Ones to Watch

CMO50 2022 One to Watch: Kathryn Illy

  • Name Kathryn Illy
  • Title General manager, consumer marketing
  • Company Destination NSW
  • Commenced role May 2021
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 110 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Travel and tourism
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Brand Post

    Destination NSW GM of consumer marketing, Kathryn Illy, isn’t one who just embraces the status quo. In fact, she prides herself on her brave approach of not settling for ‘that’s how we do things around here’.

    “For me, bravery is about trusting myself to keep pushing and driving change through. I encourage my team to do the same, by backing themselves and to have trust in their expertise,” she says.  

    On such brave call she’s made in her current position is creating a totally new role responsible for all things related to the customer.

    “One of our strategic pillars at DNSW is putting the visitor first, yet there was no one role responsible for owning and managing the customer experience, until now,” she comments. “It is early days, so we are yet to fully realise the benefits of this brave call.”   

    Innovative marketing

    A program of work Illy has also taken risks on that’s paying dividends now is Destination NSW’s new visitor brand, ‘Feel New’. Given the industry is made up of 107,000 businesses, the direct impact a new brand would have was significant, she says.

    “Expectations from the Minister and Industry of the role the new brand would play and the impact it would have to aid the recovery were high. There was significant pressure to get it right,” Illy says.

    A new, long-term brand strategy to meet the Visitor Economy Strategy 2030 targets was developed with three objectives: To build a brand, raise awareness; and position NSW as the premier destination brand in APAC. The campaign was insight led and data backed, involving comprehensive consultation across the industry and qualitative and quantitative research to understand visitor needs, drivers and motivators to travel.

    “We listened and took risks as wanted to connect on a deeper, more personal and emotional level and pull away from ‘traditional’ destination-based marketing,” Illy says. “Based on research, we tapped into the human truth ‘that it’s not what you do in a destination, but how it makes you feel’. This established the ‘Feel New’ brand position.

    Initial campaign results indicate those people who recognised the brand, engaged with the campaign and made a booking, resulted in approximately $120 million in visitor expenditure.

    It was a milestone marketing achievement for Illy. “It represented a golden marketing moment I was privileged to be part of. And more importantly, realising the impact and value this has delivered directly to the industry in new business revenue is even more satisfying,” she says.  

    Business smarts

    Like the rest of Australia’s tourism bodies, Destination NSW has also had its fair share of adapting and pivoting based on the evolving pandemic situation. An example Illy points to over the past 12 months was a recovery campaign over the Christmas and summer period of 2021/22, to help stimulate demand to travel and accelerate the industry’s recovery.

    Potential visitors were considering and intending to book other destinations like Tasmania, Melbourne, Gold Coast and the Great Barrier Reef before NSW and Sydney.The campaign needed to bridge the gap while the brand campaign was not in market and ensure NSW remained top of mind and drive incremental visitation to the state,” she says.

    “We conducted quantitative and qualitative research and coupled with our brand research results, identified consumers were sick and tired of the same old walk around the block, same picnic spot and Netflix series. The human truth was motivators to travel had shifted from helping ‘others’ to helping their ‘self’. Consumers were driven by their own need to recover, rejuvenate, experience something new, and wanted the permission to feel something new again.”

    The paid digital campaign specifically targeted ex-Sydney markets such as ACT, Northern Victoria and South-East Queensland to drive visitation into Sydney and NSW. The proposition, ‘Renew yourself’, encouraged visitors to renew their daily routine through carefully selected experiences that focused on unearthing the unexpected and unknown. This, for example, could be a farm stay experience deep in the mountains.

    Based on the consumer insight, the campaign resonated with each of the target markets, driving visitation into the state and delivering incremental visitor expenditure worth millions to the industry.

    Commercial acumen

    Helping Destination NSW keep the wheels on the road are partnerships. Illy flags her partnerships team as a core function within the consumer marketing division with a key remit to create co-operative campaigns with airlines, accommodation, online/ travel agents and wholesalers to deliver mutually beneficial campaigns for both parties.  

    To deliver incremental visitation for the Visitor Economy, each campaign is assessed in advance to ensure it will deliver impact based on marketing ROI ratios.

    Partners match funding to enable Destination NSW to double the marketing budget, and extend the campaigns reach, channels and potential return. “This allows us to maximise the return on our campaign investment and ensure the NSW Government’s funding is effectively allocated to where we realise the greatest return,” Illy says.

    In a partnership example highlighted in Illy’s CMO50 submission, she shows the benefit of collaboration to drive visitation to the recent Vivid Sydney festival.

    Through all of these efforts, Illy demonstrates her firm belief in both data and gut as a marketer. Which order you bring them in depends on what the starting point is, of course.

    “If I have the data or evidence to begin with, I will always sense check it to make sure it also feels right. If I start with an idea or intuition, I will always ensure it is validated with data and evidence,” Illy says.


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