Cook Islands to build out digital marketing strategy after programmatic advertising success

Destination's pilot brand awareness campaign results in double-digital online advertising recall and helps built out audience insights

Cook Islands Tourism (CIT) is looking to looking to build out a comprehensive digital advertising strategy after its first-ever programmatic activity resulted in double-digit brand recall across Australia and New Zealand consumers.

The month-long programmatic campaign ran in April and encompassed video, search and display ads running across Web and social channels targeting Australian and New Zealand consumers. A key element was building custom audience segments into a data management platform (DMP) in order to reach the destination’s target consumer: The ‘soft explorer’.

The work was done in partnership with Sparcmedia and The Core Agency and importantly, supported by pre- and post-brand impact research by Sparcmedia’s parent company, Pureprofile.  The research looked into the key objectives of the campaign, the advertising impact on raising brand awareness, and the improvement in how consumers perceived the destination as an adventurous holiday, rather than a resort island.

Cook Islands Tourism director of sales and marketing, Karla Eggelton, told CMO the islands are a new destination to the Australian market but a mature one for New Zealanders. The group recently implemented a destination brand, the first in over a decade, and wanted to understand how audiences related to its messaging as well as verify pre-conceived notions about what Australians wanted in a holiday destination.

The team was also looking for a way to use measurable insights to develop a digital strategy that could amplify its brand work.

“It was basically the pre-strategy to build the [digital] strategy,” Eggelton said. “For a small destination like ours, that has very low awareness in Australian market, we needed to understand how the message would resonate with our target audiences. We’re also limited by budget. So entering the digital space required us to be very careful. We felt trialling this and developing a test would assist us in understanding who, how and why in that space.”  

Eggelton described CIT’s core ‘soft explorer’ audience as the traveller who is experientially led and likes to “discover the undiscovered”.

“We want to set ourselves apart as a South Pacific destination that isn’t sleepy or soporific,” she said. “We want to be able to engage customers and provide a meaningful experience. Now that we’ve been able to identify the best fit for our market, we want to go out and understand how they think.

“We are a vibrant, colourful, energetic destination, so our messaging needed to reflect that. We’re also very light-hearted people and we wanted to ensure people understand the character and personality of our destination from a people to people point of view.”

In terms of the core NZ market, the digital advertising trail was also a way to see whether CIT could drive deeper into the Kiwi psyche and build out its appeal to soft explorers in that geography, Eggelton said.

It worked, she said. CIT’s online advertising efforts chalked up a brand recall of 20 per cent among Australian consumers and 28 per cent among New Zealanders. When comparing pre- and post-campaign surveys, Australian brand awareness for the Cook Islands was found to have increased by 1 per cent, brand recall by 5 per cent, and the desire to visit the destination by 3 per cent.

The study also showed the perception of the Cook Islands as an adventurous destination increased by 5 per cent among the New Zealand audience, expanding CIT’s customer segment in that market. These insights were used to optimise media activity during the one-month campaign period.  

“We wanted to see if our messaging would shift the dial around awareness, and we were able to do that - more so than I anticipated,” Eggelton continued. “It told me two things. The first was that our approach was a gamble but proved right. Secondly, that the Australian market is exactly what we expected them to be. They resonate with the destination experience we have to offer.”

Eggelton said the video content and social worked particularly well. “We found we performed better particularly in the social and by utilising video – that goes along with the general trend,”  she said. “But we also found the messaging in the videos and social was a lot more personal and that worked in our favour.  

“What it boiled down to was not being perfect, made us perfect.”

Next steps

The campaign was conducted in the last quarter of CIT’s financial year and designed to provide the foundation for a longer 3-5 year strategy that had digital as a major component. Short-term, Eggelton said further investment into digital is being rolled out and CIT is looking at how to dig deeper into its target audience segment.

“The soft explorer was our big land grab, we’d like to define that better now. For example, younger and more active market, more targeted with that,” she said.

“Digital is still a new area for us and we’re still learning. We’re two years into the brand, and we need to build out our customer segmentation, customer journey mapping, and evolve everything we do in the space based on measurable results.”  

As a government agency, internal capability building is a key part of the planning, Eggelton said, adding CIT is now working to build out team skillsets with the support of marketing and technology partners.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu 

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