CFO World

CMO interview: Building the Australian brand story

Tourism Australia's marketing leader reveals her new content and data reality
Lisa Ronson

Lisa Ronson

Tourism Australia’s chief marketer, Lisa Ronson, believes CMOs require three key attributes: Customer centricity, commercial acumen, and great leadership.

“We only do extraordinary things when we have extraordinary people around us,” she tells CMO. “It’s the place where it starts and ends with me – surround yourself with really talented people. And it’s working cross-functionally that will ultimately deliver on that; no team can do it on their own.”

Ronson arguably has one of the best marketing jobs in the business. She has spent the last 12 months at the helm of marketing for Tourism Australia (TA), a promotional body focused on showcasing Australian experiences to visitors from all over the globe.

Having taken over from another iconic CMO, Nick Baker, after his seven-year run, Ronson says her first priority was winning over the team. “From there, I thought through what the challenges are for the business, what’s the campaign construct and the priorities for the year ahead, then how do I resource the team and skill up to make sure we can deliver on those for the next year to three years,” she says.

In July, Ronson redivided her team into three units: Global consumer marketing, global media and PR, and digital transformation. As part of the switch, TA’s chief financial officer, John Mackenney, became the organisation’s first GM of digital transformation.

“Digital transformation and user experience has been an absolute focus of mine,” Ronson comments. “You can always be better, looking at what the customer is doing and what they need. We have so much analytics now to determine that, so it’s how do we use those insights to improve the customer experience out of sight and continue to surprise and delight.

“The other piece was looking at the consumer. They’re changing so much on a day-to-day basis in terms of how they consume media. We’re constantly evolving on mobile and tablets, so I wanted to look at the media landscape and how we as a global organisation could leverage deeper, fewer partnerships.”

At time of press, TA was in the final stages of a media tender, and Ronson says it’s looking at how media spend can be better targeted through data and technology.

Alongside the restructure, Tourism Australia’s marketing teams are exploring more agile ways of working. It’s a cultural shift led by CIO, David Rumsey, and comes off the back of a large transformational program which has seen TA roll out Adobe’s Marketing Cloud stack, firstly to its Restaurant Australia Web portal 12 months ago, then to its core website, as well as add new campaign functionality and analytics. Most recently, Agile principles came into play on a project around TA’s Aussie specialists training program.

“What was absolutely integral to that was the team – marketing working with IT, and the whole organisation around Agile, standup meetings and closer communication,” Ronson says. “We’re looking at taking learnings from that project and applying them in other parts of our business.”

Ronson works closely with Rumsey on a day-to-day basis, something she admits hasn’t always been the case for marketers. “That’s very healthy and it’s very transparent, as you’re getting the information and analytics to optimise and continue to improve the customer experience,” she says. “This is particularly the case in our category, where people are hungry for information and word of mouth and want those recommendations.”

Brand simplification

Ronson’s other priority has been to simplify TA’s brand architecture and make it more customer oriented. “What I found was the team couldn’t tell me what our vision and purpose was – not because they didn’t know it, it said what we did, but it wasn’t simple enough or in the language of the customer,” she says.

TA’s vision is to make Australia the most desirable and memorable destination on earth, Ronson says. “Desirable, meaning they want to come here and enjoy a great exploration of our experiences, and memorable, in that they’ve been and are advocates telling their friends about it,” she says. “Our purpose is to invite people to experience the Australian way of life.”

Ronson worked closely with human resources on TA’s values and how these fit with its brand architecture so there’s a consistent thread through the business.

“People need to understand, live and breathe the brand,” she says. “If staff know the vision, and if what they do is contributing to that vision, it gives them greater confidence in decision making and just as importantly, what to do as what not to do. We need to do fewer, bigger initiatives so they really have an impact on attitudes and behaviour of the customer ultimately.”

Up next: How diversity of experience plays into the hands of marketing leaders

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Diversity of experience

Bringing the consumer into the heart of brand value is something Ronson has been doing throughout her career. She started her professional life at Foster’s Brewing Group working across a great range of consumer brands.

Ronson next went to VISA International as a marketing manager, working her way up to marketing director A/NZ. From there, she joined Telstra as head of marketing services, before moving to David Jones to help build the financial services business.

Her most recent role was at Westpac as head of marketing services for three years. “It was a great time to be in the organisation, with fantastic leadership under Gail Kelly then Bryan Hartzer, who were both very inspirational people,” she says.

Ronson agrees the role of marketing leadership has changed dramatically. “I started out in a very customer- and trade-centric business, and the brewers were possibly ahead of their time, as they understood how to determine the target audience, develop products and communications that appeal to that target audience,” she claims. “They dug very deep into the insights around what motivated a customer.

“There always has to be a level of discipline and return on investment, but you have to have the customer at the heart of everything you do. This hasn’t always been the case in organisations. Otherwise, you’re putting in a bunch of negative measures, and they might work in the short term, but long term customers get sick of it.”

Helping to achieve this is a good working relationship with the CFO, something Ronson puts down to being able to demonstrate the return on marketing investment.

“That value differs by organisation, and back in some of the companies I worked for, marketing wasn’t probably valued to the extent it is today,” she says. “It takes both strong marketing leaders and CEOs to be customer centric and realise that has to be the core of decision making and how you put programs in market.”

Digitisation of marketing

Ronson points out the customer decision-making funnel has also fundamentally changed in the face of digitisation. Of course, one thing that has remained the same is the power of word of mouth – it’s just more digital.

“Social is so important to everything we do here, because it is a very trusted source of information. Increasingly, that’s being done on mobiles, tablets or multiple devices,” Ronson says.

What TA is trying to do is integrate a lot of its digital channels to tell a cohesive story. A key way is by pulling social, user-generated and industry-generated content through to its and digital properties, to sit alongside content TA produces, such as itineraries, visa information and lists of top things to do in different Australian locations.

With 1500 pieces of content on Australia being produced per day, user-generated content is a major component of how consumers perceive the country and experiences on offer, she continues. In one recent example, a video produced featuring ‘Koala Harry’ by one employee at Symbio Wildlife Park chalked up 43 million in terms of reach and 12.4 million views in less than a week.

“It’s a great mix of own to user generated and everything inbetween and creates that link of authenticity,” Ronson says. “That’s where our Livefyre website integration with user-generated content is fantastic, because we’re constantly evolving the site, putting beautiful images and video online that users and the industry are taking, as well as our own content.”

Targeting perceptions

TA’s approach to campaigns today is again tied to presenting what the country has on offer in a way that gets that customer to change their attitudes and perceptions, Ronson says. To do this, it’s focusing on two main areas of experience: Food and wine; and aquatic and coastal.

In January, TA launched a new aquatic and coastal campaign within its ‘There’s nothing like Australia’ program, and in April, it relaunched its property, taking the aquatic and coastal message to the Chinese market for the first time.

“You have to have very integrated programs to make sure you’ve got to the consumer in an engaging way that is going to change their attitudes and behaviour,” Ronson says. “It’s not dumping one campaign to move on to the next, it’s looking at what’s the next part of the story and conversation to pursue.”

On top of this, TA has undertaken research through its consumer demand project in recent years to better understand which consumers are the most likely to travel the distance to Australia, like and advocate the experience on offer, and provide the best yield in terms of economic benefit.

“Our objective is a spend target unashamedly – that’s what drives the economy and industry, and will get us to the 2020 vision, which is a spend target,” Ronson says. “There isn’t any point targeting a customer that doesn’t have a passport, hoping they’re going to be so inspired to go out and get one, then travel long distances. That’s the extreme example, but it’s one of the things we’ve been focused on, working closely with our research agencies.”

The wealth of data derived from what consumers are engaging with on social helps these efforts, Ronson says. “We know we can triangulate the research we get with the insights from social and what the industry is telling us as well,” she says.

“What’s really come to light in the last few years is that demographics only get you so far. We can be exactly the same age, living in the same street, and have completely different attitudes to the same things. With the data and ways we can now target consumers, it’s increasingly moving towards attitudinal and behavioural, as that’s the best indicator of what someone will do in the future.”

With the array of information sitting inside organisations, Ronson agrees it’s vital to connect the dots between client-side and agency. She also sees media agency measurement moving from less claimed behaviour to actual behaviour.

“There are some media channels where we can assess what they’re looking at and if they actually turned up here,” she adds. “That’s exciting in terms of informing what we do as well as how we optimise our spend and get more efficient and effective.”

To do this, TA is investigating several second-party data partnerships, and recently struck its first data sharing arrangement with Virgin Australia. The deal sees TA tracking and passing on information relating to online activity for any consumer who comes to, then steps through to Virgin Australia’s digital properties.

Ronson says more data partnerships are on the cards in the next 12 months. All of these activities are about keeping up with consumer expectations.

Innovative thinking

Innovation, one of Tourism Australia’s core values, is another way.

“We want to constantly be ahead of the game, really understanding the customer and what is coming next,” Ronson says. “It’s about innovation that makes sense to better target the customer and also bring the industry on the journey as well. We have talked about social a lot and digital channels, but innovation isn’t reserved just for digital channels.”

For Ronson, innovation is ultimately simplification. “You can be really innovative just by simplifying your message, or by making your product easier to consume and understand,” she says.

“Simplicity and not being scared to take risks to get a better customer outcome for me is the heart of innovation.”