Article: Big Bash League swinging for the fences: A case study in marketing and branding

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

If the latest TV ratings are anything to go by, the Big Bash League’s hitting just as many boundaries off the cricket field as on it.

Fairfax reports Tuesday’s season opener reached a peak audience of 1.44 million, up 15% on last year’s first game. And with negotiations for the next TV deal on the horizon, Cricket Australia could be sitting on a hell of a good wicket with the shorter, entertainment fuelled format.

But really it’s the marketing behind the sport that’s driving this cricketing renaissance. So we spoke to some experts to find out what’s behind this growing popularity for the BBL and other sporting success stories like it.

Brand repositioning

Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels says the Big Bash’s success is a classic case of repositioning a brand. She says while cricket has long been a classic summer sport, it was also the victim of slowly declining viewership and in desperate need of a brand refresh.

“They’ve done that very successfully in terms of using bright colours and changing the format to a faster game. It’s a bit like going to a baseball game in the States,” she says.

But crucially, she says, the governing body has built this new brand from the ground up, promoting it at the grassroots level of the game right up to the national elite level of the sport.

“I see guys playing cricket in Big Bash branded uniforms at my local oval on a Friday afternoon. So that branding across all levels of the game builds brand consistency, brand recall and brand awareness. It’s classic strong branding,” she says.

Knowing the audience

It’s also no coincidence the Big Bash’s fast, snappy approach to the game is perfect for the family audience it’s targeting. Good Things Marketing chief executive Helen Ahrens refers to this form of content as being of the ‘snackable’ variety.

“It’s a trend we’re seeing across all industries — marketing and media is becoming short, sweet and easily accessible,” she says.

And it’s that snappiness, she says, that appeals to wide cricketing audience.

“It’s about targeting a family audience that are looking for an experience together. You can take the kids and grandma and have a really nice day,” she explains.

“Clearly they understand their audience. And often with sports like these, there’s very strategic planning going on the background in terms of data to reach that point of understanding.”

Building a media brand

The Big Bash’s apparent successes clearly bode well for the next TV rights deal. But as Michelle Gamble explains, this sport and others like it are fast becoming media channels in and of themselves.

“With the fragmentation of media and so much content going online, it’s now more about creating your own content and audience separate from the TV audience”, she says.

“Social media is a huge part of that. And pushing those eyeballs across your own channels versus having it on various outlet media channels.”

Already the World Surf League is making huge strides on that front. It’s an example of taking control of your own content delivery.

“They have their own media brand and so they don’t need to sell the rights to any of the major surfing competitions or to any of the media brands,” she says.

“So if you want to watch Kelly Slater surf the Pipe Masters, you just have to log on to the WSL website and then they can attract major sponsors to their brand.”

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]?”