Build your 2018 marketing blueprint: Experts on three strategies for success next year

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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.

How will you portray your brand in the year ahead? Now is the time to develop that marketing blueprint for 2018, and no matter what your budget, our experts say results can be achieved if you simply plan for the year.

Will you pour resources in developing a content hub or throw out the line to find influencers who fit with your brand?

We’ve asked the experts for where they would put their focus in 2018 — here are their best bets.

Video trumps all

Social media platforms are fast becoming an endless stream of moving pictures, with even the previously text-heavy LinkedIn jumping in on the video action this year.

Director of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens says it will be impossible to ignore video as an option to get your brand noticed in the year ahead.

“Video is the best performing content for social media with it outperforming the rest nine times over. Try out Facebook Live to launch your next campaign or integrate Snapchat into your marketing mix,” she suggests.

Social media expert Dionne Lew agrees businesses will be expected to use video to give an insight into their business operations over the next year, but warns that with dwindling marketing budgets, punters need to know what they want to get out of it before hitting record.

“If you know your strategic intent ahead of time then what you decide to say and share will be strategically aligned with your aims,” she says.

Crunch the numbers

Businesses have more data at their fingertips than ever before, and that doesn’t just mean you can track how many people are engaging with your brand — it should also mean you’re ruthless with what you spend time and money on.

“We will see a focus on ROI [return on investment] campaigns in 2018 — no longer are big budgets thrown around but cut-through strategies that meet identified targets,” director of InsideOut PR, Nicole Reaney, says.

Brand communications expert Kirryn Zerna has written on this subject earlier in 2017,and says businesses looking to create their marketing blueprint for the next 12 months should also sit down and work out how each piece of their marketing plan fits together, rather than thinking of each Facebook post or customer event as separate items.

“Crafting up an annual plan focused around key themes including integrated engagement that includes distribution ideas with a mix of emails to your database, social media posts, webinars and regular blogs or podcasts will go a long way for brand awareness in 2018,” she recommends.

Head of communications agency Antelope Media, Ralph Grayden, says at this point in time, small businesses should have a handle on data driven content marketing.

“For instance, Facebook advertising lets you target people based on pretty much anything, including interests, demographics, life events, location and more.

The aim is to think about who would be interested in content you’re putting out about a business, and using social media settings to feed this directly to those demographics.

“You’re seeing many small businesses adopt very tight content targeting strategies using this.”

Elevate the conversation

From finding a community of influencers to endless calls to start a blog, small businesses and startups are constantly told to build a community around their products, rather than just a brand.

Over the next year, it will become more important for companies to frame marketing material in the broader social context, Grayden says.

“Most small businesses start with their product as the selling point for content but the best content marketing always connects a product or service with something bigger,” he observes.

While tying your product to a broader idea isn’t a new concept, Grayden predicts early stage companies who will succeed next year will have found a winning formula to tell a broader story about what they offer, whether that’s through engaging with their industry or interests of their community.

“More small businesses are doing the same and becoming publishers in their own right, attaching what they do to a broader topic and even using a separate magazine-style website to do so.”

Lew agrees, advising businesses take the tact of being “useful, not boastful” and thinking about ways they can discuss what they offer while also genuinely sharing their expertise with an audience.

“Be helpful. Think about 100 questions they may have about your area – what you sell – and answer their questions through micro-content above,” she suggests.

Zerna observes when it comes to building a conversation, influencers still also have a role to play — but maybe not in way brands have previously approached this area.

She suggests startups and SMEs search for a pool of people who might be able to collaborate with the brand to engage with it, but suggests companies search the smaller end of the Instagram follower count in order to find voices that will count.

“A micro influencer may not have the millions, but their tribe of 3,000 to 30,000 to 300,000 are very engaged and at times hold even more sway than the big name celebrities,” she suggests.

Reaney agrees, saying when it comes to brand awareness over the next year, the trend will be to find many faces to promote it, rather than one key ambassador.

“Influencer engagement continues to grow and companies are investing in a diversity of up and coming social influencers rather than necessarily one major core celebrity,” she says.

SmartCompany article - Amazon picks fashion for first Australian move: Are shoppers ready?

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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.

It’s been years in the making, and all signs point to retail giant Amazon lifting the lid on its local offering by the end of the month, hoping to catch fashion-conscious shoppers during Australia’s $48 billion Christmas retail season.

Fairfax reports the online retailer’s international production team have landed down under to commence a mammoth run of fashion shoots ahead of local shoppers gaining access to its Australian platform.

Meanwhile, the sellers looking to partner with Amazon Marketplace in Australia are reportedly uploading their inventories and will meet this week for a conference on online sales through its platforms.

A summit in Sydney today will see Amazon “provide practical guidance on setting up and growing a business online”.

A member of Amazon’s local operations told Fairfax on Friday it appears the giant will have its online fashion portal operational by December. Retail analysts have tipped Amazon’s first splash will be an event tied to the Thanksgiving Black Friday sales.

Euromonitor senior research analyst Hianyang Chan told SmartCompany earlier this year Amazon will be prepared to offer local sales events and capitalise on campaigns like Boxing Day by aiming to provide an online experience more comprehensive than any other Australian retailer across all of its brands.

“We can also possibly expect Amazon to offer a carnival-like experience by involving consumers throughout the event such as rolling out new technology innovations and games to enhance the customer’s shopping experience,” Chan says.

On Friday the National Retail Association predicted Australia’s Christmas period would generate $48 billion in sales across the country, with the organisation’s chief executive Dominique Lamb observing retailers have “upped the ante” on fulfilment and delivery this year.

Do Aussies see Amazon as a fashion brand?

Despite predictions Amazon’s clothing offering is not far off in Australia, director of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens observes Australian shoppers might not think of the global giant as a powerhouse for clothing and accessories.

“That being said, with the resources available to them, that customer perception could easily be swayed.”

Secrecy is a significant part of the Amazon brand, and this also looks to be playing out in not revealing details of fashion or other consumer goods that will be on offer, Ahrens says. While Amazon has the “brand equity” to pull off that sense of excitement and secrecy, smaller businesses can’t use this tight-lipped approach so well.

“A secrecy angle just isn’t a launch strategy for smaller businesses,” she says, observing that even when shoppers don’t know what to expect, the very idea of keeping things secret promises “something high quality, and something the customer will like.”

Instead, small businesses facing down Amazon might be well-served to try to surprise their customers, without completely shutting them out of the brand until a big reveal is made.

“Maybe do something like offer a ‘Spring surprise’ event to get people to come along to,” she suggests.

Here comes Christmas

Australian SMEs have long reported to SmartCompany they prefer to see Amazon’s arrival as a opportunity rather than a threat, but retailers across both fashion and lifestyle categories are employing plenty of new strategies in the lead-up to this Christmas.

This includes the rise of the “marketplace”, with everyone from department store Myer to online retail group Catch amping up efforts to turn their portals into one-stop shops across a variety of brands.

Reports of Amazon’s foray into fashion come after months of tough news for Australian bricks-and-mortar retailers. IBISWorld predicts traditional Australian department store sales will grow at 0.7% over the next five years, as the sector faces the fallout from international fast-fashion players that have entered the market.

However, that hasn’t stopped other department store competitors like UK outfitter Debenham’s from establishing a flagship store in Australia in the lead-up to Christmas. When the brand launched last month, management told SmartCompany that speed of purchase was the most important factor in capturing fashion and lifestyle spending in Australia.

Retail analysts agree speed is now the top priority, whether retailers are selling electronics or fashion.

“It’s an interesting time to be in the unsexy area of logistics at the moment, but I definitely think it will become a highly competitive area,” strategist at Retail Oasis Pippa Kulmar predicted in August this year. 

SmartCompany contacted Amazon Australia for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.

How small businesses can combat global giants in the Christmas lead-up

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This article written by Emma Koehn originally appeared on SmartCompany hereas 'Global sports chain JD Sports is expanding its Australian reach in the face of tough retail numbers', featuring commentary from Good Things Marketing's CEO Helen Ahrens.

Footwear retailer JD Sports is opening its fifth Australian retail hub in seven months, with the international brand saying it has seen great results, despite broader sales numbers showing spending is flat in the lead-up to Christmas.

The UK retail chain opened its doors in Melbourne in April having been launched into the Australian market by Rebel Sport founder Hilton Seskin.

At the time, retail experts told SmartCompany the brand had the opportunity to capture market share from other sporting brands given JD’s ability to source limited-edition footwear otherwise not available in the Australian market.

Seskin says the plan has been a success, claiming in a statement about the opening of brand’s new site in Melbourne’s west this week that there had been a “phenomenal response” since the Melbourne Central flagship opened just months ago.

“We have been able to achieve great results by presenting the customer with the best product and by leveraging the retail theatre that JD Sports is known for globally,” he said.

By the end of the year the brand will have stores in Melbourne’s CBD and Highpoint Shopping Centre, Pacific Fair in Queensland, and Miranda and Parramatta in New South Wales.

The continued expansion of the fashion retailer comes as Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals the Australian retail sector missed expected growth figures in September, painting a bleak picture in the lead-up to Christmas spending.

Sales figures were completely flat for September, with $2.6 billion generated by Australian retailers for the month representing a 0.00% seasonally adjusted change compared with August.

The numbers come off a challenging winter for retailers, with a 0.5% drop in August and a 0.3% drop in sales in July of this year.

Executive director of the Australian Retailer’s Association, Russell Zimmerman, told The New Daily the numbers were “in all honesty, alarming”, given expectations there would be a slight increase in sales.

However, JD Sports says it is expecting the launch of yet another store to be a bumper day for its brand globally, with the company expecting a week long “sneaker party” promotion to result in significant traffic to the store.

Australian retail incumbents have watched plenty of global brands dip their toes into the Australian market this year, with brands from TK Maxx to Kaufland aiming to boost customer enthusiasm by promoting offers they say don’t exist elsewhere in the local market.

For smaller players, positioning their brands to generate foot-traffic in the lead up to Christmas is a challenge, but Director of Good Things Marketing, Helen Ahrens, says SMEs should not fear big launches of retailers like JD Sports.

Instead, now is the time for smaller players to throw all they have at telling the story of their brands, she says.

“When the going gets tough, the businesses that invest in marketing and R&D long term are more successful.”

SmartCompany contacted JD Sports but chairman Hilton Seskin was unable to provide comment prior to publication.

Make a pitch to your community this Christmas

Global retailers like JD Sports are seeing opportunities in the local market, and smaller retailers also have a chance to capitalise on this if they take a step back to plan a strategy.

“The aim is to find the opportunities, rather than competing with the big players,” Ahrens says.

This involves not being afraid to use formats like photo and video to share the “one-on-one” relationship you have with customers.

One option to generate foot traffic in the lead-up to Christmas would be to think hyper-local, and promote sales in terms of what this will allow your business to give back to the community. Ahrens suggests thinking about telling customers how their sales will contribute to charity contributions or other projects your business is involved with.

Given there will always be opportunities to capture more shoppers, Ahrens advises businesses to just focus on promoting the one thing you can deliver that other retailers can’t.

“Just be proud of what you’re doing,” she says.

Why this business is asking customers to post one-star reviews

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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.

A Baltimore business is asking customers to leave one-star online reviews of its offerings on Yelp and Facebook in a quest to draw attention to the way reviewing platforms unfairly alter the expectations of patrons before they even visit a venue.

The former No Way José cafe is unveiling a re-brand this week, and will now be known as the One Star Country Club, reports the Baltimore Sun. 

As part of the process, general manager Don Messinese said the venue would ask customers to post a ‘one star’ review after visiting, no matter how much fun they’ve had at the club.

The aim is to push back against “people getting opinions based on the online-review platforms, getting an unfair look into the business before they actually walk through the door and check it out themselves”.

Business owners have spoken out this year about online reviews taking up time and energy, with a number of hospitality owners taking to platforms like TripAdvisor to call out reviewers for their own negative behaviour.

Earlier this month a Queensland grocer took the step of posting CCTV footage of an interaction with a customer to rebut her one-star review of the business after she was asked to finish a phone call in order to complete a transaction.

In September, a Utah ski resort put a one-star review front and centre when it used a customer’s claim a ski run was “too advanced” in an ad promoting its offerings. 

Messinese told the Baltimore Sun the One Star Country Club’s approach is aimed at highlighting the effects of online reviewing, where everyone is a critic and potential customers don’t always have the full context when reading about the experiences of others online.

“It’s being a little playful with the one-star reviews and not taking every single one of them so seriously,” he said.

Director of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens says this approach to mitigating the risks of online reviewing is novel, but warns other businesses that there are risks involved.

“Here this business has a bit of a press campaign behind it so the company will be known for that,” she says.

However, it’s unclear whether a deluge of one-star reviews could mess with a company’s listings, given customers rarely seek out venues with these ratings.

“There is probably a risk in terms of algorithms for one-star reviews [on these platforms]. For example, I have the ability to only search for four and five star review venues.”

SmartCompany was unable to contact the venue for comment prior to publication.

In an era of TripAdvisor reviews, aim for customer connection

Director of InsideOut PR Nicole Reaney says the One Star Country Club’s approach is an example of a business wanting to look at the lighter side of a problem many companies face.

“It’s a light-hearted stunt to generate brand attention and consumer appeal. In its own right, there is validity in their intention – often a brand’s reputation can be skewed by a certain demographic who are likely to make the effort and leave a review,” she says.

The impact of asking customers to write these kind of humour-filled testimonies will hopefully be increased engagement on social media, Reaney believes.

“It’s likely to have reviewers sharing their comments with their social network, bringing additional awareness and potential new customers.”

The venue’s one-star policy comes at the same time the brand is relaunching to a new offering, and Ahrens says this presents a powerful opportunity for brand engagement, provided a business communicates with its existing customers.

“You should have good strong relationships with customers, to take them on board and take them on the journey,” she recommends. 

While there is always a risk that a change in your business might generate negative online feedback from old clients, Ahrens says the most powerful thing a business can do is let their customer base in on the changes.

“If you’ve built up those relationships, why wouldn’t you take these and use them [to promote a rebrand]?”

“Sexist crap”: Target Australia slammed over kids toys promoting gender stereotypes - SmartCompany Article.

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

Despite a checkered history of outrage over gender stereotype-enforcing children’s products, Australian discount department chain Target has been slammed again on social media over blue and pink “boy and girl’s” toys.

The toys in question are a pair of “My First Carry Along” plastic briefcases, one in pink and one in blue. The blue toy is offered as a “medical centre”, whereas the pink toy is a “beauty studio”.

Customers took to Twitter to call out the retail giant over stocking the toys, with the toys being called “an absolute crock” and “sexist crap”.

SmartCompany contacted Target Australia but did not receive a response prior to publication. However, the retailer responded to individual tweets from disgruntled customers, saying it was currently investigating the matter.

“Hi there, thanks for getting in touch! We want to encourage children to be whatever they aspire to be so are disappointed to hear this,” the company said in a tweet.

This is not the first time Target has been caught out for stocking products and promoting gender stereotypes in store, with the company coming under fire for stocking a girl’s ‘Batgirl’ t-shirt in late 2016.

However, shortly after discontinuing the shirt, the company received further backlash from customers who had promised the shirt to their children.

In the US, Target removed all gendered signage from its stores in 2015, saying it did not want customers to be “frustrated or limited” by how products are presented in-store.

However, previous backlash and discussion on the issue has not prevented the company striking the outrage chord again, which director at Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens believes is “sadly” due to the sales supporting the products.

“When there’s a small amount of outrage but a large amount of profit, it gets tricky for companies and consumers,” Ahrens told SmartCompany.

“But this doesn’t mean Target shouldn’t do the right thing by working towards breaking down gender stereotypes. Don’t just pigeonhole people into boxes because it’s profitable.”

In a similar view, director at Marketing Angels Michelle Gamble told SmartCompany that categorising a target market in this way is how “99% of companies do it”, hence why these products keep being placed on shelves.

“Marketing and product development work that way — you put people in a certain box,” she says.

But Gamble says this doesn’t mean Target should continue to perpetuate these stereotypes and notes the company has done some good work in promoting diversity in its clothing catalogues.

“On a gender front they’re still putting people in boxes, so it’s an opportunity for Target to pave the way and embrace more diverse views,” she says.

“Equality is really high on the agenda right now, so the quicker a business embraces it, the more forward thinking and progressive they will appear.”

Ahrens agrees, saying with the current marriage equality postal survey underway, there’s never been a better time for businesses to take a stance on social issues such as gender equality.

“This year has been the year of taking a stance for commercial businesses, so in my mind, there’s no reason after this year why businesses can’t take a moral stance,” she says.

“A precedent has been set.”