10 years, 10 learnings.

Last year our CEO Helen Ahrens completed her milestone 10th year in marketing, digital and technology industries. Below are 10 of her snapshot insights, originally published on LinkedIn here.


Last year I completed my milestone tenth year in marketing, digital and technology industries. With this decade of experience comes many roles, adventures, travel, stories, and life learnings.

From my last decade in evolving from a Marketing & IT Assistant, to becoming the Founder & CEO of an international digital marketing agency and lecturing across several Australian Universities, here are ten of my snapshot insights:

  1. Do good work with good people, and good things will grow.

  2. Strategy first, action second. Strategy is the key to success in smart business and in marketing. Without strategy you become ‘busy’ without purpose.

  3. Evolve yourself through education; new skills, new platforms, new technologies, new geolocations. Push the boundaries of your comfort zone to enter your zone of brilliance. Read everything often, undertake courses and workshops, and seek new skills outside your field.

  4. Complacency is a huge risk. Diversify constantly and cut your teeth on new things coming out as often as you can.

  5. Failure is a learning process so have a crack at every opportunity. How do you know that something is rubbish or groundbreaking if you haven’t yet tried it?

  6. Creativity is a skill that constantly needs tending to, developing and stretching out. Work it or lose it!

  7. Data is power; find it, mine it, read it, use it, review it.

  8. Relationships are gold. Invest time in making quality connections, treat all people with respect regardless of their role or background, and always offer value before you do an ask.

  9. Seek advice and give mentorship. You can only action what you know so ask for more. Once you know it, then share it with others who are on the way up. Rinse and repeat.

  10. Think big. You shouldn’t be content with just being average; go big, go hard or go home. Take pride in your work and be confident. If you’re doing amazing things, don’t be afraid to share it and revel in the successes of others too.

In short, work hard (and smart), do your best work, be nice to people and you’ll always come out on top. With this in mind, I’m already looking forward to my next ten years of learning and developments.

Which one of these insights resonate with you and your career?


Article: H&M called out by Melbourne artist for using his music without permission in latest marketing controversy


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

Retail brand H&M is in hot water over a branding campaign once again, having been accused of using a Melbourne musician’s intellectual property in a social media post without his permission.

On Tuesday H&M uploaded a post to Instagram showcasing the history behind blue jeans. Many social media users commented on the post, asking if they could get the name of the song played in the advertisement.

H&M replied to many of the comments saying the music does not have a name because it was specifically produced for them.

However, it was later claimed the song, actually titled ‘Bamboo’, is produced by Melbourne-based artist Mike Katz, who produces under the moniker Harvey Sutherland.

Sutherland commented on the H&M post saying the music was his and was being used without his express permission or attribution. Katz also happens to an entertainment lawyer who reached out to H&M on social media to arrange some kind of licensing agreement.

In a statement provided to SmartCompany, H&M have said “we apologise and have now removed content featuring the music from all of our social media accounts. We are also in direct contact with the artist”.

The Swedish fashion brand has caught up in multiple branding controversies over the past three years, with one recent advertisement featuring a black child model wearing a jumper that said “coolest monkey in the jungle”.

The campaign led to widespread backlash and Canadian musician The Weeknd ending a partnership with the fashion brand.

View image on Twitter - "woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. i’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore..."

In 2015, the ABC reported H&M justified their decision to not feature black models in their South African stores by saying they wanted “to convey a positive message”.

Brands need to be more socially aware and take responsibility for their actions

Founder of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens says there are two possibilities for how Katz’s music could have ended up in the H&M advertisement.

“Being a big company, it could have been the case of someone putting out an order to develop a piece of music, and someone delivering something [and then] the team signed off, unaware its was a duplicate,” she says.

“The second possibility is they knew they were doing something naughty and thought they could get away with it, which hopefully isn’t the case.”

While Ahrens believes H&M will most likely bounce back from this situation she says steps need to be taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again,  given the brand has been swept up in marketing controversies in the past.

“We have a social responsibility that if we do something that damages a certain group or person, we should put a policy that prevents it from happening again,” she says. 

As a youth-oriented brand, Ahrens says H&M need to be particularly cautious of the increasingly brand-aware audience: in particular, younger consumers who are beginning to make more informed choices on who they support based on factors like ethical production and social responsibility.

For brands who do take a step in the wrong direction with marketing campaigns, Ahrens believes remedies could include making a financial contribution to an area that combats a relevant social issue, or allowing a team to take a day off to work in a not-for-profit that raises awareness.

“They will recover, but consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, they do care about the social bottom line — particularly the millennial audience.”

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


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


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?


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.