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CMO50 #26-50: Simon Cheng, Carnival Australia

  • Name Simon Cheng
  • Title Director of marketing, PR and distribution, P&O Cruises
  • Company Carnival Australia
  • Commenced role October 2008
  • Reporting Line Senior VP of P&O Cruises
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 14 in marketing, 4 direct reports
  • Carnival Australia’s director of marketing, PR and distribution for P&O Cruises and Cunard, Simon Cheng, is the first to point to the lengthy debate occurring around the CMO role dealing with the most change among the c-suite.

    “This is true in that there are many more technologies, suppliers, partners, trends to be aware of. However, the core role has remained unchanged and is threefold: Relentless pursuit for business growth; agent for innovation and change; represent the customer,” he says.

    From the CMO50 submission

    Business contribution and innovation

    One of Carnival Australia’s recent cruise industry firsts was to banish the buffet. Cheng said this was a long-term project over a number of years that many people contributed to, but was grounded in key strategic insight set by the marketing team.

    Despite this being more of a product and operations initiative, Cheng’s role was to provide strategic direction and ensure the company developed a product that would appeal to new-to-cruise customers and grow new customer segments.

    One of the major barriers to people cruising is ‘perceived lack of quality of cruise ship food’ and the cruise ship buffet is a symbol of this, he said. This insight drove the team to focus on food initiatives like the first Australian celebrity chef restaurant at sea, and ‘banishing the buffet’, a symbolic act that has help P&O start a cruise ship food revolution.

    Modern marketing and customer engagement thinking and effectiveness

    Cheng recently led the development of P&O’s new website and shopping cart, which launched on 30 September. This major strategic project provides the backbone for all content and ecommerce element, making it a distribution channel in its own right. Key benefits include fastest booking process in the industry, and a focus on making cruise ‘browsing’ easy with dynamic recommended product lists, best sellers. The site also has personalisation features, so people logged in can access personalised content and deals.

    The site has already improved the number of people browsing itineraries by 50 per cent.

    Another example of marketing innovation is the development of the MainEvents cruise product. P&O was the first cruise line to launch ‘event style’ cruising, aimed at taking people to and from a key event like the Melbourne Cup or the Australian Open Tennis. Cheng led development of this cruise product, which has delivered a significant yield premium over other cruise products.

    Data and/or technology driven approach

    Part of Cheng’s role is to lead the change from traditional to digital culture within the P&O Cruises business. In his first year of joining, the company launched a new website, booking engine, blogs, and extensive social media strategy including a highly engaged Facebook community of loyal cruisers.

    It was also the first cruise line in the world to use the ‘Facebook events’ functionality to improve customer engagement. Having customers that are more engaged and informed has a direct impact on their satisfaction and NPS, which in turn has a direct impact on return rates.

    Cheng said the strategy was to bring the social aspects of cruise experiences to life before the actual cruise begins, so people could get to know each other and learn about it before they actually boarded. To help, P&O set up a separate forum for hundreds of cruise itineraries using the Facebook events function. Cruisers can now virtually meet other passengers on their cruise prior actually boarding.

    This has been a hugely successful strategy, with many passengers signing up to their cruise event ‘roll call’ 12 months in advance. On many cruises, P&O has also had requests to allocate areas of the ship for ‘Facebook meetups’ so people who have met online can meet in person.


    Among Carnival’s recent creative efforts was a campaign to promote two additional ships joining the P&O fleet. As the interiors for ships did not physically exist because they were yet to be refurbished, Cheng said the team needed a creative solution to sell the product without the actual product being available.

    The traditional approach has been to produce TVCs using CGI. Instead, Cheng’s team decided to create real-life replicas of the interiors of the ship and film them in live action. In addition to this, instead of cramming all the content into a 30-second ad, the team produced a series of 6-minute online mini-films showing off the new spaces in all their glory.

    To give these some Hollywood glamour, Carnival secured actor, Owen Wilson, to take the lead role in the films and ‘The Conspicuous awakening of Owen Wilson’ was born. Cheng said this approach has driven an exponential increase in engagement with more than 5 million views to date and PR coverage from around the world.

    “This approach engaged many people outside of the regular cruising audience, a core objective for the campaign,” Cheng said.

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