CMO interview: Building the Australian brand story

Tourism Australia's marketing leader reveals her new content and data reality

Lisa Ronson
Lisa Ronson


Diversity of experience

Bringing the consumer into the heart of brand value is something Ronson has been doing throughout her career. She started her professional life at Foster’s Brewing Group working across a great range of consumer brands.

Ronson next went to VISA International as a marketing manager, working her way up to marketing director A/NZ. From there, she joined Telstra as head of marketing services, before moving to David Jones to help build the financial services business.

Her most recent role was at Westpac as head of marketing services for three years. “It was a great time to be in the organisation, with fantastic leadership under Gail Kelly then Bryan Hartzer, who were both very inspirational people,” she says.

Ronson agrees the role of marketing leadership has changed dramatically. “I started out in a very customer- and trade-centric business, and the brewers were possibly ahead of their time, as they understood how to determine the target audience, develop products and communications that appeal to that target audience,” she claims. “They dug very deep into the insights around what motivated a customer.

“There always has to be a level of discipline and return on investment, but you have to have the customer at the heart of everything you do. This hasn’t always been the case in organisations. Otherwise, you’re putting in a bunch of negative measures, and they might work in the short term, but long term customers get sick of it.”

Helping to achieve this is a good working relationship with the CFO, something Ronson puts down to being able to demonstrate the return on marketing investment.

“That value differs by organisation, and back in some of the companies I worked for, marketing wasn’t probably valued to the extent it is today,” she says. “It takes both strong marketing leaders and CEOs to be customer centric and realise that has to be the core of decision making and how you put programs in market.”

Digitisation of marketing

Ronson points out the customer decision-making funnel has also fundamentally changed in the face of digitisation. Of course, one thing that has remained the same is the power of word of mouth – it’s just more digital.

“Social is so important to everything we do here, because it is a very trusted source of information. Increasingly, that’s being done on mobiles, tablets or multiple devices,” Ronson says.

What TA is trying to do is integrate a lot of its digital channels to tell a cohesive story. A key way is by pulling social, user-generated and industry-generated content through to its Australia.com and Australia.cn digital properties, to sit alongside content TA produces, such as itineraries, visa information and lists of top things to do in different Australian locations.

With 1500 pieces of content on Australia being produced per day, user-generated content is a major component of how consumers perceive the country and experiences on offer, she continues. In one recent example, a video produced featuring ‘Koala Harry’ by one employee at Symbio Wildlife Park chalked up 43 million in terms of reach and 12.4 million views in less than a week.

“It’s a great mix of own to user generated and everything inbetween and creates that link of authenticity,” Ronson says. “That’s where our Livefyre website integration with user-generated content is fantastic, because we’re constantly evolving the site, putting beautiful images and video online that users and the industry are taking, as well as our own content.”

Targeting perceptions

TA’s approach to campaigns today is again tied to presenting what the country has on offer in a way that gets that customer to change their attitudes and perceptions, Ronson says. To do this, it’s focusing on two main areas of experience: Food and wine; and aquatic and coastal.

In January, TA launched a new aquatic and coastal campaign within its ‘There’s nothing like Australia’ program, and in April, it relaunched its Australia.cn property, taking the aquatic and coastal message to the Chinese market for the first time.

“You have to have very integrated programs to make sure you’ve got to the consumer in an engaging way that is going to change their attitudes and behaviour,” Ronson says. “It’s not dumping one campaign to move on to the next, it’s looking at what’s the next part of the story and conversation to pursue.”

On top of this, TA has undertaken research through its consumer demand project in recent years to better understand which consumers are the most likely to travel the distance to Australia, like and advocate the experience on offer, and provide the best yield in terms of economic benefit.

“Our objective is a spend target unashamedly – that’s what drives the economy and industry, and will get us to the 2020 vision, which is a spend target,” Ronson says. “There isn’t any point targeting a customer that doesn’t have a passport, hoping they’re going to be so inspired to go out and get one, then travel long distances. That’s the extreme example, but it’s one of the things we’ve been focused on, working closely with our research agencies.”

The wealth of data derived from what consumers are engaging with on social helps these efforts, Ronson says. “We know we can triangulate the research we get with the insights from social and what the industry is telling us as well,” she says.

“What’s really come to light in the last few years is that demographics only get you so far. We can be exactly the same age, living in the same street, and have completely different attitudes to the same things. With the data and ways we can now target consumers, it’s increasingly moving towards attitudinal and behavioural, as that’s the best indicator of what someone will do in the future.”

With the array of information sitting inside organisations, Ronson agrees it’s vital to connect the dots between client-side and agency. She also sees media agency measurement moving from less claimed behaviour to actual behaviour.

“There are some media channels where we can assess what they’re looking at and if they actually turned up here,” she adds. “That’s exciting in terms of informing what we do as well as how we optimise our spend and get more efficient and effective.”

To do this, TA is investigating several second-party data partnerships, and recently struck its first data sharing arrangement with Virgin Australia. The deal sees TA tracking and passing on information relating to online activity for any consumer who comes to Australia.com, then steps through to Virgin Australia’s digital properties.

Ronson says more data partnerships are on the cards in the next 12 months. All of these activities are about keeping up with consumer expectations.

Innovative thinking

Innovation, one of Tourism Australia’s core values, is another way.

“We want to constantly be ahead of the game, really understanding the customer and what is coming next,” Ronson says. “It’s about innovation that makes sense to better target the customer and also bring the industry on the journey as well. We have talked about social a lot and digital channels, but innovation isn’t reserved just for digital channels.”

For Ronson, innovation is ultimately simplification. “You can be really innovative just by simplifying your message, or by making your product easier to consume and understand,” she says.

“Simplicity and not being scared to take risks to get a better customer outcome for me is the heart of innovation.”

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