RedBalloon -The Branded Experience
Deepend Group Founder and Chief Executive, Matt Griffin, and recently appointed CEO of RedBalloon, Nick Baker, met almost 15 years ago as part of a project to refresh the marketing approach for Voyages.
Since then, both have gone on to create award-winning work in the tourism sector, with Nick now famous for his role in crafting three of Tourism Australia’s most successful global campaigns during a seven year tenure as Chief Marketing Officer.
Reunited, Matt and Nick reflect on the transformations they’ve seen over the years and what success looks like today in the Experience Economy.
Matt Griffin: Looking back over the past 15 years, it’s almost hard to remember how rudimentary marketing was in the old days. What’s your take on that — on how things have changed?
Nick Baker: There have certainly been massive changes since then; in the way in which we get information to people, the way people consume information and make decisions in their lives. The whole notion of experiences as cornerstones and vital parts of peoples’ lives has also ramped up in importance, with great value attributed to it.
Experiences are of course fundamental to our lives. If you think back to when you grew up, holidays in particular are things that stay with us — I’m sure that you can remember your holidays way better than you can remember when you bought a TV or a new phone.
M: Clearly your work with Tourism Australia then was a great way to explore this idea of experiences at the centre of brand offerings…
N: Yes. One of the best things about working at Tourism Australia was that we were marketing the best country in the world and a place for great holiday experiences. And if you ask travellers how they think about Australia, they often use words like ‘adventurous’. This encapsulates that notion of experiences, coupled with how people actually feel when they come here. They feel a bit braver and will do things they wouldn’t normally do in their own country.
With RedBalloon, it’s also about experiences, but not just at the macro holiday level. It’s reminding people to take a stop, pause in their life and say, “You know what? I’m going to do something different.”
M: In terms of marketing Australia, was it all about the adventure experience then or was there more at play?
N: It’s actually interesting because, to a lot of people, Australia can seem fairly one-dimensional. It’s sort of about activities around beaches — aquatic, with a bit of wildlife thrown into it.
One of the things we did a couple of years ago to challenge this perception was to launch Restaurant Australia. We know that we’ve got extraordinary food and wine in this country, but the rest of the world doesn’t. Our research showed however that once people come here, their perception changes and we are seen as a world leader by them in terms of food and wine. So this became a new dimension of experience for Australia.
M: Many businesses are using customer experience mapping techniques to better understand how customers are interacting with brands. We have been working on a concept of the Experience Barcode, where we analyse the breadth of customer engagement across an experience. Do you think a brand can truly own the journey that a customer has?
N: I think what you can own, genuinely own, is that moment of interaction. That moment that you are talking to the customer, the customer is talking to you. And because we know that that sort of attention is the most precious commodity for us in this kind of business, we have to make that as right as we possibly can. Owning the whole journey? It’s too much. What I want to own is the interaction when we have it, and make that interaction the best it can be.
I think what we’ve too often done in the past is said, “Here’s your voucher” rather than ask, what do we need to do in the weeks and months before a guest gets on that plane? We should remind them to take a camera, provide a few top tips, link to the weather, or ask if they want to invite friends along etc. I think we’ve got to get much better at that whole personalisation of the experience.
Our job is to create these lifetime moments, these lifetime memories. So another thing to think about is, “How can we help capture these?”. I don’t think it’ll be too long before we use virtual reality to even almost recreate the experience for ourselves. Instead of just seeing a little film of you jumping out of the plane, you’re reliving it.
M: Virtual reality is definitely rising in importance in the experience and marketing businesses. Threat or opportunity?
N: There’s a view amongst some that if there’s a virtual reality experience of something, it might make someone less likely to do that thing in real life — they feel they’ve already done it. I think the reverse. When I experienced a virtual reality take on swimming with the sharks and fish, it didn’t stop me from wanting to do it — it made me want to do it more. I thought, if it feels this good with Oculus Rift glasses on, what would it be like the moment I actually see a whale shark? Technology can help create a great experience, but it can’t take away from that sense of connection in a nature experience like that.
M: Clearly RedBalloon is one of the county’s biggest success stories in the Experience Economy. But with you now at the helm, can you give us any insight into what the future holds for the brand?
N: We’re in the middle of going through those plans, but I think one key question is, how do we shift something that is known as a gift-giving entity into a ‘things to do’ type one?
One of the things we’re not about is being another Expedia or TripAdvisor, which sorts all the pre-trip planning. We’re about experiences. Not just big experiences, also the really highly personable and accessible experiences. It’s also about bringing out-of-the-box experiences — like fencing –into profile, because normally there’s nowhere else for them to be showcased.
M: And how do you think the broader marketplace is shifting when it comes to branded experiences?
N: The traditional offerings RedBalloon and companies like us have become very famous for, are things like driving cars, jumping out of planes, going on boats — it’s adrenaline-based. However, we’re seeing a shift to experiences that speak more to cultural indulgence, learning and discovery.
M: That speaks to the idea of the transformation economy, a sort of next level to the Experience Economy…
N: Yes, that’s an interesting point. I think too often we go, “Crikey! I just had two months and I can’t remember a single thing about it, other than we got through it”. So the idea of an experience is to flick a switch, it’s almost like a slap on the face. It forces you to rethink and reset. I think that it’s those slaps on the side of the head that people need to wake up. And an experience is a great way of doing that.