CMO interview: Travelling with a clear brand direction

We talk to the general manager of marketing at Australia's Wotif Group, Michael Betteridge, about brand strategy, being customer focused, and the technology enabling marketers to personalise consumer experiences

When it comes to being a marketing chief these days, emphasis is often placed on the importance of an analytical, data-driven approach. But for Wotif Group’s general manager of marketing, Michael Betteridge, success comes from having the best of both science and art.

“You have to be mentally ambidextrous to be a modern marketing leader,” he tells CMO. “What I mean by that is that it requires a combination of a strong creative brain, as well as an analytical one.”

The second of three key traits Betteridge believes CMOs need is the ability to lead a team through shared vision, planning, creativity and testing to achieve the “best possible business outcomes”.

And the third thing? “It would be executive-level influence, and being able to work across a diverse, busy and focused executive group,” he claims. “You have to make sure you have the respect and audience for how marketing can help the business.”

Brand identity

As proof of the importance his company places on customer insight, Betteridge is one of two marketing leaders sitting at the executable table at Wotif Group, an iconic Australian travel brand. The digital company has risen from marketer challenger and online accommodation search provider in 2000, to a multi-brand giant providing flight and packaged entertainment and travel products to customers locally and regionally.

Betteridge joined the travel industry in the late 1990s “by happenstance” after studying architecture and then English literature at university. Getting his start in digital marketing and ecommerce, he has held local and international senior marketing and partnership roles with Virgin Australia, Destination NSW and Tourism Australia, along with state and national management roles at Ticketmaster.

He joined Wotif Group last September and was tasked with building a comprehensive marketing strategy and team, as well as raising the profile of the group’s expanding portfolio of products. The brands overseen by Betteridge are, and

“We have acquired businesses over the years and today take a portfolio management approach,” he says. “We have strong brands with Wotif, lastminute and travel, particularly here and in New Zealand, and the strategy is to make sure we have a very clear understanding of our customers that puts them at the centre of the way we plan and develop our business.”

Despite the distinct identity of each site, Betteridge made the decision to merge the group’s brand-specific teams into a centralised marketing unit structured around areas of excellence such as marketing and communications, publicity, and partnerships with third-party travel providers.

“We had such great talent but we weren’t cross-pollinating the talent and skills into other brands,” he says. “What this means is that there is a shared ambitions and purpose across brands, but a distinct personality and positioning for each. Wotif is more of an everyday hero, lastminute is a cheeky challenger, and, which focuses on longer haul travel, is a bit sagacious.

“We think of it in terms of trip occasion for the customer; it may well be the one customer, but that one customer has different trip occasions. They might travel for business tomorrow but leisure next week, overseas in a couple of months’ time.”

While solidly embedded in the digital sphere, Betteridge has recently reviewed the media channels he uses and opted to invest in above-the-line advertising. A current campaign revolves around a four-week partnership between and Channel Ten’s The Project evening show during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in February and involves in-program sponsorships as well as a range of experiences tailored to viewers.

“We operate effectively in the digital space but what we realised was we can get very focused on the last-click area for SEM and distribution,” Betteridge explains. “The synergy between The Project’s personality and the lastminute brand is really strong and we’re already seeing phenomenal success.”

We think of it in terms of trip occasion for the customer; it may well be the one customer, but that one customer has different trip occasions. They might travel for business tomorrow but leisure next week, overseas in a couple of months’ time

Partnerships with other travel bodies and tourism boards offer further opportunity, and Betteridge is working to build more commercially focused and strategic relationships in this area. In January, Wotif Group worked with Northern Territory on a campaign promoting Darwin and Uluru, and has partnered with South Australia and Western Australia’s tourism commissions.

“They do beautiful brand work we can lock into, bring to life and drive conversion,” he says. “It’s about building a program of work around that, and tiering the partners so we can focus on the destinations that actually can be grown.”

Customer centricity

Customer experience is at the heart of Wotif Group’s business proposition, and the foundation for activity. Across Betteridge’s team, this is playing out in a large-scale CRM project to improve the data the company collects on customers, as well as how it can target those consumers in a more personalised and cross-channel way. Today, Wotif Group has 3 million members across its collective brand databases.

The group introduced the a platform last year, which delivers additional levers to communicate through CRM more effectively.

To better its data stewardship and analysis, the company also formed a dedicated insights team, responsible for all customer data and providing daily, weekly and frequent insights that all business units can utilise to improve customer engagement.

“A lot of businesses fall into the trap of broadcasting emails and sending one to many,” Betteridge comments. “We are taking segmentation of our database very seriously and targeting the right offer to the right people, as well as differentiating those offers.

“The brand has to have a human essence to it, but that can be facile if we don’t look at things like personalisation of content on our website.”

While internal data sets have been a focus, Betteridge is challenging the analytics team on sourcing other external data sources to better profile customers. “Whether it’s paid or free sources like the national and international visitor surveys, we can use that to apply a broader understanding of the travelling public on top of our own data,” he says. “Is it complementary, or telling us where we can push our marketing programs where we’re not currently focused?”

Recognising customers across every channel touch point is another priority. “In the advertising space, we need to make sure our display ads, pre-roll video, EdMs and all the marketing messages are aligned with our SEM, SEO, and digital ecosystem,” Betteridge continues.

“We are getting very good at understanding the attribution for each of those touch points. Consumers don’t live in a linear world and they’re constantly jumping between media. With that comes an effective use of technology to be able to measure and learn from it, as well as execute.”

Like other digital organisations, Betteridge is witnessing mobile’s impact on customer engagement. Of the 6 million visitors to his three brand website each month, more than 2 million are now coming through a mobile device or app.

“We’re seeing significant spikes in our site and mobile visits to lastminute between 6pm and 9pm since we started The Project program, peaking at 8pm. This tells me we need to always think about the portability of the messages we are sending out there,” he says. “It’s also about being acutely aware of time of day.”

Betteridge puts the company’s ability to align around the customer to leadership and marketing’s influence. While claiming digital companies have historically been considered “somewhat faceless”, leading with the website or mobile app, Wotif Group prides itself on customer service.

“We are an award-winning 24/7 service centre when customers need us and there is a strong direct interaction between our business and people,” he says.

It’s also apparent through social, and the group has more than 400,000 people across its brand community. Recognising social isn’t just a push channel, Wotif Group is looking to now open up the social media channel to be what Betteridge calls “the third call centre channel”.

Another area Betteridge is passionate about is customer satisfaction. His team do monthly polls of customers across all touch points on the site, through to communications, service centre and social media. He chairs a working committing involving a number of groups that champions what the customer is telling the group.

“It takes leadership and influence to ensure we’re aligned around keeping the customers happy,” he adds.

Brand custodian

Any maturing brand that has moved from teenager to adult has a danger of straying too far away from its core brand proposition, and with the advent of digital communications, it’s all too easy to be seen as lacking authenticity.

For Betteridge, his job over the next 12 months is to “contemporise and modernise” the brand without losing its heart. “It’s about becoming a little smarter with the way we execute without losing some of the irreverence that we stand for,” he says.

“We’re trying to clarify the excitement around our brands, put ourselves deeper into the consideration set of our customers, and move that view of us from just accommodation into other products and services while having a consistent message across all customer touch points.”

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