South Australian Tourism Commission's efforts to digitally transform marketing

Executive director of marketing for tourism promotionally body sizes up the success of its digital marketing strategy to date and what it takes to keep evolving

More than 600,000 prospective visitor leads, a freshly identified customer cohort, lower-cost conversion and stronger industry partnerships are just some of the big wins for South Australia Tourism Commission (SATC) thanks to its digital marketing investment.

For the last three-and-a-half years, the promotional body has been steadily building its digital credentials in order to improve visitation to the premier state. And it’s come a long way, from a site full of dark links, to data sharing partnerships with travel providers, revitalised domestic market engagement and demonstrable marketing value.

Executive director of marketing, Brent Hill, said he faced a clean slate in terms of digital marketing capability and technology when he joined the organisation.

“We basically had a dark site with a lot of broken links that couldn’t be found organically,” he told CMO. “We’d gone to a consulting firm and spent a lot of money on a pretty looking website that didn’t do anything.”

Brent Hill
Brent Hill

So SATC began its incremental investment into Adobe Marketing Cloud as the foundation supporting a digital marketing transformation. Today, the organisation runs the vendor’s full suite of products covering its marketing and media activities domestically and internationally.

Alongside the tech, Hill restructured the marketing team into domestic and international teams, plus PR, a move to ensure digital became a native skill across the function. Supporting staff is Adobe Workspace, an analytics dashboard and visualisation tool allowing teams to drill into data sets and insights they need.

Another big step forward was identifying, then demonstrating, key measures of success. For SATC, this is ultimately lead generation. In the first year of transformation, it chalked up 20,000 leads, while in the second, it tipped 80,000. In 2018, this rose to 287,000 and in latest 12-month review, it’s expected to have exceeded 620,000 leads.

“The most exciting thing is getting recognition domestically for our program and we’re the fifth biggest state,” Hill said. “The perception is you have to be massive with huge budgets to achieve something. Yet here we are, getting a lot of ROI, from a concerted program.”

It's work that saw Hill himself recognised in the 2018 edition of the CMO50, Australia's premiere list of innovative and effective marketers.

Incremental improvement

For Hill, one of the big lessons is subtle changes accelerate development and improve ROI. One example has been relocating the social management team originally sitting within the PR function, to be part of the paid digital strategy.

“Social was historically just great images being posted, it wasn’t being tracked and it was loosely about brand awareness. But that’s not good enough,” Hill commented. “If we’re investing time, energy and money into a platform, we need to see some return. So we put the social and content guys under the paid digital guys looking after Adobe tools there and aligned that. It’s taken things up another level.

“For example, we can put an accommodation partner up, do an Instagram story or post, track how many are going to that provider’s site and then how many end up booking. That’s exciting as it’s moved us away from just being an industry partner blasting pictures, to really delivering tangible results.”

Another step forward was bringing DSP capabilities it in-house 18 months ago and into the Adobe platform. “This gave us the full viewpoint and created lots of financial savings, bringing cost per lead down,” Hill said. “This then allowed us to invest more in the technology.

“Another area is our EDM database. We added the Adobe product in, which meant we could track our EDMs, and everything was coming back to the mother ship, Adobe Audience Manager. We’re not Adobe evangelists, but it really works for us. But again, it’s also about what you invest, both in terms of time and effort.”  

Proving value

Building digital and data might has also provided South Australia Tourism with the means to combat subjectivity.

“We are in a high-pressure environment, with key government stakeholders, and everyone is impacting on our strategy, from operators and more,” Hill said. “What we have been able to do is say we’ve got consistent research, so ask us what it is you want and we can outline it. We can see, for example, what top 10 sites international people are clicking on.

“All of a sudden, the guys in my domestic and international teams have a research database at their disposal. It’s changed things completely and empowered us in those conversations. We can look at the data and say this experience is lending itself to more wins, and resonating with customers.

“It also means our media buying is being dictated by data insights.”

Supporting this is a strong test and optimisation approach. “It’s so tangible – accommodation providers ring us and say they’re booked out to September, so when that happens, we can dial some content down and dial up another option. It changes daily,” Hill said.  

In addition, the ability to tap data for insight is seeing SATC take on more affiliate marketing. As a case in point, Hill noted work with the Adelaide Fringe Festival promoting and encouraging visitors to purchase tickets to these events. Research suggests up to 20 per cent of leads being generated end up in a sale, but historically, the promotional body was unable to showcase its role in the process.

Thanks to a data sharing arrangement with the festival organiser, SATC could follow consumers through the path to purchase and prove it facilitated $850,000 worth of ticket sales.  

Through it all, the hardest part was getting started and building the business case.

“People often baulk at the costs, they bring in consultants and they don’t seem to ever have an end date. Go to any 10 businesses and ask about digital transformation and you’ll get a big sigh,” Hill said.

“The benefit was we had a set amount of money, which was enough; a clear objective of what we wanted to do; we put it in play; it started to work; then we incrementally kept building. We’re still transforming, but it works.”

Customer evolution

Having a digital platform and strategy has now led to SATC to evolve its brand pillars. Previously, cohort groups of consumers were grouped into interests such as food and wine, nature or the outback and so on, and targeted with related messaging.

Over the last 12-18 months, a new category emerged of prospects looking for boutique accommodation and experiences. This led Hill’s team to first surface more related content, then define a new cohort called the ‘wellness escape’ consumer.

“Digital gave us that pillar – we didn’t have it, we just saw it happening and dialled it up. It’s been exploding,” Hill said. “We’ve gone back and revised our brand pillars based on what people are looking for and telling us is cool about South Australia.

“We just leave our egos at the door – we want to be told by the consumer what they really like. The days of fighting with a CEO or board who believed one thing would work and urge you to take one route are over. Now everyone just trusts the data.”

Retaining momentum

With solid automated and trigger-based marketing processes in place, as well as demonstrable ROI, Hill and the team are open to what comes next. “What is clear is never want to say you’re done; you want to always be learning,” he said.  

One area of evolution is artificial intelligence (AI). Hill not only welcomed the capabilities, he saw AI adding jobs into the marketing function.

“Half of my team’s jobs didn’t exist five years ago,” he said. “AI can look scary, but it’s all around us. Jobs will evolve.”  

Strategically, SATC’s focus is on taking its successful digital approach domestically and ramping up international efforts.

“Internationally, they have to think of Australia first before they think of a state, so it becomes about our partner roles and how we can, also when people land on the ground, start impacting them,” Hill said. “Things like data sharing will really unlock such value.”

Read more: Why second-party data is crucial to marketers

Tourism Australia's digital chief flags data sharing partnerships as priority

For Hill, SATC’s dedicated and focused approach has meant it’s been able to position itself at the forefront of digital change.  

“All we want to do is try and keep pace as best we can with the consumer,” he added.  

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