10 steps Tourism Australia’s CMO has taken to remain adaptable in the face of uncertainty

Chief marketing officer, Susan Coghill, goes in-depth on the lessons of 2020, her marketing strategy in 2021 and the keys to retaining brand momentum

Step 6: Give partners permission to think differently

With the Northern Beaches outbreak knocking consumer confidence once more, Tourism Australian turned to its media partners for inspiration on the ‘Travel takeover week’, which commented in the first week of February. Working with media agency, UM, 25 media outlets were put into four peer groups to come up with creative encouraging consumers to think about domestic travel in a new way.

“We didn’t have any more creative assets than we had previously produced, so we said to these partners: If we turn the reins over to you guys and give you some creative licence, what can you do?” Coghill says.

“They came back a week later, each with their own creative iteration of holiday here this year messaging, in their own styles and format. We then had a week of unmissable travel messaging across the country to get people to start thinking again.”

Consumer research showed these efforts helped change consumer sentiment around domestic travel and increased intention to travel (0-6 months) by 5 percentage points.

Step 7: Embrace innovative technology

Meanwhile on the international front, Tourism Australia partnered with video company, Infinity Squared and creative communications agency, Connecting Plots, on an innovative top-of-funnel campaign. Debuting in September, the 'Australia in 8D   launched in Australia first then rolled out globally from October with organic and paid media. It has now run in US and Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy, China and Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.

Example of imagery used in the Australia in 8D campaignCredit: Tourism Australia
Example of imagery used in the Australia in 8D campaign

The campaign tapped into the agency’s existing content library and partnerships with the Australian film community and applied 8D audio technology to create an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) experience.  

Coghill says the came from the cultural insight around the growing AMSR trend and using ambisonic devices to create themed content based on the beautiful colours of the country. Each colour represented an emotion and mood, such as blue for joy, black for inspiration and red for escape.

“It was a piece of wonderful, top-of-funnel, dreaming content to keep the world interested and engaged in Australia. Also it showcased our nature – we had come off the terrible year of bushfires, so it was a chance to showcase our country,” Coghill says. “We couldn’t go out and shoot, so we needed to use existing assets. That meant we had to be clever about pulling together existing content in a way that’s different than anyone else was doing, to drive cut-through and engagement.”  

The 1 to 2-minute-long pieces of content chalked up more than 200 million views globally, including 74 million complete views, and a 173 per cent increase in site traffic. In China, the campaign won a content marketing award from popular travel site, MaFengWo. The content was also used at trade events and proved important in keeping both trade and consumers engaged. Across geographies, black was the most popular colour in Germany and Hong Kong; red was most popular in Italy and India; magenta was most popular in NZ, China and UK; and white was most popular in France.  

The success of the ASMR campaign will see it form part of a brief to come up with the next iteration of international activity, Coghill says.  

“These initiatives from the past year, such as the ASMR campaign, show there are different ways to tell our story that are not only engaging, but tell a different kind of stories,” she says. “It shows sometimes creativity or the things most powerful can be sneaker projects that come from the side.”

Read more: ASMR: Flash in the marketing pan, or something more?

Step 8: Anticipate the potential challenges

Pivoting aside, Coghill says her team has entered 2021 with better skills in anticipating and planning around potential challenges.

“We do much greater scenario planning around campaigns, our media and the actual production itself so we’re ready to go,” she says. “A good example of this is our New Zealand campaign. We started planning that back when there were rumours about the travel bubble last October. But we continued to work on it, refine and improve it as we went. Once we got the go-ahead on borders reopening, a couple of minor tweaks so us in market in New Zealand within 48 hours.”

Yet Coghill is the first to agree things continue to be tough for local and international teams as uncertainty around travel continues.

“What we do know is that the leadtime on longhaul travel, particularly to places like Australia, and on awareness through to booking can be quite long. We need to keep feeding the brand and watering the tree so when borders to open, we can pull the low-hanging fruit and get as many people in as we can,” she says.  

“We are lucky in my team and my extended agency partner teams in that they all have such passion for tourism and the industry. It feels like a personal stake in helping the industry recover. If I’m honest about last year, I think we got through that with a lot of passion, goodwill and respect between my team and agency teams, and a lot of adrenaline.”

Related: Check out our whitepaper on how brands like Tourism Australia are learning from today to reinvent marketing tomorrow

Step 9: Build structure to find adaptability

One year on, Coghill says she’s having to step back and do a lot more work on structure and approach.

“We may have created a domestic team, but we haven’t worked at this pace, with this scrutiny and the number of stakeholders in a really long time. We’re now looking at if we have the right operations, processes and systems, what are the right hand-offs, how do we remove duplication, and so on. We’re investing a lot more in that right now which we didn’t have time for last year when we ran at the problem,” she says.  

“We are also trying to be better at how we stagger projects with agency partners, and how we share the load across our agency village so we don’t burn out.”

Behind the scenes, Coghill is working on the strategy for Australia’s grand reopening and brand 3.0.

“It will be very much grounded in there’s nothing like Australia, which is a platform we built 12 years ago and invested $1b+ into that brand. It’ll be imbuing that with more meaning and relevance in a post-COVID world,” Coghill says.

Step 10: Build data insight for the future

And as Tourism Australia gears up for whatever comes next, Coghill says understanding and responding what consumers know and love about Australia while representing the breadth of modern Australian experiences is the balancing act. To help, the agency is investing in consumer research to better understand current perceptions.

“We are doing some brand codes research as well to understand those long-held beliefs and symbols around Australia to understand how we can also stretch them. We wouldn’t do these things in a typical year; they are big bodies of research,” she says.  

Other data-led priorities include work around the funnel for every market, understanding what has driven conversion historically and how this has varied between big campaign launches internationally, plus understanding Australia’s closest and biggest competitors.

Gauging success across the funnel is also in the spotlight this year. Coghill says Tourism Australia is great at upper funnel awareness and pointing the world towards Australia.

“We have also been very good at working with partners at the bottom of the funnel on conversion, such as with our airline or distribution partners. But we have been less consistent in the mid-funnel, helping the world understand and know Australia a bit better,” Coghill says.

In response, the team has been building relevant content on Australia.com, created a roadtrip hub, refreshed city content and is spending more money in distributing content domestically and internationally.

“That is an area we are going to focus on with our state partners, to make sure we are creating platforms for them so they can tell a richer, deeper story about Australia so people in-market can plan their trips a bit better,” Coghill adds.

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here. 

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page.


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