CMO50 2020 #13: Michael Branagh

  • Name Michael Branagh
  • Title Executive director, global marketing
  • Company Tourism and Events Queensland
  • Commenced role July 2017
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 89 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Travel and tourism
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    If there’s one lesson to be learnt from 2020, it’s that Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ)’s marketing team has the ability to manage and deal with ambiguity, says its CMO, Michael Branagh.

    “We have had to accept there may never be a clear-cut answer to problems needing to be solved for,” he says. “With uncertainty around border openings, activity budgets, messaging and timing of activity, learning to deal with uncertainty, yet still acting with confidence and keeping things moving forward, is a requirement today.”

    Which is why Branagh constantly encourages his team to talk to the opportunity to be bold and brave.

    “The tourism sector is quite traditional in approach, and if we are not prepared to ask ourselves what is new or different around what we propose to do it will be every hard to move the industry forward,” he says. “We spend a lot of time looking outside of the travel and tourism category for our inspiration and opportunities to be innovative.”  

    Innovative marketing

    Tourism and Events Queensland’s boldest innovation yet has to be its recent campaign to raise positive awareness of the Great Barrier Reef. The opportunity not only showcase the nature wonder, but also demonstrated innovation.

    Initially pitched to TEQ as a concept by its agency, Publicis, Branagh saw how the idea could fly and took it to Uber. The resulting effort was ‘scUber’, the world’s first rideshare submarine on the world’s greatest natural wonder.

    The once-in-a-lifetime experience was bookable through the Uber app and available in two Great Barrier Reef locations. The activation showcased the reed’s diversity and resilience and was supported by an integrated global marketing campaign including digital, influencers and PR.

    “ScUber allowed media networks, high-profile influencers and everyday travellers from around the world to experience the Great Barrier Reef first-hand in a submarine – showing the world that the reef is teeming with life, marine animals and beauty,” Branagh says.

    The initiative has generated over 4700 articles globally since launch with a potential media reach of 4.7 billion and a global publicity value of more than $130 million (against a target of $40 million). Not surprisingly, it’s won an array of awards locally and globally.

    Business smarts

    The campaign is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of bold work Branagh has spearheaded since joining TEQ in 2017. In short, he’s led a complete transformation of the organisation’s marketing strategy, structure and global approach.

    While Queensland is Australia’s original holiday state and its marketing campaigns well known, share of market had been declining steadily for several years and an overhaul of TEQ’s marketing operations necessary, Branagh explains. So he’s spent three years taking the executive and board on a journey to unpack and remodel TEQ’s marketing approach.

    Early work included defining the purpose and remit of marketing within the organisation, then developing a clear marketing strategy and multi-year plan. Branagh redesigned the structure of the marketing group to evolve from a traditional and siloed team model to one that reflects a modern marketing approach, recruiting several new team members with distinct skillsets.

    “In this new system, output-based teams have been replaced by disciplines and a ‘way of working’ developed in such a way that collaboration becomes the requirement for getting things done,” Branagh says.

    “Change is always going to be challenging and nowhere more so than in an environment that had undergone very little if any in the preceding 10 years. While the transition to this new way of working wasn’t without its challenges it’s pleasing to report strong FY1920 marketing group outcomes.”

    These stretch from improvements to Net Promoter and Engagement Scores through to record confidence in the Branagh and his vision as CMO.

    From there, Branagh gained approval to embark on a multi-year Digital Transformation Project, replatforming the organisation to attain a best-in-class digital marketing environment. He’s also been able to promote customer experience best practice through the Best of Queensland Experiences Program, all while developing a 15-year future focused and purpose led Brand Strategy for Queensland.

    From an operations and efficiency perspective, the transformation has seen Branagh implement a ‘GLOCAL’ marketing approach in 13 priority international markets and create a marketing performance framework to measure and evaluate marketing activity impact.

    And as all this internal work has gone on, Branagh has taken calculated risks to evolve Queensland’s marketing message externally. The highest risk and most applauded was the call to revert back to the iconic marketing line, ‘Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next’, he says.

    “The platform had not been used to market Queensland since the 1980s. I understood the power of the equity in this brand asset and the opportunity to evolve its meaning to be so much more than just about the weather,” he says.  

    Campaign tracking results validate the decision, with eight in 10 Australians believing a Queensland holiday is ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next’ and 78 per cent intending to visit the Sunshine State in the next 12 months (borders permitting).

    Data-driven approach

    Building TEQ’s data and technology capability was an essential for the tourism body to remain competitive, both domestically and internationally, Branagh continues. The digital transformation project established was focused on lifting TEQ’s game around data, experience, analytics and measurement, value and reach.  

    An integral part of this program was the launch in early June 2020 of the new The online offering was redesigned and rebuilt using Adobe’s customer experience platform and will deliver personalised experiences for aspiring travellers all around the world. Branagh says it’s a major milestone in TEQ’s objective to improve marketing effectiveness and consumer engagement.

    Importantly, the resulting tech ecosystem can allow marketing to adapt to different user needs based on interests, demographics, interaction behaviour and place of origin.

    “More importantly, these insights are feeding TEQ’s Customer Value Proposition program to operationalise our target segment insights,” Branagh says. “These CVPs outline consumer needs and their most appealing Queensland experiences by segment along the path to purchase to inform marketing creative and media planning activity. This approach ensures TEQ delivers on the strategy of connecting consumers with the right travel experiences through the right channel at the right time in the right way.”

    Customer-led thinking

    Championing the creation of a customer experience practice within the marketing team was another big step forward in this quest. Branagh has spearheaded education, training and understanding around CX best practice and the impact of rising consumer expectations on how they experience and share travel experiences.

    TEQ’s Experience Design Program, meanwhile, centres around supporting tourism and events operators to evolve and adapt to a market with changing needs and values, and how these are reflected through the new Queensland brand direction. In this vein, TEQ developed an ‘Experience Toolkit’ for industry in line with its brand positioning. This is aimed at supporting operators to design and deliver exceptional experiences for guests through the stages of travel.

    A third advancement on the CX front has been pioneering the ‘Best of Queensland Experiences Program’ (BOQEP) driven by consumer feedback and reviews. This again sees tourism operators encouraged to exceed consumer expectations, ensuring every visitor becomes an advocate for Queensland.

    “BOQEP allows TEQ to identify those tourism products that consistently deliver a high-quality visitor experience, and these operators are prioritised for inclusion in TEQ marketing activities where relevant and available,” Branagh says.

    Tourism operators are assessed against a set of criteria to determine if the qualify as a Best of Queensland Experience. These criteria include consistent delivery of an exceptional visitor experience as determined by the quality of consumer reviews aggregated from over 150 review platforms including Google, Facebook and Trip Advisor.

    All tourism products assessed receive an individual report unique to their business providing insights on consumer perceptions of their experiences and how to improve the delivery of customer experiences to drive performance.


    All these foundation projects came in handy when the COVID-19 global pandemic hit and shut Australia’s international and domestic borders. Postponement or cancellation of events, restriction of non-essential travel and suspension of aviation services severely impacted Queensland’s tourism and events industry.

    As a first step, Branagh reviewed TEQ’s international marketing programs and made the tough call to pause all TEQ’s marketing activities in March. During Australia’s period of strongest restrictions, TEQ provided inspirational content in international and domestic markets to keep Queensland top of mind for when global travel resumes. This saw the team employing inspiring Queensland imagery connected with social media users around the world who were in isolation or feeling anxious, sending them serenity and calm from Queensland.

    ‘Project Thrive’ was then born, aimed at showing Queensland continued to thrive – whether in nature or through examples of human spirit across the state. To help Queensland’s tourism businesses share a similar story of hope and positivity, TEQ put together content guidelines outlining the 'Project Thrive' approach, intended to help shape industry social media and other messages during the key stages of the pandemic – from the ‘homebound’ state, to emergence and eventually return to travel.

    Travel restrictions eased within Queensland from June. Recognising the need to restart Queensland’s tourism industry, Branagh led development and launch of the ‘Good to Go’ campaign on 7 June. The campaign was designed to extend interstate once restrictions eased further.

    Tourism businesses quickly got on-board, displaying the 'Good to Go' stamp in their marketing if they had required COVID Safe documentation in place. The campaign has been extended through integration partnerships with major media companies and travel trade partners.

    “The campaign has managed to quickly ingrain itself in the Queensland vernacular with ‘Good to Go’ becoming the catch cry across Queensland when asked if you’re ready to take a holiday,” Branagh comments.

    To further support partners, TEQ created the Industry Media Agency for Tourism and Events (IMATE) powered by media agency Ikon. This was established to provide tourism businesses and event proponents with greater insights into TEQ’s marketing activities, media strategy and campaigns and delivers access to learning resources including a marketing toolkit.

    Cross-functional collaboration

    As Branagh points out, TEQ may be the custodian of Brand Queensland, but the brand is delivered by all those making up Queensland’s tourism ecosystem. Over the past 24 months, he’s led a whole-of-ecosystem initiative to define the future opportunity and strategy for Brand Queensland and position Queensland effectively to capitalise on future sources of demand.

    “Our ‘travel for good’ purpose-led brand positioning has been intentionally designed to address future growth opportunities and deliver transformational travel experiences by responding to changing consumer needs and values,” Branagh explains. “Put simply, this means travel is good for travellers’ wellbeing and travel makes a positive impact on the world. This is an inclusive invitation for all travellers to participate, contribute and belong – and to ultimately leave Queensland renewed, restored and regenerated.”

    To arrive at this point, Branagh led a Brand Queensland Taskforce including representatives from across all aspects of the Queensland tourism and events industry. At the destination level, this project identified each of 13 regional Queensland destination’s distinctive offerings and unique positioning within the Queensland Brand narrative.

    The brand strategy was implemented in 2019-20 and included development of a new global creative platform for a phased launch in 2020-21. Branagh says work to develop an Experience Design Strategy and Toolkit will also be launched in 2020-21.

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