Tourism Australia embraces data to create the best content

How a scientific approach to creating stories has been valuable for local tourism bodies and businesses.

Tourism Australia (TA) has one of the easiest jobs in marketing – enticing people to visit and spend money in one of the world’s most popular and attractive countries. The government organisation works with state and territory tourism bodies and private operators to push Brand Australia. On balance, it’s a pretty easy sell.

But how do tourism bodies and businesses manage the task of producing content that tells the “best” stories, giving stakeholders across the country a fair chance to promote their products and services? The answer, TA found, is by paying attention to data.

The organisation’s former Global Content Editor, Andrés López-Varela, led a realignment project in 2016-17 to make its content more purposeful and accountable. In particular, TA wanted its content to be in line with some aspect of the buyers’ journey. This enabled consumers to connect directly with the right tourism organisations and vendors.

"Instead of us being about the brand and top-of-funnel content pieces, it was about aligning content through the path to purchase," says López-Varela, who is now a digital marketing consultant and co-host of travel podcast The Destinationalists. "It was used to drive engagement and conversion as well.

“The biggest way we did that was an increase in data-driven content marketing – going from just being really great at publishing to being really great at marketing content.”

TA also wanted to focus on excellent storytelling, not just brochure-style material, to further improve engagement. To create stories that brought its chosen destinations to life, TA partnered with publisher Fairfax Media and content business Storyation.

“If content is to grow in the marketing mix in the future, it needs to be measured like the other kids.”

“It was probably the first time we looked at those things in an integrated way,” López-Varela says. “If you looked at our website previously, it was pretty obvious the user experience was designed in isolation from the content. The idea of the project was to realign the content to consumer needs along the path to purchase, match what the consumer was looking for with the information we could provide in a format that was useful, valuable and actionable so they could actually use the site as a planning tool.”

The results spoke for themselves. TA soon had a record number of visitors to the website and a 46 per cent jump in engagement rates.

“We wanted to stimulate engagement and conversion,” López-Varela says. “We wanted to connect consumers with the industry [so they would] book flights, book holidays, book hotels and book winery tours and tables at restaurants and private road trips. The content really needed to be fit for that purpose.”

TA found using a data-driven approach made it easier to manage their stakeholders’ sometimes competing interests. “If you get people through the door of the tourism business, that’s all that counts,” he says. “We assembled a framework with data around the content, making sure we had a defensible, clear position about our intentions.”

Not that all operators or tourism bodies will be happy with TA’s content choices and approaches every single time. Pointing to the data, López-Varela says, tends to resolve “around 90 per cent” of disagreements.

"You can see the evidence; it's not just your opinion," he says. "Consumers are either responding or not responding to that place or activity or experience. There is always that one time out of 10, and you just have to do your best with what you have while still serving the stakeholder."

López-Varela says there's no point in any business – whether it's B2B or B2C – embarking on a content strategy unless its impact can be measured. "Why should content just be about brand building? If content is to grow in the marketing mix in the future, and we're talking particularly with owned channels, it needs to be measured like the other kids. It's got to have numbers and data attached to it to hope of having a similar kind of footing and reputation.

"The challenge [of content marketing] is to not become the new PR in the sense that it must not become the land of soft metrics. Soft metrics are fine, but it needs to be attached to a commercial objective."

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Photo: David Clode on Unsplash