CMO50 #13: Mike Billing, Melbourne Storm
One-to-one marketing, data-led communications and audience segmentation, building customer advocacy – all of these are on the list of Melbourne Storm’s marketing director, Mike Billing.
“The strategic aim of the CMO for the next 1-2 years is continuing to innovate as a challenger brand in one of the most competitive sporting marketplaces in the world,” he says.
Billing has built his career around the sporting field, holding operational, management, marketing, client management and venue roles with the likes of Sport England, the Doha Asian Games, Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. It all seems a far cry from his initial career as an assault pioneer platoon commander for the Australian Army. Yet there’s a common thread in all of this: Bringing people together to make change happen.
“The CMO needs to be able to surround themselves with good people who have strong skills in their particular area,” he says. “Any CMO I’m sure will say that they wouldn’t succeed in their role without the team they have around them.”
Empowered and long-term thinking
Billing has a list of strategic priorities he’s working towards. Core to his achievements to date and his plans for the future is consolidation and membership growth of Melbourne Storm’s Lightning Rewards customer loyalty program.
“We’ll also invest in resources to deliver a more sophisticated marketing function with a stronger focus on targeted, one-to-one direct marketing and market research to understand our customer better,” he says.
“Developing a data-led culture through consolidation of our data warehouse and marketing automation capabilities across the organisation are also key priorities for us to drive the business forward.”
Innovation such as that being undertaken at Melbourne Storm can’t happen without a team willing to embrace change, Billing says.
“Innovation is about taking calculated risks, learning fast and reassessing your approach in an iterative cycle,” he says. “This is only possible if there is support from the top to allow people the latitude to explore.”
From the CMO50 submission
Business contribution and innovation
One of the major initiatives Billing has led in the last 12 months is Melbourne Storm’s Lightning Rewards program for members and fans of the rugby league team, which launched in April.
The omni-channel program allows users to earn rewards by earning points through more than 50 actions. These include engaging with content online as well as social media channels, through to physical purchases and actions on-site. Members can also use their membership cards to load credit and purchase merchandise, food and beverages at AAMI Park on game day and earn rewards.
The initiative required significant work communicating and managing the many business and major stakeholders in the program from concept to delivery. These include the Melbourne Storm board, to unlock funding and buy-in for the new program; stadium partner, Melbourne and Olympic Parks; catering teams controlling point-of-sales systems; smartcard provider, Vix Technology; the national body for the sporting code, the National Rugby League (NRL); website platform provider, Telstra; and gamification badge provider, Badgville.
“Integrating the program across the business has been crucial to ensure the success that we have seen,” Billing said in his CMO50 submission.
“A key element was to ensure that the program was not seen as a marketing project but one that has the potential to drive outcomes for all departments. This is a business growth strategy that provides value for all parts of the organisation.”
Modern marketing and customer engagement thinking and effectiveness
Users who sign up to Lightning Rewards will be encouraged to earn points and move through a series of ranks. These will be linked to virtual rewards, digital badges and tangible rewards. There are separate rewards for fans and members with the higher valued rewards available to members.
In addition to tangible rewards offered in the program, virtual rewards are provided as badges that give the participants shareable status elements of their engagement with the brand. More widely, program will also give Melbourne Storm the means to engage in a more targeted way with members and fans.
“Lightning Rewards will differentiate between fans and members in the rewards framework so that we are rewarding members of the club for their support,” Billing said in his submission. “This is a key feature of the program as it reinforces the behaviour that we want our fans to undertake in becoming members of the club.”
The platform also provides a unique opportunity to engage sponsors and enhance the value of their association with Melbourne Storm, Billing said.
Strategic objectives include showing Melbourne Storm as an innovative and progressive brand for sponsors and fans, establishing a loyalty framework that the entire business can leverage, creating a deeper affinity with the brand and players, and driving digital and social engagement while also helping the bottom line, Billing said.
“With digital technology leading the way for consumers to interact and get closer to their favourite sports team, Melbourne Storm has identified this as a key area to engage particularly based on the strength of the audience that Melbourne Storm has in this area,” he said.
The club holds the number one Facebook fan base of any Victorian professional sports team, and is number two in Australia.
In its first 21 weeks, Melbourne Storm tracked 445,000 activities and saw average spend per head jump 80 per cent. Website interactions, ticket sales and early arrival statistics have also seen double-digit growth.
Data and/or technology driven approach
Another of Billing’s priorities in the past two years is unlocking support and funding to move to a data-driven organisation with a fully functioning marketing database solution that can drive business outcomes.
In his submission, he said development of a business case to prove the value of the approach was undertaken based on best practices globally in both the sporting and business spheres. The ultimate objective is to build a single customer view to replace the historically fragmented insights into its member and fan base.
Following a successful proof of concept initiative, Melbourne Storm is moving to a productionised data warehouse bringing together a wide range of data touchpoints across the fan and member spectrum. A marketing automation solution is also being rolled out.
“This solution is intended to form the basis for all customer segmentation, campaign management, performance measurement, market analysis and customer insight for Storm,” Billing said in his submission.
For Billing, Lightning Rewards is also a demonstration of a high level of creativity that leads fans to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the club and the game itself. Marketing tactics and programs have stretched from themed activities at games, to testing marketing communication campaigns in-game, helping drive purchasing behaviour from 17 per cent to 41 per cent.
Other examples of how creativity is fuelling engagement for Melbourne Storm include its regular game day integrations. One of these was the ‘Tackle cancer’ initiative around a recent match against the North Queensland Cowboys, which encompassed a candlelight ceremony to remember loved ones affected by cancer, and was held in partnership with the Cancer Council. The top line result was an increase on our previous best crowd versus the Cowboys of 42 per cent.