CMO interview: Building a marketing and insights engine at Tennis Australia

Tennis Australia's chief marketing and insights officer shares her plans to build human-inspired digital and data capability in the organisation as well as the CX lens that comes into play

Tony Gruebner, Josie Brown and Ryan Gracie at the recent CMO-CIO Executive Connections event
Tony Gruebner, Josie Brown and Ryan Gracie at the recent CMO-CIO Executive Connections event

Human-centred design, customer insights engine, having the consumer voice at the executive table – these are just a few key priorities for Tennis Australia’s first chief marketing and insights officer, Josie Brown, as she strives to construct a future focused marketing approach.

Brown was appointed to the newly created role in September, reporting directly to CEO, Craig Tiley. She previously spent seven years with JWT as director of digital APAC and has built her career in digital marketing and transformation agency and client-side, working for the likes of Procter & Gamble, Sputnik Agency and Lufthansa.

What’s clearly changed along the way is this focus on branding and technology, Brown tells CMO, who adds she was inspired by the pace of change in places across Asia such as China.

Coming into Tennis Australia, she says she’s impressed by how future focused the organisation is off the back of the certainty that it will be hosting a grand slam for decades to come.

“Tennis is a sport that’s been part of the cultural fabric of Australia and that is something that will be invested in for decades to come,” she comments. “It is an organisation constantly talking about the future and innovation with a long horizon. It gives you a real perspective to look at how are the consumer needs going to be addressed by tech in that time; what do we need to invest in now that’s going to impact in three years’ time.

“That’s really exciting – you can know that by getting to good insight now, you can put a plan together to get to where you want to go to.”

The new job remit

Tennis Australia (TA) has been experiencing significant growth in recent years, driven by expansion of the Australian Open and a $972 million investment into its Melbourne Park home. This has seen the organisation changing, Brown says. And it’s what led to the creation of the chief marketing and insights role, incorporating data and insights, brand, customer experience and content and creative services functions.

“The board and our CEO were very aware that from a digital and data perspective, there was an appetite to move faster,” she says.

“To combine storytelling with data, brand with CX, and to have it working genuinely in an integrated way, is the opportunity I have been given. It’s so exciting being able to build that team, and working with an exec that’s really entrepreneurial and wants to pursue growth makes it a really great time to be in an organisation like this.

“We’re putting on the last few people in the team to get that right mix of capability. I feel that structure will then enable us to put the consumer at the heart of the exec and to then invest in the right digital technology solutions to take it to the next level.”  

Tennis Australia always had data at its fingertips, and the analysis of player data for performance as well as entertainment for fans has long been a significant focus. But it’s never been centralised in a way that supplies a centralised insights engine, Brown says.

“To start the plan for the next three years, my plan is to build that insights engine for Tennis Australia,” she says. To help, TA has hired a new head of data and insights, and Brown has also been looking at who within the organisation has the right capability to support that.

Josie Brown
Josie Brown

“Research for example, was undertaken by certain parts of the organisation; we’re now going to try and get visibility across all sources of research and ensure we have one central source of truth to help the business,” she says.

“You can have great data – and there’s always work to ensure you collect and have the right, clean data and visibility of it. I’m focused on how we turn it into insight the business can act on. It’s really about orienting the team as well as behaviour of the exec.”

In this vein, TA has just kicked off a project to enable teams to sharpen discipline around human-centred design. To do this, Brown and the team are pairing this approach with its wealth of research about people playing tennis in Australia.

“We have been talking to people who’ve played tennis for decades. When you apply the growth mindset, we’re now looking also at who doesn’t play tennis, and what are the needs and behaviours we could tap into in order to make tennis the sport of choice for that individual,” she explains. “Human-centred design [HCD] is the right methodology to listen to consumer need and behaviours then apply it to what you’re going to make. It’s a vehicle we can use to work a bit differently.

“We will be going on a discovery phase, where we apply existing research to new human-centred research techniques, and turning that into a suite of insights and ideas we designed around to try and encourage more people to get into the sport.”  

The overarching ambition is getting more people to play and watch tennis. “That means coming to our events, reading our content digitally, and so on. And those two are interlinked,” Brown says.

“Now we have the new structure in place, we are introducing new ways of working enabling us to have that shaper consumer focus, and these new discipline leaders to apply new insight and customer research. There have been pilots in the past to apply those methodologies, but I feel now it’s about accelerating a way of working we want to be sustainable.”

A new CX design manager has been appointed to spearhead what HCD looks like at Tennis Australia, and Brown says the storytelling piece will be a core component as well.

“It’s about how we flesh out what the tennis brand is, the experience of the AO and consequently how we tell stories that are entertaining and are going to be heard,” she says.

Any project like HCD requires cross-functional collaboration, and teams from tennis participation team to technology delivery are coming together as a result.

“One thing I have learnt over the years is if you want to change and drive technology enhancement, you need to bring an integrated team together in order to gain that perspective,” Brown says.

Another aspect constantly evolving is the skillsets required across the traditional marketing function. “In an era of content, you need to have the discipline of marketing, you need to be an entertainer, and you need to move like a tech startup. Those are the strands of our way of working,” Brown continues.

“They’re not necessarily the teams I have, but when it comes to storytelling, we have a significant creative services unit in-house, and the whole hosting of the tennis broadcasting is run by that team. So there’s significant design, video content and writing team. The ability to dovetail insight into storytelling is tangible.”

There’s no doubt the nirvana is being able to unify a single customer view with that creativity capability to tell stories that are incredibly personalised, Brown says.

“We’re still a few years from that nirvana. But when you understand what your brands stand for, what you’re trying to grow towards and the needs and behaviours of those consumers, you can start to build up that personalised communication strategy,” she says.  

In addition, Brown is hoping the human-centred design project will help redefine what the right technology solutions are for Tennis Australia to achieve its growth ambitions. One way she’s keen to see technology utilised is by connecting people wanting to play tennis to the right club or coach.

In terms of insights Brown is looking to glean, meanwhile, are a better understanding of what the barriers that stop anyone playing tennis are and how to open those back up again.

“I’m also keen to understand if we’re talking to the right people about the Australian Open. Are the people we’d like to come to the event that aren’t coming hearing what’s great about it for them? What are their needs and behaviours – almost revisiting our segmentation approach,” she says.  

Australian Open

Having just been through her first Australian Open in January, Brown is developing a number of further initiatives on how to improve the holistic customer engagement strategy around the annual grand slam tournament.

New elements included in 2019 included patron, player and workforce research using that HCD mindset. “We have always done research studies, but this year it was engaging a bigger team to do a lot of observing and formally document that,” Brown says.

“We’re in the process now of aggregating and that’s been really eye-opening. Things you assume are not often the case. That gave us the discipline to look at things within a certain framework.”

TA also doubled down on social listening this year using Salesforce Social Studio. “It was my idea that we’d use social listening to hear frustrations of things that weren’t working. It in fact wasn’t how social listening was working,” Brown says. “The volume and commentary around players, tennis and the commentary – the eyes of the world are on this place – are much more oriented to the entertainment. It was a hypothesis I had that didn’t bear out.”

Another fresh aspect in 2019 was a new kids’ zone with ballpark, tennis and activities. As a result, the site came into its own in terms of having distinct zones, Brown says.

“That was so well received, it’s now about building on that and thinking about the entertainment proposition onsite further,” she says. “We need to ensure entertainment is complementary to the core tennis and is also helping attract new people to the event.”

Marketing’s value

Helping Brown in this quest is what she calls diversity and equality within the executive team, a culture of collaboration and a healthy respect for what each discipline brings to the table.

“We have diversity with four women on the exec, and in terms of the culture, how we meet and collaborate, I feel I have been welcomed in,” she says. “I also started at the same time as our new chief tennis officer, who’s looking at the performance of and participation in tennis. There’s a strong dynamic in the executive and I feel we all have an equal voice.

“In that sense, I have every opportunity to put forward a strong strategy for the organisation in this new remit I’ve been given, which is have the lens of consumer, bring insight, show data, build strong brands, and tell great stories about our events and sport. Everyone is very clear that’s the remit of marketing. It feels very collaborative.”  

Brown says TA’s CEO has also provided “amazing clarity” around the mission to serve customers, from the players to the patrons.

“It’s what we’re here to do and it’s probably why the Australian Open is so successful. We’re so focused on making it the best possible experience,” she says. “That clarity on experience is in the DNA.”  

To measure success, Brown is pushing hard on what scorecards the team should use to change the organisation and show growth. “Ultimately, that has to come back to if more people are playing tennis, or watching our events, or coming along, and are people enjoying that,” she says.  

Through all of this, she stresses the importance of agencies as partners to what TA is trying to do.

“I’m conscious now of the role agencies can play and appreciate it so much more,” she says. “We just engaged Clemenger BBDO to work with us on the tennis brand, so they’re helping us with a review of the identity of the sport. We have also been working with Avanade [formerly Loud & Clear] on the AO website.

“My philosophy is you want to establish a close trust as early as possible. At P&G, it used to be that these are partners, you trust them and you don’t put up for pitch every five minutes. I embrace that spirit and want to have partnerships that are really open and where you can bring the best of each other to bear.”  

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