By its very nature, tourism brands are a funnel to local products and services and aren’t often selling products themselves. With consumer journeys becoming easier to track, the role of tourism brands is moving front and centre, instead of being the middle man.
For Brent Hill, executive director of marketing, South Australian Tourism Commission, data has helped connect and track the ROI of tourism marketing, while also create new creative opportunities by unearthing interesting new insights.
Speaking to The Drum at Adobe Symposium in Sydney this month, he says in terms of ROI, tourism marketing was more like guesswork before the impact of activity became easier to track.
“We don't sell airline tickets, we don't sell hotel rooms, don't sell experiences, but we are a conduit. When I first started, about three and a half years ago, I think the tourism organizations were putting out big ads to excite people and leaving it at that, they would hope that people will come down. I think we've brought in digital sophistication now," ” says Hill.
"We've got the Adobe stack, we use that to track audiences and find out what people are interested in. We make sure that they're getting information about what their passion points are, and then make sure they know they can find that in Adelaide. From that perspective marketing has changed so much, but for the better. I think what's really exciting now is we have incredible amounts of ROI around what we do, which I think is what's so exciting."
In terms of how the brand tracks its activity, it has its own websites (Southaustralia.com or Adelaide.com) that sit within an ecosystem that tracks over 18,000 tourism products through the state. The products have a listing on a data warehouse that feeds into the site.
“For us to know that we've made an impact, we can track the tourist into our digital landscape, whatever that looks like, whether they search, see display ads or a video. Then they come into Southaustralia.com or our social media accounts, so they interact with our digital ecosystem, and then we pass that off. We call that a lead, where a visitor has found swimming with sea lions, which is a product you can do," explains Hill.
"Somebody looks at it and says, ‘That looks amazing. I want to do that in Adelaide.’ They look at that page and they click off onto the website of the swimming with sea lion experience and book a tour. So all the way through that process we can track that, and in some cases, if we've got data sharing, right through to point of purchase.”
One of the areas this has changed the marketing strategy for South Australia Tourism Commission is to show that some marketing channels were being undervalued. Hill says that prior to putting in place, the impact of digital display was having on the customer journey wasn’t clear.
“It's really sophisticated in terms of actually really knowing what we do. It was a really difficult one for us because we put display out there because we think you're an audience that would be interested in Adelaide, we'd serve you some display, but we couldn't really attribute that. Now, with the Adobe technology, we can actually see that somebody has seen that ad at some point and eventually landed on our ecosystem, and can track it back and say, ‘That ad was effective in helping them land at the end.’ It's pretty cool.”
Hill notes that while more sophisticated attribution is important for most brands now, brands within the travel ecosystem are particularly transformed because the travel customer journey is very complex.
“We were probably putting less money into display because we were not seeing the results against search, for example. Now that we've got that really strong attribution, we can do better because travel's not linear," he explains.
"People come in and go, ‘Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? Are there koalas in South Australia?’ Then they might say, ‘What are the beaches like? What's the weather like?’ all sorts of stuff. Then they might go to TripAdvisor, they might go to an airline to work out a price, and then they come back into our ecosystem. With a customer journey like that, it's sometimes hard to get real attribution."
The other benefit of transforming towards being more data-driven is how the insights are then being used to drive creative and messaging decisions. Hill gives the example of how the business stumbled across the insight that lots of its potential visitors were looking for ‘tiny home’ or ‘cabin’-style holidays. By focusing on these, it helped boost bookings to lots of key partners.
“The data and insights are actually feeding what we do. Recently, we had a campaign around winter. We started to show lots of places that are like tiny home or cabin, off-grid type stays. The data was showing us that there was this immense interest. The operator would be ringing us saying, ‘Phone's off the hook'," he says.
"We had little glamping places in really far off locations that have never seen bookings like that, but we were putting their imagery out and they're going, ‘This is going nuts.’ So we started to see what people were really looking for, particularly out of Adelaide. We dialed that up a little bit more and added things like wine and food, music, open fires and everything that goes with that lifestyle, and it is really evocative. It just started going nuts."
He continues: "The beauty of then having a data-led system is the system automates and starts optimizing towards that. What was great is that then meant that our creatives started to do more ads around that. We tried to find more operators who have B&Bs, for example, that might fit."
Hill adds that halfway through the campaign, for example, South Australia Tourism Commission found on Airbnb called Ode to the Orchard and felt it was a beautiful place with a gorgeous name because it had an outdoor bath overlooking a valley, and was in the Adelaide hills.
"They had never really thought of themselves as a tourism product, it was kind of a side project that they did and they just had it on Airbnb. We saw it and said, ‘There's so much demand for this,’ and brought it into our database. It went nuts. That kind of thing is so exciting for us because, as I say, it's changing our creative, and then when somebody challenges us and says, ‘Why are you showing more of this type of stuff?’ we say, ‘That's what the tourists are wanting.’ It just takes all the subjectivity out of the equation,” he explains.
From being a conduit and using guesswork with data, South Australia Tourism Commission now wants to create data-driven campaigns that cross both brand and performance to prove the ROI and inspire new ideas.