Tourism Australia's digital chief flags data sharing partnerships as priority

The organisation's first GM of digital talks to us about his plans to better harness data for digital customer engagement

Striking data sharing partnerships with Australian travel providers, as well as delivering mobile and Web optimised experiences that tap user-generated content, are key priorities for Tourism Australia’s first dedicated digital chief.

Speaking to CMO during the recent Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Las Vegas, the promotional body’s GM of digital, John Mackenney, said a big focus for the next year is capitalising on first-party data to drive better customer experiences digitally.

Mackenney was appointed to the role last September after three years as Tourism Australia’s chief financial officer and reports to CMO, Lisa Ronson.

“We’re looking at how we use data partnerships with our partners and others to get a better understanding of how consumers are interacting with both of us, so we can deliver them a better digital experience,” he said.

Tourism Australia struck its first data sharing relationship with Virgin Australia as part of a $50 million, five-year agreement to promote Australia to business and leisure travellers in key markets. The first instance of the alliance in action is a joint US campaign promoting Australia as a destination in that market.

Under the arrangement, Tourism Australia is tracking and passing on information relating to online activity for any consumer who comes to Tourism Australia’s website, then steps through to Virgin Australia’s digital properties.

“For example, they might have looked at Sydney and Melbourne, and other specific things,” Mackenney explained. “We pass that to Virgin so they can serve deals about those locations and that suit that consumer’s preferences. Virgin then passes back to us information on whether that person has booked, when they’re coming from, and so on.”

The deal is significant for two reasons, Mackenney said. Firstly, it ensures Tourism Australia doesn’t retarget consumers who have already booked flights with digital advertising, optimising its media spend. From a personalisation perspective, it also opens up avenues to better understand consumers.

“If we know someone is coming to Sydney in three months’ time, when they come back to our site, we should serve them a picture of the Harbour and Opera House, not the Rock or Reef,” he said. “Through data, tailoring that and helping the consumer through that planning and how they will experience Australia becomes turbo charged.”

Both Tourism Australia and Virgin Australia use Adobe’s Marketing Cloud, ensuring the two data systems talk to each other seamlessly, Mackenney said. A number of other partners are also using the platform, opening up further alliance opportunities.

“The thing about Tourism Australia is we’re not Virgin’s competitor, our job is to make Virgin successful,” Mackenney said. “Where a lot of companies don’t want to share is because they think they’re giving away competitive advantage, but we’re happy to share data because we have a vested interest with these companies.

“We think it’s an interesting one for us and how we can make the industry more effective.”

Tourism Australia invested in Adobe Analytics 18 months ago as a foundational layer for its digital engagement efforts. The organisation has also bought several other components of the Adobe Marketing Cloud to run its marketing capabilities.

Mackenney said the data sharing initiative with Virgin, and his ambitions for further alliances, are illustrative of its ability to now leverage these technology investments.

With a total audience of about 27 million people every year, and at least 1 million social conversations per week, bringing social and Web audiences together and using that data to have a much more personalised conversation with the consumer is key, Mackenney continued.

“That’s what consumers now expect. They don’t want to be sold a message that isn’t relevant to them,” he said. “We can deliver personalised messages, understand more about the consumer, and serve them the right content from our pool of the best content in the world. The data play is the driver making that happen.”

Mackenney said data will also be an important piece in how Tourism Australia buys media in the future. The organisation is in the midst of a media services tender.

What is also changing is how data is managed and utilised. At Tourism Australia, data strategy sits under the CIO, while analytics has been Mackenney’s responsibility since his former role as CFO.

“Data needs to be embedded in marketing. Whether that means the CIO and I sit back-to-back but still have different reporting lines doesn’t particularly matter,” he commented. “But to have your analytics group and the head of tech deeply entrenched with your digital team is vital. To move quick and be truly agile, you need the teams together.

“We are trying to change some of the ways this is working. In some ways, the digital team is becoming the business-facing teams, then we brief in the tech team, who are the builders and development shop. If people aren’t happy with what we build, the CIO and I have a conversation. It’s a good way of working.”

Mackenney’s other main priority this year is to tackle Tourism Australia’s response to rapid growth in mobile phones to consume travel and planning.

“The big thing is how we create the amazing customer experience on a mobile that facilitates all elements of travel, whether it’s the planning, or even how we facilitate bookings for our conversion partners,” he said.

User-generated content is a vital piece of this digital puzzle, and Mackenney noted Tourism Australia’s access to a wealth of amazing content on Australia.

“We want to harness that in a Web environment,” he added. “We see user-generated content potentially being 50 per cent of our content and using those key advocates to get that message across.”

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Las Vegas as a guest of Adobe.

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