Tapping into social experience: Tourism Australia

In our new interview series with CMOs of destination brands, Tourism Australia's executive general manager of marketing, Nick Baker, talks to CMO about why social engagement is crucial in being a better storyteller

Monitoring brand activity across social media channels, then assigning a sentiment, engagement and ROI value to it, is a key challenge for any marketer. So you can imagine how complicated it gets when the ‘brand’ you represent is Australia.

Tourism Australia executive general manager of marketing, Nick Baker, faces this quandary every day. “There are an awful lot of conversations going on around Australia and you have to be very picky,” he told CMO.

Baker’s marketing team has staff dedicated to measuring what is happening socially around sentiment towards Australia as a result of its latest ‘best jobs in the world’ project. The program is based on finding candidates for six highly attractive and well-paid Australian tourism positions, ranging from ‘chief funster’ to ‘taste master’.

“Part of the results are about how people are connecting about us, others are about how people [as a result of the program] are feeling about Australia, and how much more motivated they would be now to take an Australian working holiday,” Baker said. “It’s a big thing.”

Social relevance is at the heart these days at Tourism Australia, a statutory, government funded authority providing marketing, research, tools and resources that promote Australia domestically and to the world. Today, the group operates in 22 markets and 17 languages worldwide.

Given its international scope, it is fitting Tourism Australia’s marketing chief is British by birth and chose to make Australia his home. Baker commenced his career in hotel operations in the UK before moving into sales and marketing roles. After a stint in Hong Kong, he was given the opportunity to come to Australia and took up a position with luxury and eco-friendly resort operator, Voyages Hotels and Resorts, owner of Ayers Rock Resort, Heron Island and Voyages Cradle Mountain Lodge among others.

Baker joined Tourism Australia five-and-a-half years ago and is responsible for research and insights, domestic and global marketing, digital, social and PR. He pointed out one of the distinctions between destination marketing and other sectors is the absence of physical products or services, and a tally of what is sold at the end of the week.

“I don’t have targets from the previous year and the P&L is structured differently because there is no ‘P’,” Baker said. “There is money coming in and you are spending it, but it doesn’t equate to revenue in the end, outside of partner revenue. It is very different in that respect.

“The success metrics, which are around arrivals, spend and engagement, are also different. And Tourism Australia arguably has a far greater stakeholder – essentially there are 23 million people who are invested in what we do as an organisation.”

Despite these distinct challenges, Baker claims to have one of the best jobs in the business. “Australia is an extraordinary place and to be able to promote that is a fantastic and exciting challenge,” he said. “You need your eyes fully open and it’s hands-on.”

Socially savvy

One of the cornerstones of Tourism Australia’s success in recent years has been social media engagement. The group was recognised by BRW as one of the top 10 socially active brands in Australia last year and has more than 4.1 million Facebook fans, 800,000 Google+ advocates, and sees over 1000 photos posted to Instagram and Facebook every day.

Social combined with digital activity takes up 40 per cent of Baker’s team’s time and continues to rise.

“Holidays are by their nature social - they are among the most important moments and memories of our lives, and when we reconnect with friends and family,” he said. “It’s a highly emotional thing and one where social media really plays a part.

“But I would argue there’s no brand out there now that doesn’t require a social strategy in their engagement with consumers, even those in B2B. Understanding the consumer journey and how they think has never been more important.”

Among Tourism Australia’s biggest social successes is the above-mentioned ‘best jobs in the world’ program. Baker said 612,000 applicants applied from 196 countries, who were initially reduced down to a list of 150. Eighteen were selected to come to Australia and participate in the final round, with the winners revealed on 21 June. Managing the video applications was such a large task that Tourism Australia had to adopt a ZenDesk customer service management platform to cope.

“The campaign was done almost exclusively below-the-line and in the social media world, and has attracted significant media attention,” Baker explained. “It’s always far more important to have people tell their story about you as a brand, than you tell them.”

Tourism Australia also used social activation and advocacy to launch its current campaign, ‘there’s nothing like Australia’, by asking Australians to nominate why this country is a unique destination. Baker said 30,000 people sent in photographs with an accompanying 25 words, helping launch the campaign to the world.

“What we’re focusing on is content and conversations,” he said. “Ultimately our job is as a storyteller and to create the right platform for other people to tell their stories. The power of social advocacy is what we are trying to drive.

“We don’t have enough money to have above-the-line campaigns in all markets we operate in. Social becomes far more important as we increasingly personalise messaging. In fact mobilised, personalise and socialise is a mantra we have across all the projects we do now.”

The next step is looking beyond user generated content to user generated innovation, and how this can help extend and create programs Tourism Australia undertakes, Baker said. China’s leading social platform, Weibo, as another strategic area of focus.

“The blurring of the line between social and what was traditionally called advocacy is interesting,” Baker commented. “Digital and traditional marketing methods were first separate, then digital spread into everything. Now social is doing the same thing. The role of socially amplified advocacy is one of our cornerstones now.”

The ROI question

As more resources are applied to managing social engagement and its important grows, so too does the ROI question. “The direct response and engagement metrics are becoming stronger, and the requirement to understand what happens and therefore what consumers do next, along with their role in conversion and the purchase cycle, becomes really important,” Baker continued.

“What we have done is identify two primary areas for our job: The dreaming and planning phase at the very beginning; then the sharing one at the end. Metrics about how to do that, and what people do after they engaged with us, is really important and that’s where we’re putting a lot of focus.”

Technology is a contributor in this push to better quantify and understand how consumers engage with brands through social media and digital channels, and Tourism Australia is investing both in improving the social capabilities of its information portal,, as well as how it curates and syndicates content.

Baker also stressed the need for skilful resources. “Hire slowly, get the right people, look after them, give them responsibility and autonomy and the tools they need to do the job, and be the leaders doing the job they do,” he advised.

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Being the storyteller

Despite the pressures of today’s two-way brand engagement culture, Baker is optimistic about the opportunities presented to marketers today. Big data and using internal and external information sources to better understand consumers is one area he is particularly excited about, and Tourism Australia has already initiated several projects using big data for domestic marketing.

“People don’t just make a decision on holiday based on whether they go to Canada or Australia, it’s on whether they should get the bathroom redone, or a new car,” Baker pointed out. “There are a lot more places to collect data from that have relevance to the purchase cycle. It’s not a linear process.”

Mobile is another emerging area of focus and while the group has launched mobile versions of its website portal and run specific activities in highly mobile territories such as South Korea and Japan, it is still in the experimental stage. Given the visual nature of marketing a brand like Australia, tablets arguably present the best opportunity, Baker said.

“There are so many opportunities and channels out there, it’s one of the most exciting times to be a marketer,” he added. “It’s also one of the easiest times to get led down rabbit holes by people’s desires. The old adage that no one ever got hired for making a television commercial is gone. It’s about what you develop from here.”

Whatever the channel, Tourism Australia’s focus remains on allowing consumers to share their experiences about what makes Australia great. “Technology is going to change, but the need to tell a story will never change and the need for content will always be there,” Baker said. “It’s our job as marketers to find the right platforms to tell these stories.”

How do be a great CMO: Baker’s key tips

Like most of his CMO peers, Baker believes balance is vital in his job as a modern marketer, along with strong prioritisation skills. “Throw fewer pebbles and create bigger waves,” he recommended.

“You need to do fewer things well and bigger, and make sure they’re integrated.”

Another must for CMOs is an ability to deal with the complexity of the market place, a task which requires rigorous attention to the consumer’s path to purchase. Baker also stressed the CMO’s role in inspiring organisations around ideas. “You are at the forefront of idea generation and innovation and how you inspire organisations and lead your team through that is a critical ability to be able to succeed or not,” he claimed. “Too many good ideas don’t get the right backing and being able to champion those and push them through is very important.

“Again, it’s about understanding and learning. For modern CMOs, learning is a vital part of what they have to continue to do.”

Getting the right backing from the executive team and CEO has made it much easier for Baker at Tourism Australia and he emphasised marketing’s role in connecting customers. “Marketing needs to be embedded, whether it be operations, innovation or any development cycles of products,” he said.

“Without that, and a board and executive team that understands the importance of the marketing, it’s a very difficult and lonely job.

“And ultimately, the most important thing as a CMO is keeping your eye on conversion. As you can imagine, quite a lot of people in Australia have quite a lot of views, so you’ve got to keep a strong focus.”

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