are the personas that are key for marketing to understand and engage.

Once they had the data in the warehouse, they could look at how receptive buyers are to their emails, which web pages they are looking at (like the social studies page), are they attending certain themed webinars, and so on. They started tagging activities to subjects (e.g., social studies, ELA, science) to enable topic segments. 

They are now able to look at data at the account level and can see what topics they are most interested in, enabling them to target accounts with the most important messages.

Newsela can also now look across all department's customer email activity. For example, Product Management uses SendGrid to send customer emails, the SDR team uses Salesforce tasks to send emails to prospects, and marketing uses Marketo. With all email data now in the Fivetran data warehouse, they have visibility across all three toolsets, enabling them to analyze and improve the amount and quality of communications across platforms. 

Improvements to product-led marketing

When Fusaro was getting started with Newsela, he put out a request to teacher friends on Facebook asking what they thought of the company. Many responded that they love it, but they receive too many emails. 

Bringing email data together in the data warehouse is helping improve the number of emails teachers, and buyers get at any stage of the journey. Fusaro also told me that although teachers are the buyers of the platform, the company still does a lot of teacher-focused campaigns.

Teachers new to the platform receive helpful information on how to register and get started, for example. Teachers currently on the platform get emails on how to move to the next level of capabilities as well as tips to help them maximize their use of the product.

Helping teachers teach

COV-19 has forced schools and teachers to move entirely online. And many have been up to the challenge. To support them, Newsela is offering all its products free for the remainder of the school year to new teachers and schools. Fusaro said that giving teachers the resources is even more important now, and they are helping them quickly learn how to use the platform.

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