Tourism Australia, 7-Eleven and Telstra on balancing data-driven engagement with consumer consent

Panel of digital executives share the role of first-party data and personalisation in their customer experience approaches against consumer consent and control of their privacy

From left: Adobe's Suzanne Steele, Tourism Australia's Paul Bailey, Telstra's Jenni Barnett, 7-Eleven's Stephen Eyears, Adobe's Duncan Egan
From left: Adobe's Suzanne Steele, Tourism Australia's Paul Bailey, Telstra's Jenni Barnett, 7-Eleven's Stephen Eyears, Adobe's Duncan Egan


Growing first-party data sophistication, a focus on customer consent and personalisation driven by empathy rather than regulatory requirement are just some of the ways Australian brands are attempting to navigate the data-driven marketing landscape.

Speaking on an A/NZ customer panel at this year’s Adobe Summit, digital and strategy executives from Tourism Australia, 7-Eleven and Telstra shared how they’re increasingly working to both digitise and personalise the way their organisations engage with customers as well as navigate the line between growing expectations of personalisation and active consumer consent and privacy.

At Tourism Australia, the impending removal of cookies has led the organisation to invest in first-party identifiers as well as a unified ID for the tourism industry that can be leveraged by states, territories and partners. The landmark global and local work is being orchestrated in partnership with Adobe, Digitas and UM.

Tourism Australia GM strategy and transformation, Paul Bailey, said the key is to balance data sophistication as a business with consumer controls and transparency. He also noted the varying levels of control and regulation around using data across geographies such as Europe versus the US, which the tourism bureau is operating in.

“This will allow us to build insights as an industry on who customers are and their intent, while at same time allow customers an easier way of navigating data privacy and giving them back the control,” Bailey explained. “Studies we have done in Europe when building this platform show the more control and transparent we make the data world for them, the better brand association we have with customers.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we are building for customer at the heart, and business needs second. As long as you’re aligning to good ethics and your team is able to fail fast, you can go along quite nicely.”

Telstra’s first-party data strategy has accelerated over the last 18 months as the world moved to digital channels for commerce, engagement and support, said Telstra executive director of digital, Jenni Barnett. She noted Telstra had 4.4 million active users on its mobile app and 6.5 million overall online.

“Our digital customers are behind the login and authenticated, so we know a lot about them in lots of ways, and we take that very seriously,” Barnett said. “Our strategy is about how to collect data, make it consumable, how we stitch it across channels and assets, how we use all the richness of customer information across the company in terms of offline and online data, then how do we utilise that to experiences contextual and in real time – it gives you an idea of where we’re trying to take our digital experiences.

“It’s how you make that contextual for customers without being over the top.”  

As an example, Barnett said when it recently lnched the 5G-enabled Apple iPhone 12, Telstra suppressed communications to customers outside 5G coverage areas.

“It was irrelevant for customers at that point in time,” sheau said. “Or, if we know customers have a complaint in progress, we aren’t going to offer them another product. How we use all those data insight, sentiment analysis and AI powering all of that to create those next-best experiences for customers is where we are headed.”

In outlining how 7-Eleven is making its shift to be a digitally enabled organisation, GM strategy and technology, Stephen Eyears, also highlighted the importance of first-party data to its strategy. Over the past year, 7-Eleven has accelerated its digital and technology investments to support services such as pay and go, contactless payments, last mile, ecommerce and click-and-collect.

The first part of the convenience retailer’s approach has been getting capability in place and “start doing what other well-practiced digital retailers are doing in this space”, Eyears said.

“Horizon two is very interesting… if you think about our customers, no one sits around planning out their convenience needs or when they might pop into a 7-Eleven. Customers are on the go and it’s spontaneous,” he said. “If they want it, they want it now and with our product suite, including fuel, they’re consuming it straight away, if not within an hour. For me, the ability to get to near or real-time understanding of customer needs is super fascinating from a customer and business benefit perspective.”

Consent as the first step

Through all these data projects, panellists highlighted the criticality of keeping consumer content at the top of the agenda and as a practice that goes well beyond regulation. All agreed the industry is still navigating the potential issues of personalisation and data utilisation with consumer needs and privacy concerns and that right versus wrong answers remained elusive.

Nevertheless, for Eyears, the first piece is making sure you ask for permission to use a consumer’s data.

“Another test we use internally is asking: Are we being tricky here? That’s a red flag for us – and if we think we are, then we back off,” he said. “Once you start looking at regulation, the whole thing has failed – you need to be beyond that.”

Barnett and Bailey agreed regulation was table stakes and highlighted the need to be both empathetic and contextual in using customer data. As cookies disappear from the Internet, Barnett saw consent as something lots of companies have to look more closely at.

“Digitally, we haven’t been good at transparency,” Bailey continued. “As marketers we adapted – we put up banners to say we track you, but we never explained cookies or tracking you. We left that to browser, Internet supplier or PC vendor. Consumers now have understanding that data is theirs, privacy they want to keep, and want control.

“We need to change the way we put that in front of them to allow them to choose the personalisation levels they want. That makes our jobs easier and makes our jobs as marketers to be more creative, contextual and relevant. It’s the only approach we can take.

“Yes, it’s been driven by regulation but that’s just a guardrail. It’s about empathy for customer – be better at what we do. We need to lean into the brands as marketers… if we work for customer, we won’t fail too much.”

How personalisation can be used across the full customer funnel was also raised. A key area of focus for Telstra is bringing data-driven personalisation into the way its services customers, using multiple data sources to provide the most efficient and tailored service and support experience, Barnett said.

“For example, if your bill is due, we will send you a reminder that it’s due. It’s personalising to a customer cohort,” she said. “If there’s an outage in your area, why don’t we proactively send you a note to let you know? That’s very contextual and meaningful and provides a better customer servicing experience. Customers are very receptive to that.”

And even with growing airtime around consumer privacy and admitted shortfalls with respect to retargeted advertising, Barnett said personalisation using behavioural and offline data has seen Telstra record up to five times incremental conversion rates.

“Customers actually interesting – we are seeing those outcomes,” she added. “We’re not seeing feedback where that level of personalisation is an issue, albeit it’s occurring behind the login.”  

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