Ones to Watch

CMO50 2020: Victoria Primrose

  • Name Victoria Primrose
  • Title Global head of marketing
  • Company Aurora Expeditions
  • Commenced role September 2018
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 5 direct reports; 7 staff
  • Industry Sector Tourism
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    This year has shown Victoria Primrose how the geopolitical landscape, businesses and consumer priorities and perceptions have changed with COVID-19, along with the changing risk profile and where future opportunities will lie.

    And on a more tactical, there is the need to keep up with the evolving martech landscape and ensuring the team has the skillsets and knowledge needed, or extended agency team, to understand how to adapt.  

    "It's also having a clear strategic framework to help structure idea generation and not being afraid to push the envelope," Primrose said.

    Marketing effectiveness

    Making Aurora Expeditions top of mind among polar travellers on a small budget was a key project when Primrose started at Aurora Expeditions. "Awareness was low among our two key audiences - consumers and travel agents, and our media budget was small. Awareness is key, so that when customers are in the market for polar travel, they recall our brand from their online search results - a hugely important step in the booking journey according to research," she explained.

    "We did, however, have a great story to tell - a new cutting-edge ship with a unique design named after our company founder and pioneering adventurer Greg Mortimer (first Australian to summit Everest). The challenge was to maximise the impact of our media and generate a step change in paid and earned media."

    Primrose and the team did three key things: Leveraged the unique brand story to gain strong coverage via picture press stories and relations; secured a unique TV opportunity with the ‘Living Room’ that covered the maiden voyage featuring Greg Mortimer himself; added a PR campaign that achieved 900 million global impressions valued at $9 million. "The Living Room feature drove the biggest ever uplift in website traffic and TV advertising drove +75 per cent uplift when on air. Overall this campaign increased web traffic (unique) by +55 per cent and +70 per cent in bookings," she said.

    Influencing change

    "When I joined Aurora, the business had recently launched four new ‘Global’ voyages. Selling these voyages was my CEO’s top priority for marketing," Primrose explained. To understand the selling experience of these voyages, Primrose ran a series of focus groups with Aurora customers and also typical ‘cruisers’. "The clear outtake was that these voyages didn’t deliver the typical Aurora ‘expedition’ experience of ‘adventurous travel to remote, beautiful natural places with immersive wildlife experiences’," she said. "Aurora customers perceived them to be too typically ‘cruise-like’ with too many stops focused on cities more than nature. Nor did they appeal to ‘cruisers’ who were looking for a more classic big cruise entertainment focused experience. We were trying to sell the unsellable."

    "I presented these findings to the business, arguing that the solution was to re-engineer new itineraries to deliver destinations and voyages that were ‘on brand’. New voyages were then designed using both product and marketing team expertise. The voyages were then validated by a quantitative survey of our database to predict the best four selling voyages for launch. This was also used as a hook for our subsequent marketing launch campaign 'You voted for these voyages so now we’re launching them', which performed very well."

    The new voyages were relaunched two months later with the new polar program and all voyages sold out. "One voyage was our fastest ever selling voyage, and was 85 per cent sold within three months post-launch. The strategic impact of this experience was that the business better defined its brand and customer base, thus improving our chances of success going forward." 

    Data-led marketing

    Website and CRM are both crucial within the customer journey for Aurora, and Primrose recognised that both could be significantly improved. "CRM was critical to drive conversion and repeat purchase, but our system had poor reporting capability, limited functionality and was difficult to use," she said.

    "To address this, I introduced new CRM software. These changes allowed us to dramatically improve our email marketing by personalising content, increasing automation and re-targeting or suppressing social media advertising to customers in our database. These changes resulted in a +86 per cent increase in email traffic and an increase in click through rate, while reducing time spent creating email content by c. 20 per cent."

    However, increasing traffic to the website would be of limited effect unless the site itself performed well. Prior to January 2020, the website had a high bounce rate and wasn't able to log actions undertaken by customers onsite, while the back-end made it time consuming and difficult to update.

    "I secured funds to relaunch the site and appointed a new agency to help reinvent it. Having mapped the needs of different user groups, we created a more single-minded online experience where customers could properly navigate voyages and obtain quotes. Website sessions per user increased by +18 per cent and session length by +25 per cent, while bounce rated dropped by -2.3 per cent. Time spent updating the site reduced by c. 25 per cent. In recognition of these results, Aurora and our agency G-Squared are currently state finalists in the AMI awards for product/service revitalisation."

    "Most importantly, these changes to our digital capability and customer experience resulted in an increase in bookings of +154 per cent once launched vs. prior month."

    CX capability

    "It was clear from passenger surveys that our pre and post-customer service experience wasn’t as strong as the experience on the voyage," Primrose explained. Specific areas highlighted for improvement were timeliness of responses and more regular passenger communication/detailed information.

    "Utilising our new best in class CRM system, I embarked on an initiative to automate the customer journey as much as possible, to improve the pre and post-booking experience and better utilise the availability of our small customer service team," she explained.

    The marketing team worked with the customer service team closely to map the customer journey, predicted pain points, and detailed the key information customers require pre and post travel. The specific solution has been a schedule of information ‘packets’ sent by email and text at staggered intervals both pre and post voyage.

    Commercial acumen

    When I arrived at Aurora, I faced several challenges: A fivefold growth objective driven by the marketing strategy; lack of understanding of the benefits and ROI of past marketing activities; and a modest marketing budget. To respond, I needed to assess the effectiveness of past and planned marketing activities, establish relative ROIs and assess the proportion of money spent on ‘working’ media," Primrose said.

    The program of work to meet these challenges included reducing the agencies and improving the quality and amount of output by bringing content and PR services in-house; reduced the media agency commission fee through a pitch process and recruiting a more strategic media agency; and working with the new media agency to analyse past activity. "We also reinvested savings into areas currently driving an increase in website traffic of +363 per cent from this channel," she said.

    This program of work also saw a new TVC and brand videos developed for Aurora by a top creative agency by engaging the agency on brand passion and brand story. "We also moved from running local brand information sessions in person to online webinars to increase our reach (and better service our global audience), she explained.

    COVID-19 innovation

    "In March, Aurora was faced with a crisis of COVID-19 cases on board our ship, the Greg Mortimer, stuck in Uruguay and unable to dock. This was happening against a backdrop of voyage changes affecting most passenger’s bookings and an unprecedented number of customer enquiries," Primrose explained.

    The marketing team had to completely shift focus. "Our priority was careful communication to manage the situation on the ship. Working with a cross-functional team, we lobbied governments and authorities to safely bring our customers home. Key to this plan was ensuring the passengers were always the first to know of any changes/updates, closely followed by their friends and family," she added.

    Cross-functional collaboration

    In the last six months, the business has had customer bookings affected by changes set against a backdrop of challenges. However, the past few months have been critical for business survival given the current state of the travel industry.

    "During this time, I have taken on broader organisational roles and worked cross-functionally to contribute towards effective customer relations and staff engagement. I have led the development of communication around voyage changes and ensured the implementation by hosting online seminars with the sales and customer service teams to ensure understanding of the communication objective, message consistency and anticipating any difficult FAQs," Primrose explained.

    This has included working closely with the operations team to develop and communicate the new health and safety protocol, which is hugely important for passengers in this time of uncertainty. "I've been a key driver in the initiation of identifying new business operational opportunities; worked with a core cross-functional leadership team to run and present at all staff meetings to reassure staff, enhance engagement and encourage camaraderie during this difficult time; and led all leadership team meetings and ensured completion of action," she said.

    "COVID-19 has been particularly tough on businesses in travel. We’ve had to completely pivot our focus with lean resources and quickly learn new skills to adapt and meet customer needs, some skills completely outside the marketing remit, but important to ensure business success."

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