Should you let a robot decide how you tell your brand story?

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This article written by Emma Koehn originally appeared on SmartCompany here, featuring commentary from Good Things Marketing's CEO Helen Ahrens.

You’ve heard the statistics and the reality is right there in front of your face: digital devices are now literally attached to your consumers.

And yet, it can feel like a bigger battle to capture their attention than ever. 

Surveys of both business owners and consumers suggest that when it comes to digital marketing, things aren’t as simple as just buying some search terms and setting up a Facebook page. 

When Sensis surveyed 1,100 businesses and 800 consumers in June, the results showed the number of users actively following brands online dropped from 36% a year ago to 24%, suggesting the drive for customers to connect with your business through digital channels is waning.

But beyond the guidebooks on search engine marketing and optimisation, there’s a whole range of trends emerging that you can take advantage of to connect directly with your user base and to make sure your brand stays front-of-mind.

SmartCompany spoke to digital marketing experts this week to find out how you can leverage some of these new approaches.

Interactivity and speed in storytelling

Social media expert Dionne Lew says brands can no longer think of digital marketing as big chunks of information or storytelling.

“The trend small businesses should be tracking is micro-content,” she says.

There might be a temptation to create lengthy, detailed narratives, users are increasingly switching off any information that takes them a long time to process.

“While customers have 24 hours in a day, they have 31 hours of activity. They are stacking activities — for example, listening to a podcast while they go for a run,” she explains.

This means a brand’s digital marketing should include a number of pieces of “stackable” content, including video, that can be easily accessed and engaged with in small bites.

Ralph Grayden, director of content marketing agency Antelope Media, founder says interactivity is also going to play a big role in the year ahead.

“We’ve actually been working on quizzes and “choose-your -own adventure” type content just as much as on traditional articles,” he says. 

Customers who are engaging with brands online are less interested in simply hearing about their offerings; they’re now more interesting in getting things — whether that is a discount or another opportunity, according to the Sensis survey. 

Thinking about fun and engagement when setting up your strategy can also allow users to learn more about what you do in a way that can, in turn, give you data about what your users want.

The strategy of “gamifying” or creating easy-to-consume digital content has been favoured by a number of brands over the past year, including removal startup TaxiBox, which created a Tetris game last year to give more users an incentive to book their services.

Artificial intelligence and automation

If you’ve attended any kind of marketing workshop over the past 12 months, chances are you’ve heard the concepts of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) thrown around.

Founder of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens says SMEs and startups should be across what automation could mean for all parts of their strategy.

“It’s automation in sales — the ease of e-commerce platforms; automation in email marketing, [with products like] Mailchimp, and their integrations into e-commerce/CRM [customer relationship management] platforms, and automation in social media,” she says. 

Picking an automation software that works for your specific needs could mean you can start generating digital content that can compete with what’s being produced by the bigger players in your industry, because with the tools now available, smaller operators don’t have to outlay so much time on the set-up, says Grayden.

“Automation changes let SMEs compete on a more level playing field. What that means is streamlining processes, taking the burden of producing content and maintaining social media and newsletter campaigns away,” he says. 

Platforms that use artificial intelligence to match messaging to customers might have seemed like light years away in the mid 2000s, but Australian entrepreneurs are increasingly using — and investing — in these tools.

Earlier this month Shark Tank investor and serial business founder Naomi Simson announced her company, Big Red Group, had secured the rights to bring artificial intelligence marketing platform Albert to Australia. 

Albert is designed to process mammoth amounts of data to identify information points, like popular keywords, to boost the performance of a company’s search engine marketing.

The RedBalloon business says the technology reduced its customer acquisition costs by 25% in its first month of use. Simson says despite some business operators being hesitant about AI, it can free up valuable energy when used the right way.

“We should not be fearful of this, as it frees our people up to focus on the higher value tasks like collaboration, strategy and creativity,” she said last month.

The advice game

A SmartCompany survey conducted earlier this year found content marketing was the third most popular strategy among 700 SMEs, with blogs, video content and podcasts all popular areas of priority.

But just because you have expertise in a particular area doesn’t mean you’re going to create bang for buck making content. It’s a slow process, and one that requires diligence, say experts.

“It’s the Pantene principle — it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen,” says digital marketing expert Kirryn Zerna, who says businesses get the best boost from producing regular content, rather than just publishing the odd piece of advice here and there.

Depending on your setup, the idea of regularly feeding a content hub to attract more customers might seem like a nightmare, but the other great thing about AI is it can consolidate what you already have, says Lew.

“For example, using free tools like Lumens5 you combine text and images through AI to create a video,” she says.

Once you’ve got a clear goal and a system in place, you can then knock over groups of bite-sized content in a row, Lew says.

“You can work out say 20 micro-stories that you can tell around a bigger issue and produce it in advance, in batches, which you just drip feed out,” she adds. 

Microsoft unveils suite of SME tools: Is it time for your business to start email marketing?

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This article written by Dominic Powell originally appeared on SmartCompany here.

Tech giant Microsoft has unveiled a new suite of tools aimed directly at SMEs and bundled in with its Office 365 collection, including an invoicing, listings, and email marketing tool.

The three tools will be included in the company’s Office 365 Business Premium edition and will come with a centralised management tool called Business Center where SME owners can receive updates from all utilised software.

The company released the software package as part of its “commitment” to small businesses and will roll out the offerings to customers in the UK, US, and Canada in the next few weeks. Australian customers will likely get the software later this year if timelines are consistent with other software roll-outs.

The first product included in the suite is Microsoft Listings, a tool which makes it easier for SMEs to update their online listing details, like opening hours and locations across a number of websites, including Google, Yelp, and Facebook.

The tool also collates the amount of traffic and reviews and ratings businesses have gotten from those websites and compares them to each other so businesses can “make it easier to understand feedback from your customers and strengthen your online reputation”.

The next cab off the rank is Microsoft’s take on an invoicing tool, imaginatively called Microsoft Invoicing. The tool lets SMEs create invoices, track outstanding invoices, and process payments through services such as Paypal and Quickbooks.

The last tool might be the most alluring to some small business owners, a simple-to-use email marketing tool that lets businesses create, send, and track email marketing campaigns.

 

Source: Microsoft

The tool lets businesses create customer segments and track analytics about sent campaigns. Chief executive of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens told SmartCompany Microsoft’s move was likely trying to capture small businesses just starting out in the digital space.

“They’re starting to realise the market for SMEs is becoming incredibly diversified, and they’re trying to become the one-stop shop for small businesses,” she says.

Email marketing key for all businesses say experts

Even though some SME owners might think content marketing through newsletters and other email-based methods wouldn’t benefit their businesses, Ahrens says every company, no matter the size or type, should be looking into email marketing.

Ralph Grayden, content marketer at Antelope Media, agrees, but notes businesses should make sure the emails they send out are in line with the offerings of their business.

“A business that relies on people coming in and buying fried chicken might not be the best target for email marketing around becoming the thought leader in fried chicken, but weekly specials emails could work,” Grayden told SmartCompany.

“Businesses need to be quite flexible in their approach, and work out what resonates with your mailing list.”

The main issue for for many businesses thinking about email marketing is the amount of time it takes to set up and execute, says Grayden, claiming many SMEs don’t have the time or resources to do it regularly and let it fall by the wayside.

However, he notes it can be a cost-effective way for businesses to attract more customers, and outlined three ways for SMEs to get on board with email marketing if starting from scratch.

“Firstly, develop a strategy for the email. One of the main mistakes I see is SMEs jumping into it and sending out emails about anything.

“Secondly, segment your mailing list so you hit people with content relevant to them. If your emails miss the mark, people will unsubscribe or ignore them pretty quickly,” he says.

“Finally, be realistic about how often you can send it. People can get a bit revved up and start to think they can handle a couple of articles a week, but then they find they can’t handle the momentum.”

 

If you're looking to start email marketing, creating content or automating the communications that you currently sending, please comment below or send me a private message to discuss how Good Things Marketing can help with your digital marketing.

The "cult of Kmart" - SmartCompany article

This article written by Dominic Powell originally appeared on SmartCompany here.

Kmart opens its 200th store: Three reasons the much-loved retailer has seen success

Much-loved discount retailer Kmart unveiled its 200th Australasian store in Perth last week, reports the West Australian, marking a significant milestone for Wesfarmers-owned department store, which has established dominance in the discount department store space over the past five years.

Kmart’s success has been so prominent the retailer has been accused of “cannibalising” other Wesfarmers-owned department store brand Target, raising concerns over Target’s future as it continues to operate in the shadow of the burgeoning Kmart.

“Today, Kmart is where Target was seven years ago, with Kmart’s first-half earnings in 2016 at $319 million, while Target has slumped to $74 million. Quite simply, Target lost its way and confused its core customer,” wrote retail analyst Gary Mortimer in 2016.

Similarly, Woolworths’ big box retailer Big W has come upon hard times in recent years, recently launching a turnaround strategy retail experts called the company’s “last chance” at a comeback. The business recently faced second half losses of up to $100 million.

Kmart’s 200th store has kept it in the middle of the pack compared with the reach of its competitors: Big W operates 186 stores across the country, while Target had 304 as of the end of 2016.

So how has Kmart’s brand continued to thrive whilst other businesses in the sector falter? Here are three reasons experts believe it has managed to keep ahead of the pack.

1. Store layout

Director of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens is a strong believer Kmart’s centralised store design is a big factor in the retailer’s success.

“The decentralised checkout in the centre of the store means customers purchase their items in the middle, and then as they travel out they find more things they need and they purchase them again at the second set of checkouts,” Ahrens told SmartCompany.

“In terms of store layout and merchandising, they’re so far ahead.”

However, shoppers didn’t feel the same way when Kmart announced the new-look stores, with hundreds of complaints being issued on social media after the roll-out, with many customers unhappy around the inconvenience the checkouts placed on both staff and customers.

“What annoys me is when I’ve walked all the way to the front of store to find the self-serve checkouts are closed off…..then have to walk back to the middle to serve myself….then walk out again to have to show my receipt to a worker at the door,” one disgruntled shopper wrote.

2. Kmart keeps it focused and keeps it simple

One of the store’s greatest strengths is its no-nonsense approach to pricing, believes brand advisor Michel Hogan, telling SmartCompany the retailer has become “essentially Australia’s Walmart”.

“Big box retail experiences are much of a muchness, no matter if it’s Target, Kmart or Big W. With that being the case, Kmart had to choose something to compete on, be it product range, quality, or price,” Hogan says.

“If you ask someone who doesn’t necessarily shop there, ‘what do you think of when you think of Kmart?’, they’re going to say ‘that’s the place where you can get really cheap stuff’, and that’s the mark of a strong brand.”

Ahrens agrees and believes the retailer’s low prices, in conjunction with simple offerings, has really pushed the department store above its competition.

“Its stuff is so simple and clean, they don’t try and tack anything on. It’s just four dollar tubs, that’s it,” she says.

“By focusing on the four dollar tubs, customers come in to buy them, but they also buy $50 worth of other things.”

It’s this approach that both Ahrens and Hogan believe are the biggest takeaways for businesses hoping to emulate Kmart’s success, with Ahrens saying businesses shouldn’t try to focus on everything at once.

“Focus on something steady and have faith in secondary purchasing. If you’re a cafe with really good coffee, then focus on that, and just trust customers will buy other items like breakfast rolls or muffins,” she says.

Hogan agrees, saying to “pick your poison and stay focused”.

“Look at any successful brand, they’ll do this really well. There might be some different colours to it, but your focus should stay firmly entrenched.”

3. The cult of Kmart

Finally, a big part of Kmart’s success is what Ahrens calls the “cult of Kmart”, facilitated by the retailer’s “for everybody” approach.

Kmart has a devoted fanbase both online and in real life, with Facebook pages such as Kmart Bargains and Kmart Hacks having hundreds of thousands of followers.

Ahrens thinks this is due to the retailers careful positioning as a lifestyle brand for anyone, not taking the tact of appealing to a narrow user base.“It’s a lifestyle brand that’s accessible to everyone, not just one group of people or type of person. They’ve really thought about the customer journey from beginning to end,” she says.

“Their marketing is also excellent, and they’ve got simultaneous communications across all platforms, and they know their target audiences online really well.”

Three marketing lessons from the "food porn" & social media marketing era

“The era of food porn is here. Food is a universal language,” says Good Things Marketing chief executive Helen Ahrens. Experts say there are three rules to live by in this era of “food porn”.

Discover Good Things Marketing's CEO comments and rules to live by in social media marketing for food businesses below in SmartCompany's article written by Emma Koehn.

 

Three marketing lessons from the ‘cafe’ promoting $5 spoons of Nutella

A humble teaspoon of Nutella got Melbourne’s cafe scene in a spin yesterday after reports a local pop-up was planning on offering $5 spoons of the hazelnut treat, but despite the outrage, experts say SMEs have plenty to learn from way desserts now go viral on social media.

Cafe lovers were appalled by the suggestion punters would hand over a five dollar note for a spoonful of “Naughty Nutella” or “Playful PB&J”, but it looks likely this phenomenon won’t actually be coming to the city any time soon.

The post first appeared on Melbourne Cool, a Facebook page that has previously featured suggestions of other hyper-Melbourne fare and was picked up by a number of media outlets, including Yahoo7 and Daily Mail

However, there’s plenty of speculation that the pop-up store ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ doesn’t exist and the post was satirical. SmartCompany contacted Melbourne Cool but is yet to receive a response.

Despite questions over the veracity of the Nutella spoon promotion, marketing and social media experts tell SmartCompany there’s actually plenty to learn from the fierce interest among customers in the world of food, particularly cafe fare and new inventions that get promoted on social media.

“There era of food porn is here. Food is a universal language,” says Good Things Marketing chief executive Helen Ahrens.

The speed with which so-called ‘hipster’ food products take off online was recently on display when a Melbourne cafe created a latte served in the skin of an avocado, prompting weeks’ worth of enthusiasm and criticism of the ‘avolatte’ across all forms of social media.

So whether you’re creating a new coffee-fresh food hybrid, or simply wanting to find a new customer base for your hospitality business, experts say there are three rules to live by in this era of “food porn”.

1. Timing is everything 

Posts about novelty food items take off fast, but if you want to leverage social to drive customers on an hour-by-hour basis, it’s all about getting in the head of hungry punters, says Ahrens.

“KFC has been doing it really well if you watch them, with good integrated Facebook campaigns for food, at certain food times,” she says. 

It may sound simple, but pitching your offerings at the exact same time people’s stomachs are starting to rumble can start to build customer habits by driving them to your business on a regular basis, says Ahrens.

“Figure out the times of day when people get hungry — if you’re offering office snacks, you have much more space throughout the day; if you’re offering meals, [it’s] later in the day,” she says. 

One of the benefits of using social media to capture these new customers is that you don’t have to go all out on high production values at first, Ahrens says. Instead, it’s possible to use trial and error to work out which posts bring customers through the door.

“Start small, test and pivot, always — when you have no budget, that’s what you should be doing always anyway,” says Ahrens. 

2. Understand the power of sharing 

The key reason the idea of a spoonful of Nutella or an avolatte gains traction so quickly online is that food is built so tightly into people’s social interactions, says Catriona Pollard, director of CP Communications and a social media expert.

“For people who are foodies, the natural thing they do is to take a photo of their food and then share it. They feel like they’re a part of a community and there is immense power in that from a brand’s perspective,” she says. 

When social media users engage with food products or businesses online, they naturally want to share what they’ve found with other users online, meaning visual representations of food quickly become topics of engagement between multiple users, says Pollard. This means SMEs wanting to pitch their food creations online are best served by finding those “foodie” communities to connect to, Pollard says.

“Any brand who isn’t using groups effectively on Facebook should be. I’m not a foodie, but I would imagine there are so many really connected groups for brands to reach,” she says. 

Ahrens agrees, advising SMEs to think about connecting with micro influencers on a local level and using that as a starting point to get the word out about your food business when just starting out.

“It might be worth looking around at what’s happening in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, for example, seeing who is there, and going from there,” she says. 

Being aware of the relationship between food and sharing is also critical because when you get it wrong, word moves fast, says Pollard.

“The thing about social media here is that it’s peer-to-peer, so if you feel outraged by something and you share your outrage, it’s likely the people you connect with on social media will also be outraged,” Pollard says. 

With that in mind, Pollard says it’s critical to test new ideas for promotions with trusted sources offline first, “especially if they could potentially be high risk”.

3. Don’t become a food snob 

The intersection of Australia’s food scene and social media is occurring at a time when the country is hungry for light-hearted stories about invention, says Nicole Reaney, director of InsideOut PR and founder of social media agency #AsSeenOn.

“With current news events, there is an appetite, mind the pun, for light-hearted media stories. Australia is also becoming a foodie-nation, and with the photo platform of Instagram, this passion for the newest and latest is sky-rocketing,” she says.

This makes it a prime time for potentially taking a risk with new food ideas: “Out-of-the-box, controversial and extreme offerings are likely to garner consumer and media attention,” Reaney says.

However, in an age of interconnected foodies, businesses should remember they don’t have to create Michelin-star level imagery in order to connect with potential customers.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously — don’t spend millions on dollars on video or anything,” Ahrens says. 

Instead, Ahrens it’s better to market the food you want to sell using the perfectly good tools already on the market, instead of setting up a video studio to film your next big cafe invention.

Run your content past your barista before going public - SmartCompany article

Summary
SmartCompany article by Dominic Powell:
"Chief executive of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens advises SME owners to go one step further and get any major public campaign checked over with someone outside of your marketing team and target audience. “It could be your accountant, a friend from another business, your barista, or your Pilates buddy,” she says. “If there’s anything that doesn’t fit or looks odd, then in your trusted relationship they should be able to raise that flag and tell you.” Although Ahrens says vigilance and strong procedures can help businesses avoid the missteps altogether, if a mistake happens, it’s best to take in on board and fix it quickly. “If you break it, you’ve got to own up and fix it,” she says.

 

JB Hi-Fi “race wars” bundle blunder leaves customers scratching their heads

Customers have taken to social media in confusion after electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi  advertised a collection of video games as a “race wars bundle” last week.

Kotaku reports the company’s latest catalogue featured the mishap in its advertisement of a bundle of two Xbox games and an Xbox console. The deal was a package of strategy game Halo Wars 2 and racing game Forza Horizon 3, leading to the unfortunate description of the bundle as a “race wars” deal.

The online version of the catalogue has been since amended, with the deal’s name changed simply to the “Halo Horizon” bundle. However, the preview excerpt of the catalogue on the company’s website still contains the controversial title, and the print edition of the catalogue reportedly still contains the error.

A number of punters took to social media to question the headline, with one customer tweeting “someone at Jb Hifi [sic] thought ‘Race Wars’ was a good name for a sale, and not a single person thought ‘wait, hold up a minute’?”.

However, staff reportedly did raise questions about the bundle’s title in the catalogue, prompting an internal memo from the company acknowledging the issue and advising staff to steer away from the “political angle”.

“We have been advised that some store staff who have seen the catalogue have interpreted the title in a more political context,” the internal memo reads reports Kotaku.

“Please note that it is intended purely as a reference from the Fast and the Furious franchise … please share with your teams to ensure they have the background if consumers come at this from a political angle.”

Run your content past your barista before going public

Marketing Angels founder Michelle Gamble suggests the “fast-moving” nature of JB Hi-Fi’s retailing and marketing means the title was likely an unfortunate oversight from someone on the marketing team who hasn’t thought it through clearly.

However, she advises SMEs to have stringent approval processes in place when to comes to marketing content, as letting something like this through the cracks can bring unwanted attention to your business.

“Having a good approval process, especially for larger companies, is essential. For smaller businesses, it’s different as the teams are often smaller, but you can still run it by your family or friends,” Gamble told SmartCompany.

Chief executive of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens agrees. She advises SME owners to go one step further and get any major public campaign checked over with someone outside of your marketing team and target audience.

“It could be your accountant, a friend from another business, your barista, or your Pilates buddy,” she says.

“If there’s anything that doesn’t fit or looks odd, then in your trusted relationship they should be able to raise that flag and tell you.”

If issues are then flagged with the content, it’s important to listen and act, advises Gamble.

“If people are flagging issues with your marketing, make sure you address their concerns and don’t ignore it. Even if their opinion is different, everyone’s perception varies and offense could be caused,” she says.

Although Ahrens says vigilance and strong procedures can help businesses avoid the missteps altogether, if a mistake happens, it’s best to take in on board and fix it quickly.

“If you break it, you’ve got to own up and fix it,” she says.

SmartCompany contacted JB Hi-Fi but the company declined to comment.