Up, up and away: audience evolution at Sydney Airport

Screen shot 2016-03-02 at 10.55.58 AMSydney Airport’s Martin Salter speaks to Marketing about the evolution of advertising, retail and audience profiles, both domestic and international.

In 2008, Sydney Airport looked very different. The shops looked different. The passenger profile looked different. And the advertising looked different.

From that point the Sydney Airport has been on a mission to pursue new digital opportunities. Martin Salter, head of advertising and new media, has been leading the evolution of the digital and advertising spaces at the airport, seeking out commercial opportunities in digital experiences and outdoor media.

Salter also looks after partnerships such as that with American Express, in which the airport identified an opportunity to partner with the global brand to deliver customer enhancements. At the same time the brand can provide its customers with enhanced value through ‘money can’t buy’ opportunities. He also sits on the digital committee that was set up in 2015.

Marketing: What does ‘digital’ entail at the airport, and to what does the ‘new media’ in your job title refer?

Martin Salter: Our digital strategy is focused on the improvements of delivering products that are going to help our passengers navigate their way through the airport experience while they’re here.

Everything we do in a digital format is designed to enhance the passengers’ digital experience. Hence, there are opportunities where we can commercialise that experience. If customers are happy we find that we can deliver results for the company, both the experience and commercially.

‘New media’ really was set up to look at advertising opportunities that weren’t traditional, so it covers aspects such as partnerships, kiosks, mobile apps… and the commercialisation of those formats. In addition to that, I manage the Wi-Fi service and the commercial opportunities that exist with this service.

M: Looking back seven years ago to when you started, what was the scene then for how brands were using the airport environments to reach customers?

MS: It was very different. Airport media back seven years ago was focused on the static lightbox. Digital wasn’t really prevalent. I think we had about 12 digital screens in the old portrait format that showed weather and advertising around the departures precinct.

Since then, we were the first airport nationally to implement a free Wi-Fi network. That was in 2010, because we identified an opportunity to provide what was traditionally a paid service for free, enhancing the passenger’s journey at Sydney Airport.

Obviously, that’s a greater cost to the business, but we’ve seen exceptional engagement and you will see that our performance for Wi-Fi on the ASQ airport ranking rates very highly as far as airports in Australia go, and also in the APAC region.

Back in 2010 we developed a ‘CAN’ network to target passengers as they flow through the airport and certain dwell areas. We identified that this was going to be an opportunity commercially and in 2012 we started to provide more in-depth and contextual content to our passengers while they are in these areas such as gate lounges.

Now, technology has evolved so much that when it comes to LED signage and other digital signage, which was once price-prohibitive is now affordable, meaning we can reduce the amount of it that we have in the terminal, make it clutter free, but make what is there more impactful and better quality.

Our focus with APN Outdoor in the recent tender process we’ve been through, is on three key points: consolidation of our network, improving our network through better quality signage, and the standardisation of formats – so where we had old inconsistent formats both externally and internally, we now have a same format signage type, which on a digital basis it means that we can run the same content through both our T1 international terminal and our T2 domestic terminal.

M: In terms of selling the airport to advertisers as a channel, do you frame it like any other media channel? You work out the audience segments and demographics, psychographics and behavioural profile of people within airports?

MS: How much detail do you have on that stuff? We’re very lucky in that we do obtain quite a bit of information through various different sources.

Like most businesses, we do our best to consolidate the data and provide information to other areas of the business that allow more meaningful decisions, both operationally and commercially.

We get a lot of valuable information from our Wi-Fi platform that we input into the Mosaic profiling research platform, and we do that quite often.

Profile information attained gives us real insight into what brands we should be talking to from a retail point of view and from an advertising point of view. Of course, we treat all the information very carefully and in line with the Privacy Act.

M: At the merging of those retail and advertising spaces, what’s the growth been like in branded experiential type activities?

MS: Coopers, for example, running its own bar. There’s certainly more of that. We’ve identified a retail pop-up opportunity in the business with a casual leasing executive driving the strategy.

That experience provides a consistent turnover of new and innovative retail pop-ups, so for people that are regular travellers, it keeps the terminal experience fresh and interesting.

M: Right, because for a lot of business travellers it’s a second home.

MS: Exactly. There’s a lot more frequency of visit in the T2 domestic terminal, as opposed to T1, however through the research we conduct, we have interesting insights that show which brands resonate with our passengers and, through our improvement program at T2, we’re securing a lot of those brands to deliver an enhanced airport experience for passengers.

M: How does that development work relate to changes in the profile of passengers coming through?

MS: A lot of the decisions are being made by the nature of our changing passenger mix, specifically targeting the Chinese audience.

The Chinese passenger number has grown 16.4% in 2015, which is quite a significant amount. We expect that the Chinese passenger will soon overtake New Zealand as an international segment.

Domestically, we’re seeing a new ‘young ambitious’ segment come through. They’re very connected and digitally savvy. And they’re price conscious and not as loyal – they will fly down on one airline and they’ll come back on another.

We’re seeing that this audience is more inclined to fly on price and value, so we need to be smarter about the way we engage with them, and provide services and entertainment in the airport that are going to attract them and enrich their experience.

Internationally, though, we’re focused on being China- ready, and from a digital standpoint we have Chinese apps, we have a Chinese version of our website and we tailor broader communication to this audience.

We developed those about a year and a half ago, and even now we’re looking at new digital strategies as to how we could improve upon the strategy.

For our marketing team, they’re looking at how we can get involved in WeChat and other Chinese social media platforms to promote what we have at Sydney Airport to that market.

M: And all these learnings you’ve experienced similarly need to be taken on board by brands as well.

MS: If I look at the last seven years, and the types of brands that we had in arrivals – including MasterCard, Diners Club, Vodafone – to now, almost all advertisers target the Chinese audience.

We’re seeing a lot of health supplement advertisers and a lot of property developers. The nature of the way people are targeting arrivals is very different and we get a lot of our Chinese airlines advertising on our digital screens in that area, also.

On the domestic side, we’re finding that technology has become a lot more prevalent as a category, so brands like Google and Intel have been advertising more frequently.

Telecommunications not so much recently, but we’re starting to see a little bit of an increase in telco spending in the domestic precinct.

M: What advice do you have for brands targeting airport audiences?

MS: This is my personal view, but I think what they need to do is look at how long they are here and how they can integrate their brand with our customer by providing a customer service experience.

Sponsorship of operational benefits is excellent. We’ve seen Optus do that very well with providing the free internet. American Express does that by providing our Express Path access, charging stations, a lounge and the like.

There’s certainly always an opportunity for brands here, and on a brand point of view we’re developing a lot of contextual-based advertising at Sydney Airport. We’ve merged our advertising software with our flight information software.

With new projects that we’re going to be announcing shortly, we’re able to provide brands with a profile-based, much more targeted way of advertising in specific areas at the airport.

That’s where we’re going. We really are focusing on developing opportunities by integrating our technical assets and our ability within the precinct to be able to deliver more targeted messages to our audience, so then our messages are more relevant to them, thus increasing the engagement of the customer.