Econsultancy recently launched its State of Digital Marketing in Australia report, which found that online marketing is rapidly becoming a priority for companies, although many are struggling with elements within this.

However, a number of organisations in the country have a well-established legacy of digital operations, arguably the most recognisable and prominent being Tourism Australia, the official Government agency which is responsible for both the international and domestic promotion of Australia as a travel destination.

Here, their executive general manager of consumer marketing, Nick Baker, explains the secrets of their success to date, as well as their plans for the future…

Can you explain a little bit about your role, the current marketing direction of Tourism Australia and where digital fits into this?

My role as EGM of consumer marketing is quite varied and involves heading up our online and offline marketing teams, but this is managed with an integrated approach, as opposed to operating in silos. Our head office is in Sydney, but we also have offices on location across all key geographic target marketplaces. 

We realised a few years ago that consumers were rapidly beginning to move into digital environments and as a result, it was important to push ourselves into this in order to meet a number of our key objectives. 

As we’ve developed various campaigns over time, we’ve found that digital allow greater flexibility to target specific audiences or to meet certain micro-goals, especially when directly contrasted with traditional media formats, which can be restrictive. This is especially visible when we’re faced with limited budgets. However, a multichannel approach also works well for us, as it combines the best of both worlds.  

How is your current marketing team is built around digital – what existing structures do you have in place and who’s responsible for what? 

This is an interesting question and one that doesn’t really have a fixed answer, as it depends on which part of the organisation you’re looking at. All our marketing operations are driven by an equal split of “physical” strategy and development and although we have we have specialist digital and social teams that are positioned as a centre of excellence within the company, we take the stance that everyone needs to be digitally-savvy. 

You’ve had phenomenal success using social platforms, such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the latter which recently hit two million fans (something any corporate brand would get excited about)… what would you say the key to this has been? 

Tourism – and by extension, tourism marketing – is highly personal and although digital allows an additional touchpoint, social media elevates this to another level completely. is the heart of our digital operation, we use external platforms to breathe life into it through telling compelling, brand-led stories. 

A lot of brands and organisations fall into the trap of thinking that there’s a silver bullet for success with social media, but it’s highly contextual. We’re focused very much on telling a story and engaging with people to do this at a very intimate level. Equally, social media also allows people to share their own, personal stories with us and others about their experiences and adventures in the country. 

I’m especially impressed with your dedication to Facebook, such as the “Experience Australia” Facebook directory and the user-driven Instagram feed. How do you manage the page internally and who comes up with these ideas? 

Our digital team primarily manage our social media outreach and we have individuals within this whose job is to manage the page and other similar channels. 

At the very core of this execution though, is a continuous strategy based around social storytelling content, which needs very careful creation and curation. We try and ensure that the content is voiced through the right platform, with the right tone at the right time. Some of this is reactionary, but for the most part, we put a lot of thought behind what we do. 

Equally, because of our activity on Facebook, we’re now in the position of having to curate user-generated video and image libraries with thousands of pieces of individual content. This in itself has to have a structured approach, so again, we hold strategy and channel management in very high regards in relation to everyday operations.

You seem to use a carefully balanced blend of innovative creativity and measured strategy, which has led to some great recognition, including being showcased by TEDTalks “Ads Worth Spreading.” Which element comes first, or has the greatest importance, when you’re planning a digital campaign? 

The objective always comes first. Before we even look at how to execute a campaign, we always ask ourselves what the business case is, what we’re trying to do. 

We’re incredibly idea-driven, as opposed to advertising-driven, although some cross-over is ultimately inevitable! However, we take a step back, figure out what we want to achieve and then work out the most strategic approach, the best channels to use and whether the expected outcome will loop around to meeting our initial objective. 

We’re increasingly focusing on user-generated content to meet our wider story-telling approach. This way, users share their own individual experiences… To use an analogy, their content provides the chapters in a much larger book about Australia and the emotions or memories it can invoke. Our role is increasingly to provide the means to capture, share and showcase this. 

For example, “Time to Dream” was a unique project where we created a short film based around New Year’s Eve in Sydney. We created an iPhone app, which users could use to create their stories of the evening and then upload them to our site directly. From this, we were able to quickly edit them and deliver a compelling piece literally within hours of the advent of 2012. 

A lot of your campaigns also seem to be multichannel. How advanced is your multichannel strategy – what kind of metrics or measurements of success are you trying to achieve – and how successful have you been in achieving them?

Somewhat brashly, we’re finding that we have a very advanced integration of our marketing channels, both in terms of delivery and analysis. A lot of work we do, we build from scratch, so we can implement the right measurement tool or technique for the job – again, thinking about what our objective ultimately is, so we can measure if this is being met. 

We take a very strategic approach to measuring success, especially as our metrics are vastly different from a lot of other industries. We use a variety of methods to accurately assess how well our campaigns are working, including unusual elements such as airport arrivals and quarterly tourism spending rates. We’re a slightly unusual organisation as we don’t actually sell anything directly… 

Although we use some softer metrics, we do generally have a highly targeted approach to campaign evaluation, especially where we’re looking towards leveraging user generated content. In those instances, we use a various models and technologies to make sure we’re able to identify and measure advocacy and word-of-mouth at scale. 

Out of the dozens of different Tourism Australia campaigns over the years, what has been your favourite digitally-led one and what has been your favourite multichannel one (and why)?

There’s a lot to choose from, but Making Tracks is my favourite multichannel campaign, as it crossed into completely new territory for us. We branched beyond the clichéd tourism stories that are beginning to look a bit worn and into an area of creativity at angle I believe had never been done until that point. It’s also positioned us as striking the balance between strategy and creativity to the point where we’ve become a brand worthy enough to be emphasised by TEDtalks.

From a digital perspective, I’m a huge fan of the Instagram integration we’ve enabled on our Facebook page. It’s more of an ongoing project, than a specific campaign, but it allows people who love to travel to visually share the best perspectives of Australia to others who share the same passion.

What does the future hold for the online marketing activities of Tourism Australia? 

We’ve got some extremely exciting things in the pipeline, but unfortunately, I can’t specify exactly what they are, as they’re top-secret projects! What I can say though, is we’re increasingly turning our gaze towards Asia. The region is a big market for us and is partly fuelled by the global economic state, but also because the countries within the region have such enormous populations, there’s little argument for ignoring specific, locally targeted campaigns that can take advantage of this. 

In general though, the future direction for us is going to be driven by social and mobile. We’re already doing great things through these channels, but expect to see a lot more activity in the future.