When Tourism Australia MD John O’Sullivan announced Lisa Ronson as the company’s new CMO he noted that they were “pretty big shoes to fill”. Ronson, former Westpac marketer, was replacing Nick Baker, best known for turning Tourism Australia into a marketing powerhouse over the course of his seven years at the helm, following the controversial ‘Where the Bloody Hell Are You?’ campaign.
To some, it would be an impossibly tall order. But three months in, Ronson – a career chameleon with experience in areas from banking to alcohol brands – is already setting the agenda in a role that sees her tasked with “selling Australia to the world”.
“It’s a similar challenge for any marketer coming into a new role with a new brand,” Ronson says. “It’s about how to keep the great stuff and address the emerging challenges for the business.”
The primary challenge that Ronson sees for Australia’s tourism sector, however, isn’t a new one: Australia is a country plagued by dual issues of distance from other countries and a perception of expense to get here.
Ronson pointed to market research by Tourism Australia which found that Australia is an extremely aspirational place to travel to, but when it comes to actual visitation, it tumbles down the ladder.
“It’s very much about that conversion piece: taking that great aspiration and harnessing it,” Ronson says. “So it’s about delivering our content and our stories to encourage [potential visitors] to have a sense of urgency.”
She says that with consumer confidence coming back to markets like the US, a “huge opportunity” for the Australian
tourism industry is coming to the fore.
But how do you get tourists to overcome the cost hurdles? Ronson says that beyond initial drivers of consideration are emotional ones: people want to see a world-class natural environment and enjoy quality food and wine.
One of the first things Ronson did was to “bed down the campaign constructs for the year” which she said is very much under the existing umbrella of the ‘There is nothing Like Australia’ campaign, which this year focuses on food and wine.
The other thing she tackled was Tourism Australia’s brand purpose, to ensure the filter was right for all other marketing decisions. That, she says, is offering up the uniqueness of Australia to the world.
“There is a real trend from people being tourists to being travellers,” Ronson says. “They’re seeking a different type of experience rather than just coming in and getting a photo of three iconic things. We’ve got a lot to offer in terms of those unique experiences.”
Part of that focus will be to continue Restaurant Australia – a campaign that was Baker’s ‘piece de resistance’ in his final months – designed to redefine Australia’s food and wine offering. While Ronson remained tight-lipped, she said plans were already in the mix to evolve the campaign further.
The other main campaign focus is a spotlight on Australia’s aquatic and coast offering.
“[There is] the emergence of a whole lot of other competition in the last few years from other national tourism organisations talking about their own aquatic beauty and natural environments, so there is a big opportunity for us to regain that competitive advantage,” Ronson says.
Part of the campaign is the launch of the David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef – a three-part documentary showcasing the reef. Ronson says the documentary marks the first time Attenborough has seen the reef in 57 years and will be seen by about a billion people globally.
“Really, it’s the big jewel in the crown of our aquatic and coastal campaign,” she adds.
Underneath these campaign constructs is Tourism Australia’s digital hub, Australia.com, which was redesigned
by its digital agency, DT, earlier this year. Ronson says digital is becoming a bigger part of that conversion and while she wouldn’t be drawn on how much of Tourism Australia’s marketing is digital, she did say it’s definitely increasing.
The other big digital opportunity for the company is leveraging its owned and earned media. Ronson says finding the right structure for Tourism Australia’s content marketing has been core on her agenda.
“It goes back to the first challenge of business, and that’s driving people from aspiration through the funnel to actually booking a holiday – and digital plays a massive role in that,” Ronson says.
“We’ve got some dedicated content people at the moment and we’re looking at how we structure it going forward.”
Tourism Australia’s social media following has been core to much of its marketing success, with its Facebook page routinely number one or two in the top Australian pages on the platform. It currently has more than 6 million Facebook followers, according to Online Circle Social Pulse reports.
Ronson said having earned media and crowd-sourced content is key from a credibility point of view.
“Booking a holiday is very different to what is was five, 10 or 20 years ago. Triangulating what other people think of their experience is really important, so it’s really important for us to present all of the information from the bottom up, to what peers are saying about their own experience.”
But she said one of the main principles she learnt from her time at Westpac and other brands is that markets need to be realistic in understanding their place in a consumer’s life.
“People are bombarded with so many marketing messages in a day and marketers have a tendency to over-inflate their role,” Ronson says. “And if you do, it’s at your peril. Understand where they’re at, where you fit in their life and then you can create a good experience for them to engage with.”
Lisa Ronson recently spoke at the Media Summit, which was held on May 22.
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