Matthew Miller
Jul 30, 2019

How a responsible marketer measures the unmeasurable

Attributing business outcomes to your marketing strategies is even harder when your organisation doesn't actually sell anything. Nicki Kenyon of Visit Victoria explains how she approaches this conundrum.

Nicki Kenyon addressing partners during a recent mission to Greater China.
Nicki Kenyon addressing partners during a recent mission to Greater China.

Nicki Kenyon, general manager of marketing at Visit Victoria, has a big KPI: A$36.5 billion in visitor spending for Melbourne and the surrounding state of Victoria by 2025.

The goal, which represents a 27.2% increase from 2018's $28.7 billion, is written out for all to see in the state government's economic strategy. At the moment, Visit Victoria, which Kenyon joined in early 2017 following tenures with Shootsta, Visa, Facebook, AsiaRooms.com, MasterCard and Tequila (precursor to TBWA) in Singapore, is on track to meet that objective. Just-released stats show that spending reached $30 billion for the year ended in March, with 3.1 million international visitors (up 5% year-on-year) contributing $8.5 billion of that (up 7.6%).

Kenyon is responsible for overall brand strategy for the organisation, which formed in 2016, combining into one entity Tourism Victoria, the Victorian Major Events Company and the Melbourne Convention Bureau. She and her team of 75 in Melbourne and offices around the world are in the midst of developing a new overarching brand strategy and she is about to appoint a Melbourne-based agency to help execute on that vision.

While most consumer-oriented marketers don't have their targets emblazoned across public websites, Kenyon faces a challenge that will be familiar to anyone with similar responsibilities: how to be sure her team's actions are actually moving Visit Victoria closer to its big goal. She frankly admits that absolute certainty about this is simply not possible given the multitude of entities and factors at play.

In other words, attribution is hard. So how does a self-professed "responsible marketer" show her CEO that her strategy is working? During a recent mission to meet partners around Greater China, Kenyon sat down with Campaign Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong to discuss this ROI challenge and more.

It strikes me that your ROI equation is even tougher than for a consumer-products company. In a sense you get credit for every hotel booking and every tour that's booked, but you don't actually know whether you drove that action. So how do you think about ROI? How do you address that challenge?

It's a really good question, and as an accountable and responsible marketer, it keeps me awake at night, because I can't. I simply can't.

I think there are many ways of measuring. Some are bulletproof, and many, many are not. So the responsible thing is to do the best you can, and line up a bucket of many metrics.

A 2018 campaign for China featured actor Li Xian.

We are tasked with contributing to that big number, and as an organisation, we will be reviewed and assessed on whether we're contributing to it. Now, whether or not you can prove whether we are doing so is really beside the point. We can't, but nonetheless that's what our goal is.

So the really important thing is: have a business goal, do the work that's driving that business goal, and then do the best you can to measure that goal. Sometimes the link between those three things—the goal, the creative or the go-to-market activity, and the 'Did it work?' question—is tenuous. But we just have to do the best we can.

So we do a combination of things. We keep the big goal front and centre, that's our north star. We then develop our yearly strategies and our marketing activity plans to ladder up to contributing to that goal. And then every single one of our campaigns has its own set of KPIs and metrics that can be measured to reassure us that we're going in the right direction.

So for example, with a social campaign, if its intent is to drive awareness, we’ll do brand trackers to go out to the market and say “Did you see this ad?" That’s a valid metric. It doesn't tell us whether someone has come to Victoria. But if the job was to drive awareness, did it do that job? If so, then that's a tick.

Next is active consideration. Did seeing this ad make you think about going to Melbourne? Again on digital and social, the way to measure that is intent. Was there a clickthrough to find out more? I don’t need to know at that point if you booked, because all I'm measuring is active consideration. The creative job of that ad was to inspire you to find out more. Did you click through to find out more? Then job done.

We’re getting better at focusing on what the real business metrics are, and not getting distracted by vanity metrics. Just because someone likes your ad, it doesn’t mean that they’ve got intent, that they're going to consider, that they’re going to convert.

So that’s how we look at metrics. We focus very clearly on what the objective of the piece of work is. We design the work to deliver on that objective. And then we measure on that objective. There is no point measuring conversion if the job was only awareness.

Similarly, we’re also getting better at focusing on what the real business metrics are, and not getting distracted by vanity metrics. Just because someone likes your ad, it doesn’t mean that they’ve got intent, that they're going to consider, that they’re going to convert.

Likes and engagement are hygiene. They're absolutely important as marketers because we have a creative product that we're putting out there, and of course it has to be appealing. But it’s separate. It’s a proxy measure, if you like, and it's not driving that business objective.

Internationally, Tourism Australia does a great job with [building] awareness. We also need to drive awareness of Melbourne and Victoria specifically. Getting on the active consideration list is probably where our bigger focus is. And then if they actually come, then it's about working with our conversion partners. So we will do a campaign with an airline, and we will share data to the extent each party is comfortable, to know that this ad, in conjunction with that airline, actually ended up in a seat sold. So we work with partners to help close that loop.

Do you have your own first-party data warehouse, and what’s the major source for that data?

We do have a DMP [data management platform]. And we have what started as an email database, of personally identifiable data. But we now tag and track most of our digital activity too. So we have a multitude of anonymised data touchpoints that feed into our DMP. We’re using that now to partner with conversion partners and other business partners to share and to learn.

It’s fairly new. It's only been in place for about six months. But it’s valuable because it’s not just the number of data points we have within the DMP, it’s the learnings that we can glean from it. How does retargeting benefit us? How can we create lookalike audiences in other platforms because of what we know in our own platforms?

We're visualising this at the moment as part of our strategic work. If you think about constellations, the sky has lots and lots of stars. How can a DMP help us connect those dots? We may know what the customer journey looks like, but we can’t possibly know what all the touchpoints are. However, if we can at least start to piece together some of them to help us make sense of what we’re doing, and how it’s contributing to our business results, then we’re better informed.

How do privacy concerns factor into your thinking?

It’s the most or one of the most important issues that a marketer today needs to be aware of.

I’m a passionate believer in data-driven marketing. You show me an ad in my Facebook feed that talks to the mother of a teenage girl, which I am, then I will love that ad. But show me an ad for a mountain bike, and I have no interest.

Whether or not we need to be compliant with a GDPR framework or an Australian framework or whatever, we just should be, as responsible human beings. And knowing the most stringent rules from around the world is probably good best practice.

So meaningful, relevant advertising, I think, is a great thing. Cindy Gallop says it beautifully when she says "People hate advertising in general, but they love advertising in particular".

However, the point is, we need data to inform that. Yet it's a very fine balance to not be creepy, to not be intrusive, to be helpful and relevant. I absolutely believe in relevance, and therefore that means targeting. But to get to that means holding information about people.

So whether or not we need to be compliant with a GDPR framework or an Australian framework or whatever, we just should be, as responsible human beings. And knowing the most stringent rules from around the world is probably good best practice.

To what extent do you localise your big brand message for your target markets?

At the moment, I think we're probably consistent to a degree, but we want to have a stronger, more distinctive brand umbrella over all of our communications globally. That's what we're working on right now. And then the proof points will be determined by the local markets and by the audience they're targeting. So if it happens to be a nature and wildlife story for the Hong Kong market, then that's the story we'll tell. If it's a cricket story for the Indian market, then that's the story we'll tell. We have many product proof points that we can dial up and dial down. But the overarching brand message will be more consistent.

How do you work with your in-market offices? And what role are you expecting to give to the agency you're getting ready to appoint?

We're centralizing more of our marketing activities. That's what the agency will be charged with supporting us on. I don’t believe in abdicating the strategy to an agency. I certainly will work with them. But we own our product. We own our brand. We need to be the custodians of that, working along with a good strong agency partner that can then help us take that to market, wherever that may be.

In the individual markets, we tend to be more trade and partner-focused, which means working with partners like Tourism Australia, or Ctrip in China, or airlines. Because partnering with those airlines, for example, carries our message much further than if we were just doing it on our own.

A 2018 video was coloured to appeal to dogs.

When it comes to our own activities, we’re going to be using more digital and social channels, direct-to-consumer channels, and that's where the Melbourne-based agency will help strategise, plan and develop toolkits of plug-and-play assets.

Everything we do, every step that we take with our marketing strategy, we work with the international markets to get them to kick the tires with us, to make sure it's going to be sound internationally. I've worked overseas, and I've learned that you can't create something in one city and expect it to work everywhere.

Does centralising more of your marketing extend to choosing which media channels should be used?

I would never dictate specific channels, because I don't believe in channel-first marketing. I believe in audience-first marketing.

So if in China, for example, the audience is predominantly on mobile, using WeChat or Weibo, then that’s where we should be. As marketers we should be where consumers are to connect with them.

I don't believe in digital marketing. I believe in marketing in a digital age.

There's no point advertising over here on an outdoor sign if the consumer's on mobile. Similarly, if out-of-home or traditional TV is the most prevalent channel for a market or an audience subset, then that's where we should be as well.

So the approach will be developed in Melbourne, which is audience-first, relevant and targeted wherever possible, with various other guidelines and principles. But the choice of channel is left to the market, according to what's relevant and what's right for that market.

But you did say you plan to use more digital and social?

Yes, but it’s not a push for digital and social for their own sake. I don't believe in digital marketing. I believe in marketing in a digital age.

All marketing now is enabled by digital, by technology. Marketing now is about people, about data, and about technology. And if you can connect people through the data that you have available to you, and reach them through technology, that’s marketing in the digital age.

I project-led my first website in 1999, So when people talk about the new digital marketing, I chuckle, because it’s not new. And in my experience, the danger of calling out digital marketing is that you end up doing channel-first marketing. You do traditional, and then you bolt on digital. Now, through the history of digital marketing, that has been an appropriate approach—at a point in time. We needed to understand how to build websites. We needed to understand how to place search terms. We needed to have areas of expertise to inform the rest of marketing.

But to keep digital separate from the rest of marketing is a mistake for marketers in a digital age. If all of my marketers don’t understand digital, then they're not robust marketers.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

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