How personalised marketing is helping Norths Collective build trust, engagement and faster conversion rates

Digital innovation manager shares the marketing technology and CRM journey this hospitality venue has been on

Targeted communications and messaging has been vital to retaining customer trust during the past year and it provides the foundations for growing patronage and engagement back up as hospitality venues return to full capacity.

That’s the view of Norths Collective brand and digital innovation manager, Robert Lopez, who caught up with CMO to talk about the membership-based hospitality group’s CRM and marketing technology investments over the last two years. He also detailed how these have been harnessed to build personalised communications across channels.

Norths has about 60,000 members across its five-strong Sydney venue portfolio, including Norths, The Greens in North Sydney and The Alcott in the Sydney suburb of Lane Cove.  It also owns two gyms within that mix.

As Lopez put it, the group had been “data rich but knowledge poor”, not able to convert data in a useful way to leverage it from a marketing and engagement perspective. Historically, staff would have to tap up to six systems to be able to pull membership and relevant data from across the organisation.

Three years ago, Lopez kicked off the first steps to overhauling Norths digital marketing and CRM tools to create a more comprehensive, single source of truth on its members. In June 2019, the group chose Salesforce, switching on Marketing Cloud, CRM and Service Cloud in August 2020.

“That was the first priority: a 360-degree view of our members,” Lopez said. “Secondly, we wanted to improve our business intelligence and analytics, and we have adopted Einstein Analytics, which is now Tableau analytics for that purpose. That’s plugged into our CRM.

“Thirdly, we wanted to get smarter with our targeted marketing; that was the big piece of the puzzle and where Marketing Cloud came in. We can do this by also building on the power of our CRM data.”

Given the COVID-19 global pandemic, it was clear these technology advancements and data insights were going to be significant as Norths Collective worked to keep members informed on what ongoing restrictions meant for visiting clubs and engaging with various onsite activities, such as concerts, bingo, weekly specials, competitions and more.

As part of the NSW lockdown, Norths closed its doors on 23 March 2020, then reopened 1 June 2020 but on much reduced capacity. And as Lopez pointed out, changes to capacity, what can and can’t be held, spacing and other COVID-19 safe guidelines have continued occurring through until March this year.

“As that happened, we needed to communicate with members to continue to have those trusted relationships,” Lopez said. “Members own their clubs, unlike hotels and pubs. It’s our duty to ensure we are keeping members up to date around everything we do, especially with COVID. We want to ensure that trust is maintained.”

What helped was targeting messaging. For example, through data, Norths pulled out which members had been coming onsite since it first reopened and spending dollars on food and beverage, then presented distinct messaging to that group.

“We also did this across different age demographics, and those who have not been to the club since we reopened but had been attending prior to COVID pandemic,” Lopez said.

“All of our marketing team members were on a learning journey and an exciting one. It was about taking each member on a personalised communications journey with us, telling them the right story through the right channel with the right messaging.”

Another big winner has been the monthly ‘What’s on’ email, which previously displayed the same content across 20 email template blocks. This has now been personalised through dynamic content via Salesforce Marketing Cloud using filtering.  

“That’s something [dynamic content] we grabbed by the horns, and we’re now seeing the benefits,” Lopez said. “Apart from a few generic things, like our weekly competitions, everything else is dynamic. Esports on a Thursday night is targeted to males aged 18-35, while bingo is targeted at women over 65,” Lopez explained. “All of a sudden, members are receiving messaging that’s super relevant.

As a result, average open rates lifted from 24 per cent to 52 per cent, while unsubscribes are at record lows.

While there had been some persona groups used for messaging and offers across the tiered member base relating to their loyalty, and some members targeted for tickets based on attending a previous show, Norths wasn’t personalising communications. The new tools and a more unified data narrative allows Lopez’s team to also target messaging based on transactional data.

Another low-hanging fruit is new members. “These are those people who have to join being in the local area, but now we have this data we can start building relationships with these groups. We were not able to do that before,” Lopez said.

“In 2015 relaunch, we did a lot of market research, and in the last 15 years, the demographic of our local area has changed dramatically, and become more populated by younger families. We know the decision maker is usually the mum… so we started focusing on mum groups or Facebook groups. It was not based on transactional data, it was more of a media / social play.”

“Now we’re looking at data with a more holistic approach.”

With the launch of the NSW Dine and Discover vouchers offering NSW residents $100 worth of credit to spend at hospitality venues across the state, Norths is offering to double the dining vouchers. Again, it’s tailoring communications to members most likely to take up the offer, such as those who purchased a meal in the prior 12 months.

“The power of data is how we’re continuing to build trust as well as these personas and groups to ensure our communications are really targeted,” Lopez said.

Send time optimisation is another feature he saw helping Norths ensure these communications are sent at the preferred time for members.

So far, email and SMS messaging have been targeted. The plan firmly in Lopez’s sights is omnichannel personalisation. The next step in coming weeks is switching on Advertising Studio, which will allow Norths to personalise across digital channels and social as well as search. It’s then planning to roll out Interaction Studio in Q3.

“That’s the exciting piece for me – once that is part of our suite, then the omnichannel approach comes to life,” Lopez said. “Everything becomes personalised, even the website.”  

A further step in this quest is a native app for Norths Collective, which is about to go out to tender. Lopez said it will be built on Heroku to ensure integration across all channels.

The next year will also see Norths looking at customer service and deploying Einstein bots, integrated in all channels, as a way of further elevating member experiences.

Getting company buy-in

While the benefits of marketing and CRM technology investment have become more evident to organisations in recent years, cost and their connection to other systems and processes makes internal buy-in and adoption imperative. For Lopez, the biggest thing in getting executive buy-in was securing the power to do this at right pace needed for this to work, as well as bring stakeholders along the journey.

“We are a progressive organisation… which is a good thing. But there is only so much you can do at once. The big piece for me was bringing stakeholders along the journey from the beginning,” he said. “Because it affects the whole business.”

Salesforce’s Trailhead learning program has been instrumental in achieving this, Lopez said, adding he’s gained about 300 badges through the curriculum so far, with the team earning 1000 badges to date.

It’s also clear personalisation is only as good as the data you can capture. An example Lopez pointed to is sign-up to membership on entry, which is now done via iPads and QR codes.

“So reception needed to be taken on journey as they needed to understand why we were doing this,” Lopez said. “Over a few weeks, people saw the benefits of time saving, not double-handling the data.

“This also ensures the quality of data, improving email rate,” he said. With Norths lacking the right email addresses for 14,000 of its 60,000 members at the start of 2021, it’s embarked on a program to ensure this number falls below 5000. And it’s working, with email capture in the last month seeing this drop by half.

As to team structure, Lopez said he’s still working on the right set-up and looking at recruiting a dedicated CRM role charged of building content that goes out across the group. He’s also brought on an innovation coordinator to this Norths team. The reason is much better results with communications from Norths than other venues, he commented.

Returns on investment

In terms of commercial success, engagement rates are the big ROI for Lopez, indicated through open rates as well as pace of conversions on entertainment and ticket sales.

Lopez highlighted a recent targeted campaign to sell tickets for two upcoming Kate Cebrano concerts in January at the venue’s 500-seat auditorium, which is currently running at 390-seat capacity. Using targeted communications, Norths sold out the first concert in two days and the second in five days. This was significant faster than previously expected and before an advertisement was placed in a newspaper.

“With Ad Studio, we’ll use the power of CRM data to know who active members are, or those who already purchased tickets, creates them as an audience, puts them into Facebook, and we can then suppress or include them in audiences for activities,” Lopez said. “Potentially you’re spending the same money btu getting more benefit from your advertising spend.”

Norths is also looking to get foot traffic onsite back on track. “We want to continue to grow patronage and people onsite – we’re getting back to the new normal but we also want to get back to the old normal,” Lopez added.

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