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


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


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.


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.”

Article: The original Tamagotchi will return to Australia, but will nostalgia be enough to drive sales?


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

Get ready to switch off those smartphones and turn off those TVs, because the Tamagotchi is back.

The virtual pet toy that dominated the 1990s has been given a new lease on life in its original form. Producer Bandai Namco will be re-releasing the original model in Australia from next month.

The egg-shaped digital pet was first released in Japan, but its popularity spread like wildfire to all corners of the globe with over 82 million models sold after in first launched in 1996. The toy sprouted numerous imitations, spinoffs, and follow-up models, with the most recent 2013 model including near field communication functionality and playable mini-games.

But banking on the nostalgia of Gen Ys and Millennials to drive sales, the upcoming new-old Tamagotchi model won’t include any bells or whistles.

The company is instead sticking with the compact egg shape, unlabelled buttons, and has gone for a smaller 256×256 LCD screen.

If painstakingly caring for a small alien pet for hours every day only to have it die on you anyway is your thing, the new version Tamagotchis will reportedly be available in “most toy and collector stores” from November onwards, at a price of $24.95.

While choosing to relaunch the virtual pet might be a questionable move in a world where young adults can barely keep a pot plant alive, director of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens thinks Bandai could be in for a winner.

“Launching something like the Tamagotchi in 2017 has some risk, but it could definitely take off,” Ahrens told SmartCompany.

“For example, smartwatches like the Apple Watch exist, but people will still pay for and seek out the timeless classics when it comes to watches, because of that nostalgia and longevity factor.”

Ahrens believes the Tama-relaunch is likely targeting both nostalgia-ready adults and curious kids and teenagers, and despite competing against the millions of apps available on modern smartphones, she thinks “tech abandoners” will be keen to engage with something simple.

Memories of the 90s driving strategy

Speaking to The Verge, director of brand management at Bandai America Tara Badie was blunt about the company’s intentions.

“We’re going after that nostalgia,” she said.

“I’m not going to pretend it’s the best, latest, greatest everything, and it’s going to compete with your constant social medias and all that that’s constantly changing and everything,” she told The Verge. 

“But when you take care of something, you start to love it and want to take care of it. You want it to grow. You have that connection with it, so you want to have it succeed and survive.”

The Tamagotchi relaunch is riding on the coattails of a number of similar relaunches, including Nintendo’s NES and SNES mini consoles which have seen high levels of consumer demand. The new Tamagotchi models will be a limited edition run.

Nostalgia-fuelled product releases come in cycles says Ahrens, which has been happening “since the beginning of marketing and advertising time” and can work well for brands, given they don’t push it too hard.

“Go for it, but don’t be too cheesy,” she says.

“There should be a fun factor, but there is a point where you can be pushing too hard and it’ll come across as behind the times. Run it as a campaign, but not an overall strategy.”

“Bandai is excited to bring back one of the most beloved toys in a way that captures the magic and joy of a generation while embracing the sensibilities of new generations,” a Bandai Namco Australia spokesperson told SmartCompany.

An army of chocolate lovers is putting the hard word on Cadbury to bring back this product


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

Chocolate maker Cadbury has been hit with a deluge of emotional pleas calling for the restoration of its marble chocolate block, in the latest chapter of a social media campaign that has popped up over the past year to bring back the milk and white chocolate swirl.

A Facebook post from a Cadbury fan last Thursday has generated more than 25,000 engagements after she begged the company to bring back the marble blocks and their “fluffy hazelnut praline” centres.

“I’m writing to implore you to bring it back, even just for a little a while. Let’s not kid ourselves, it should have never been taken away,” the post reads.

Cadbury Australia has been tight-lipped on whether there’s any chance the product, which was discontinued in 2012, could actually return.

In a statement to SmartCompany, a spokesperson for Cadbury’s parent company Mondelez International said while the company was constantly reviewing product lines, the discontinuation of the marble block years ago was a case of making way for other ideas.

“Unfortunately this sometimes means that nostalgic favourites need to be discontinued to make way for the new,” the spokesperson said.

While there was no commitment to a revival, the company says “we are always listening to consumer feedback so we never say never!”.

This is not the first time this year the chocolate maker has been asked to come to the table to discuss resurrecting the product.

A Facebook page with more than 10,000 followers has also been making a push for the return of the product, posting a variety of humorous pleas, including an image of an open letter to Malcolm Turnbull on the matter.

In response to individual comments on Facebook this week, Cadbury Australia has responded with the message, “We’ll let our team know of your interest in seeing Marble return “.

Social media expert and director of Social Concepts Jessica Humphreys says even if the company has no intention of bringing back the product, Cadbury could be doing more to leverage the product enthusiasm on show in this case.

“I think most businesses of any size would count themselves lucky to be in the position Cadbury is, but they’re not really taking the opportunity,” she says. 

Even if there’s no intention of reviving a product, it’s important to engage with fans to show “there’s an understanding of why they love the product”, Humphries says. In this case, a standard response might not cut it.

Amplifying the goodwill

Cases like this one hold significant lessons for small businesses, says branding expert Michel Hogan. There’s always room to amplify enthusiasm even if you can’t follow through on a customer’s request.

“If something like this is going viral, it’s going viral from a reason,” Hogan says.

“You’ve got a customer saying, ‘Hey, we love you!’ They’re not saying, ‘you suck’. It’s about finding and taking the cue from the customer and doing something with it.” 

There might be cases where you simply cannot accommodate a request for a product relaunch because of logistics or timing. Hogan says that doesn’t mean a business shouldn’t form a connection with a fan who is asking for something to be added to your business.

“There are so many other ways you can tap into it. Maybe you involve the person in a product development group, saying ‘we’d love to have your opinion on some other good things we have coming up.”

Chief executive of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens agrees that bringing fans into the realm of product testing is a good strategy. But given Cadbury’s silence so far, Ahrens believes it’s unlikely the company is seriously thinking about relaunching the marble product.

“If they haven’t brought it out already, then it’s probably not viable,” she says.

However, Cadbury’s reluctance could carve a space for other businesses to leverage enthusiasm for the marble product with their own cheeky campaigns.

“Maximise the opportunity that someone else isn’t picking up on,” Ahrens says.

“If you were a rival chocolatier, I would be a bit cheeky on social, maybe offer a product, or try a “Marble pop-up” in your cafe.” 

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