Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
As the chief marketing officer at Tourism Australia, Nick Baker learned a lot about what people from around the world like to do with their leisure time.
Now as the CEO of experiential gift retailer, RedBalloon, he is using that knowledge to deliver the richest and most relevant experiences possible.
Founded in 2001 by entrepreneur, Naomi Simson, RedBalloon has evolved from a transactional ecommerce company to become a marketplace of experiential gifts, with 4000 products from over 1000 providers now on offer.
Speaking at the recent Future of Banking and Financial Services conference held in Sydney by FST Media, Baker described how he was taking the company through a second transformation to become a fully-fledged community.
“We have been on a journey, like everyone else,” he says. “We are asking ‘what else can we do?’. We have a thousand suppliers with 4000 products, and we are moving from just being a gifting platform where people give experiences, into the ‘things to do’ market.”
A key component of that transition is taking RedBalloon into a market that Baker well understands – travel. Rather than just providing experiential gift ideas, RedBalloon will also provide options to people for how they might spend their leisure time, especially when travelling. It sounds simple, but that transition means big changes for the Red Balloon platform.
“We have the best database of experiences across the country,” Baker says. “Bringing those to life now in a travel-based environment means the number one thing we have to get to is live availability.”
But as a pioneer in the field of ecommerce, RedBalloon has at times grown in a haphazard fashion, leaving it without a single source of data. Baker says projects currently being undertaken will allow the company to create more complete user profiles and allow it to better understand user behaviour, rather than just straight numeric reporting.
“We are going through a process now of trying to pull together a single customer view,” he says. “We have to have it, but it is an expensive exercise. But without that ability to personalise things we will not be able to get into a situation whereby you are served with experiences which are contextually relevant to where you are and what you are doing.”
That may also see RedBalloon pulling in external data sets for cross-matching. “The great thing about travel and tourism is it is one of those areas where there is a lot of data,” Baker says.
The journey Baker has been on since joining RedBalloon in March 2015 has also led him to think more about the journey his company’s customers go on every time they seek a new experience.
“When I first embarked on customer journey mapping, I thought about what are the bits we can dominate, what are the bits we can differentiate on, and what are the stages of the journey - so I thought about it in silos,” he says. “What I didn’t think of, and I not sure everyone does, is the actual journey is a product in and of itself. So, whether it is from a financial perspective and you are thinking of buying a house, it is not all component parts. It is the journey that you go on.
“Some companies get really good at being able to tighten the loop by being able to take people on the whole journey all the way through.”
Inevitably, Baker says the changes will lead to increased spending on digital technologies and services.
“It doesn’t go down, that’s for sure,” he says. “We’re both a tech company and a marketing company. Part of the spending is making sure we can deliver more personalisation and higher degrees of being contextually relevant to the people we are talking to at the right time and the right place.”