Brand Engagement vs Customer Engagement – The shift from pull to push strategies

Twenty years ago, tourists visiting the heart of Australia would take a shot of Uluru, race home, get the photo developed, and be one of the first of their friends to show it off. 

In today’s more connected media world, in the click of a button you can find thousands of pictures of Uluru from every angle possible. Now tourists want their own unique experience. The ability to explore and discover something new, and share it instantaneously with their friends.

Tourism marketing over the past 20 years provides a fascinating example of the swing from brand engagement to consumer engagement; from pull strategies to push strategies. Technology and more savvy consumers have made marketing more complex in the past five years, yet one thing has remained constant: famous campaigns are the most effective. The challenge for marketers is to find the balance between that push and pull; between pushing consumers at those many moments of decision to purchase a product or service, and pulling those consumers towards that brand with famous campaigns to increase the likelihood of them purchasing it.

Tourism bodies and companies are scrambling to use technology to drive consumer engagement. There is a strong link between social-media sharing and holidays — the instant version of yesteryear’s holiday slide show. Tourism Australia, Tourism and Events Queensland and Northern Territory Tourism are just three of the bodies that have embraced this on social media feeds such as Instagram, Google+ and Facebook. They share both travellers’ photos and professional ones, highlighting the beauty and the unexpected of the regions, the things you can do there, encouraging consumers to chat about them and in turn push them to plan and book a holiday.

Qantas’s was one of the first social-media led e-commerce sites in the world. It is a site with great consumer engagement, doing the retailing of tourism — the sales, the prices, the packages and the events — very well.

Today’s smartphone provides a great opportunity for tourism bodies and companies to engage with consumers to increase their spend while they are on tour. Smartphones and tourists literally go hand in hand. Australian start-up WineHound has developed a smartphone app that helps tourists navigate every wine region in Australia. If you’re heading to the Yarra Valley you can prepare and save your itinerary to take in your choice of wineries and events, and Google maps will guide you through it. If you find a winery, or a wine or two you like, you can save them as a favourite so you don’t forget them later. Wineries can have their wines listed on the app with a mobile-commerce site link enabled.

Northern Territory Tourism has embraced another great push strategy to engage local and international visitors via their smartphones. By offering free Wi-Fi in the main thoroughfares of Alice Springs in exchange for the tourist’s email address, NT Tourism can then send them relevant messages at relevant times to push people to tourism operators and destinations they may not otherwise have known about.

Technology advances are driving an increase in push strategies for tourism marketers to engage the consumer close to the point of purchase. Yet, 20 years ago, tourism marketers spent most of their budgets on pull strategies, in engaging consumers with the brand, using that emotional side to draw you into having a holiday in Australia versus overseas. Famous tourism campaigns such as “Beautiful one day, perfect the next” or “You’ll never, never know if you never, never go” or “You’ll love every piece of Victoria”. Filmic and iconic images of the Rock, the Bridge and the Reef. And famous campaigns have since proven to have a 72 per cent success rate in being effective, far greater than the percentage for rational campaigns.

The trap for today’s tourism marketers is in looking to swing some of their focus back to this classic pull strategy. In 2014 the prospective tourist has moved on in what they want out of a holiday. And that means they are no longer swayed and engaged by the brand-building postcard images of the Rock, Bridge and Reef. It’s why Tourism Victoria’s current campaign, “Play Melbourne”, is the most famous of today’s campaigns. And also the most balanced between push and pull, between consumer engagement and brand engagement. And it’s also why both the federal and NT governments see so much potential for tourism in the Northern Territory. There are so many places and things to do up there, beyond the Rock, that are crying out to be discovered, explored and shared.

Whether it is tourism or any other category, in today’s digital age marketers not only have to use technology to engage consumers through strong push strategies and tactics, but balance that with strong pull strategies that drive big behavioural shifts with consumers via famous brand-building campaigns. Those who find that balance will succeed over those who don’t.