How our Northstar Framework helped a comms team save $40,000

Our mission was to help the Study Canberra team reset their content strategy. This team is part of the ACT Government, and their purpose is to promote Canberra as a great place to study. The team were doing brilliant work engaging with prospective students, and working with partners to get the word out. But they were stretched. They had so many channels to feed — social, newsletters, websites, hard-copy collateral…They were also considering buying a costly online platform as part of their marketing.

We used the Northstar Framework to help sift through all the potential tactics — current and future — to find the gold.

Before we dive in, you can read an outline of the Northstar Framework.

What we learned

We dug in to understand Study Canberra’s world, their unique value and how their team works. We read all their research. We talked to potential students, student agents, educational institutions and more. We ran workshops to zero in on the business requirements and user needs. During one workshop, their director decided it was so useful he called in the rest of the team to pitch in.

Here’s what we discovered. 

Finding what works…

Some of the team’s planned comms activity was right on the North Star. For example, the team was considering producing content on whether Canberra is a safe city. 

  1. Research showed us that some prospective students are very concerned about whether or not Canberra is a relatively safe city (it is). So it meets a human need.  
  2. This information supports the goal of attracting students to study in Canberra, so it meets a business need
  3. It’s fairly easy to put together content answering these questions — you could update it once a year, so it ticks the resourced box.
  4. Because Study Canberra has an overarching brief to talk about the city as a whole, Study Canberra has a point of view and an authority that’s distinct from individual universities. So creating content on this point is in their zone of unique value.

That type of content works. It’s worth running with and putting resources behind.

…. and what doesn’t

However, other pieces were less aligned. Their existing website was repurposing content directly from universities around Canberra. So, for example, they featured a piece on the University of Canberra discovering a new dragon (a lizard, not an actual dragon). 

  1. This may work for UC, in adding colour to their marketing. But it does nothing to promote Canberra as a study destination, so it doesn’t meet a business need. 
  2.  People don’t need to know about dragons when they’re deciding where to study, so it doesn’t meet a user need
  3. It’s straight up curation, so resourcing-wise it’s ok. 
  4.  But it also fails to provide unique value: Study Canberra isn’t uniquely placed to provide information on research by UC — UC is! So this type of content is not relevant to the business, or to users. 

This type of content doesn’t align to the Northstar framework. Out it goes!

Assessing features

You can also use the Northstar Framework to assess functions and features. Study Canberra had heard of a course-finder tool that could integrate into their website. Students could come to their website and search for any course across all institutions in Canberra. The catch: it would cost at least $40,000.

So we ran it through the Northstar Framework:

    1. It doesn’t meet a business need for Study Canberra — it provides information on specific study programs, rather than on the overall value of Canberra as a place to study. 
    2. It meets a user need — students do need to know what courses they can study and where. 
    3. It fails the resourced test — it costs $40,000, so it would be difficult to resource without displacing other priorities
    4. It doesn’t offer unique value. Students can get this information from the institutions themselves.

Based on this thinking, the team decided not to go ahead with the platform, saving them $40,000.

Here’s how all the options look plotted against the Northstar.

Study Canberra Northstar

Setting the direction

We’ve helped the team focus on what comms tactics will give the most value for their audience — and for their business. Study Canberra’s online presence is being redesigned as part of redeveloping  That site will launch in mid 2020.

Could this be useful?

We run Northstar workshop for organisations that want to reset their communications focus.  Could this make a difference for your organisation? Let us know.

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