CMO50 2022 #11: Susan Coghill

  • Name Susan Coghill
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Tourism Australia
  • Commenced role May 2019
  • Reporting Line Managing director
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 61 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Travel and tourism
  • 2021 ranking 14
  • Related

    Brand Post

    When it comes to how modern marketers lead, Tourism Australia’s Susan Coghill is a big believer in gut, then data, then gut.

    “Start with a well-informed hypothesis - often based on experience - then use good data to validate or evolve that hypothesis,” she advises. “But ultimately, your gut will help you process the data and make the best decision. Data alone doesn’t hold the answers, it’s the interpretation of data combined with great instincts that drives strong decision making.”

    The approach is firmly entrenched in the way Coghill has led the marketing team at Tourism Australia since taking up the reins in 2019, and throughout the tumultuous times of the pandemic. As Coghill puts it, the last two years have been catastrophic for tourism in Australia.

    “From the bushfires to the pandemic to La Niña weather events, it’s been one crisis after another,” she says.

    And yet Coghill is not letting these crises define her tenure as CMO at Tourism Australia. Rather, she used her 2022 CMO50 submission to demonstrate how she and her team have forged a path towards a stronger, more competitive approach to destination marketing. This has meant challenging the organisation to be more strategic and evidence-based in all aspects of business, she says.

    “Underpinning this was a strong focus on mobilising my team and the tourism industry to maximise opportunities to enhance Australia’s competitiveness as destinations globally look to survive the pandemic and rebuild their visitor economies,” Coghill says. “This is a story about playing to win.”

    Innovative marketing

    Creating a legacy in the domestic tourism market is one such win. This year, TA ran the last activity of its successful ‘Holiday Here This Year’ (HHTY) domestic campaign. Developed to support tourism’s recovery from the 2019-20 bushfires and optimised through the Covid-19 pandemic, the campaign was about encouraging Australians to travel in their own backyard the same way they do when overseas – by going further, staying longer, doing more and spending more, Coghill says.

    Neuroscience-based marketing research informed the campaign to ensure popular appeal, while creative featured the much-loved Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster- Blake. It scored an average of 5.1 stars in system research for long-term market share growth potential, versus a global average of 3.2 stars in the tourism and travel category. HHTY was also shortlisted three times at the 2021 Australian Effies and won a Bronze – the only travel or tourism brand to win an Effie in the past two years.

    TA demonstrated it drove $1.7 billion in additional revenue for the multi-billion-dollar sector over the two years, increasing hotel occupancy rates by 24 per cent and flight searches to cities by 31 per cent. The work additionally helped raised consideration for a domestic holiday to 90 per cent and encouraged 17 per cent of Australians to take a trip they otherwise wouldn’t have.

    “As we return our focus to driving international visitation, we leave the domestic market primed for growth,” Coghill comments. “Australia is in an enviable position of having a pipeline of domestic travel driven by a renewed desire to see more of the country and an increased understanding of the value of an Aussie holiday.”

    At time of submission, quarterly National Visitor Survey data produced by Tourism Research Australia showed overnight expenditure above 2019 levels.

    Business smarts

    This kind of work isn’t done in isolation, and Coghill points out it “takes a village to sell a country”.

    “Successfully marketing a destination is more complex than it may look from the outside. It truly takes a village to increase market share, drive visitation and grow expenditure,” she says. “My role is not only to lead high-performing teams to fill the funnel with high-yielding travellers, but also influence the wider tourism industry to elevate the way they market to the world. And with a new global brand campaign in development and about to launch, never has alignment been more important.”

    Greater strategic rigour and more effective marketing has to therefore go beyond the four walls of TA. “Having the foresight to share our data, learnings and experts with our industry partners will ensure they are right behind us when we go out to the world and say g’day,” Coghill continues.

    Examples of work she’s been invested in include ‘Future of demand’ research and PowerBI tools to help operators develop new experiences, plus the ‘National Experience Content Initiative’, through which TA assists 1500 tourism businesses from 57 regions across Australia better showcase their experiences.

    Sharing best-in-class thinking about what drives growth in the tourism category is another of Coghill’s mantras. “Our research and data-lead manifesto on the ‘10 Principles of Destination Marketing’ informs how our state and industry partners plan their marketing,” she says.

    Data-driven maturity

    As to how TA is harnessing data-led customer insights, Coghill points to one “clever analysis” which helped the team better understand the role of its consumer website, Australia. com, in the customer journey.

    “This has allowed us to focus our activity, better meet customer needs and reprioritise our digital investment,” she says.

    As a part of the effectiveness review, the team compared organic traffic with visitor arrivals on The team identified markets with low knowledge of what Australia offers are more likely to have higher organic traffic. A strong inverse relationship with awareness became apparent. A review of Google search then showed TA’s share of search has a strong relationship with both consideration and market share.

    “ supports consideration – it’s more likely to be used by people who know less about Australian holiday experiences and are forming their consideration set,” Coghill says. “However, Google search [flights and hotels] supports consumers at a lower point in the funnel; it supports the ‘explore’ phase.

    “Given two-thirds of all organic international traffic is from low awareness markets, and four out of five of our ‘grow’ markets, we now are refining our strategy and onsite experience to better meet the needs of our high-yielding travellers.”

    To do this, TA is broadening its SEO approach and weighting content towards strengthening associations between Australia and key destination drivers.

    “Rather than trying to make our consumer website solve for all parts of the customer journey, we are now focusing on that upper funnel, consideration stage to have greatest impact. This allows us to redeploy budget and resources to other parts of the digital ecosystem identified through our customer journey research for greater impact and outcomes for the industry,” Coghill adds.

    Customer-led thinking

    Optimising media spend is TA’s biggest and most important investment. To that end, TA recently refreshed its consumer journey research across all markets to understand if and how media consumption habits changed through the pandemic and whether the media approach needs recalibrating.

    “On reviewing the results of the research, I realised the claimed media usage and influence data from consumers was far from what we know about media impact. Nor was it in line with the information we were seeing coming from the growing body of research on the weight of attention across different media channels,” Coghill says.

    She promptly sent the team and agency, UM, back to the drawing board. “I pushed them to go beyond claimed findings of usage and examine the evidence-based influence of attention in destination decision making,” Coghill continues.

    “As we ‘build back better’ into the competitive international travel marketplace we wanted to treat attention as a commodity which we could consistently measure, grade, price and trade in our media investments.”

    Off the back of this, UM has created ‘TACPM’10, a methodology to quantify the relative cost of media attention and channel influence in destination decision making. The process re-gears tools from raw exposure reach to attentive reach. Alongside this, TA has implemented a pioneering measurement framework in conjunction with Amplified Intelligence and Professor Karen Nelson-Field to measure evidence-based outcomes of its attentive ambition.

    “This approach saw marked differences in our investment allocation for our upcoming brand relaunch,” Coghill says.

    Commercial acumen

    Building mental availability for Australia is the ultimate goal and reason for TA’s existence.  Coghill’s tools are fame, creativity and innovative use of media.

    “At a time when many of our tourism partners have had less ability to fly the flag overseas, we stayed active and doubled down on creative marketing,” she says.

    An example in January is ‘Tune into Aus,’ a music video with Australian music duo, Flight Facilities, blending imagery, music and 8D audio to inspire travellers to plan their next holiday once borders open. As of August, it had been watched 28 million times.

    “When international borders reopened, we were live within days, inviting the world to ‘Come and Say G’day’ through high profile activity such as Times Square and Piccadilly Circus, and also ran its ‘Don’t Go Small, Go Australia’ TVC in the Super Bowl broadcast in LA,” Coghill says.

    Searches to Australia from the US are now at 88 per cent, up 30pp+ from 2019, with airlines looking to be near 2019 capacity by December.

    And not to miss a tactical opportunity, when the date of the final episode of Neighbours was to be aired in the UK, TA capitalised on a shared cultural moment by booking a spot and mashing its ‘Don’t Go Small, Go Australia’ campaign with characters and footage from Ramsay Street, earning an EAV of $1.2m.

    “As we endeavour to rebuild and aim for pre-pandemic growth, the most important thing we can do as TA is ensure there is awareness of what Australia has to offer and create demand for our experiences,” Coghill says. “If we create the mental availability, we have a strong set of partners and airlines ready to provide physical availability, to convert that demand into bookings, arrivals and spend. Our operators need it. Our industry needs it. Our economy needs it.”

    Leadership impact

    With a team operating under extreme circumstances and pressure since the 2019-20 summer bushfires, burnout and being resource strapped has been ever present at TA.

    “My role as a leader has never been more crucial in driving engagement and retaining staff as we work towards the most significant and innovative global campaign we have ever created,” Coghill says. “While our campaigns are often the most tangible manifestations of how dedicated and high performing my team is, behind the work, I have made significant structural and operational changes to ensure my team is equipped to better collaborate and manage the day-to-day.”

    Among these changes are integrating martech and business events teams into marketing; expanding the studio to provide near round-the-clock support to teams globally during peak periods; and new project management and workflow tools. Skills training and wellbeing programs have equally been in the spotlight.

    “If I had to put my finger on the one thing that I believe makes a difference and has helped me get the most out of an already amazing team, is that I always try to promote from within. I’m privileged there is no shortage of talented people who want to work on brand Australia, however I believe in recognising and rewarding hard work and commitment,” Coghill says. She notes three of the four members of her marketing leadership team were internal promotions.

    In all, TA has seen 71 per cent engagement rates and found 100 per cent of the team are proud to work for the tourism body. And nine in 10 agree their manager ‘genuinely cares about my wellbeing’.

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