Like us, you may be one of the many Australians who have decided to do their bit and stay home during these difficult times. You might be doing this because you have to — as one of the people who flew in from overseas and are self-isolating for two weeks, or because you’re working from home, or because you’re not feeling well (if this is the case, we hope you get better soon). Or you might be one of the people caught up in the sudden downturn, finding yourself unfortunately at loose ends. It’s ok to take a break. Have a long drink. Exercise. Hug your pet. Practising self-care isn’t some hippie thing off the yoga-enthusiast corner of the internet: it’s an essential part of everyone’s well-being, key to not feeling overwhelmed by the constant barrage news.
Not looking to take a break? Thinking of setting up a small business in your own home? We’re here to help.
The Basics of Home Business
There are some things you’d have to read up on your own that we can’t delve into here, involving stuff like legal things, tax, and company structure that you should sort out on your end. We think of this as the skeletal frame of your business: building a strong foundation by ensuring that your business is feasible, legal, and tax compliant. We suggest government resources such as this and this as a start. Do the research. We can’t emphasize to our clients how important research is to setting up a healthy, future-proofed, agile business. Think about when your business is meant to get going, and how it’d respond to shocks in the industry — like the current pandemic. It’s not enough just to have a cool idea. Running a successful business isn’t just about the fun stuff: you have to build the foundations of your structure before opening your doors. And who knows: you might be able to find a grant or something similar that can get you started.
All sorted? Now we’ll move into the meat and bones of the matter.
Research… from Home
There are no shortcuts about it — research is the best thing you can do for your future business. Take a peek at the rest of the industry you’re about to get into. Identify what you think are your top 3-5 competitors. Don’t just look at what they’re selling, look at their brand as a complete whole: what kind of language are they using, formal? Informative? Positive? What kind of feel does their branding have compared to their price point: do they look and feel like a premium brand, an affordable brand, or a niche/boutique brand? Where are they sold? Do they have an online presence, and if so, what kind of social media following do they have? How active are they? What kind of website do they have?
Now that you have a better idea of what people in your space are doing, now look up the 3 brands that are in your “ideal” space: whether in terms of brand performance, reach, market space, and so on. What are they doing that’s different? How does their brand look? Why do you like them?
Once you have all these questions answered, think about your offering. Where would your brand sit in the market, in terms of who you’re selling to, your price, your service/goods quality? What are you doing that’s different? What’s your brand mission? Don’t rush this part. Some people can and will take years to identify their niche in the world: and the more in demand, more niche it is, the better you’d do. Best of all, you can do the bare basics of all the above steps in this section from the safety of your home. Good for those long self-isolation days.
Design and Marketing from Home
This is the bit where we usually get involved. However, if you’ve just started and have no capital, you can work out something basic until you have the funds to get in professional help. Here are some basic tips:
- Brand Language, aka How Your Brand Communicates: Where possible, be positive and be professional, even if it’s meant to be a “fun” brand. Be respectful of people. It isn’t being “PC”, it’s just good business. Bad news gets around quickly in this inter-connected world, and people like to align themselves to brands that reflect their values. If they don’t like you because they think you’re rude / annoying / offensive, they might boycott you — and worse — tell their friends.
- Branding: Ideally, you should get a professional involved, but for a “standby” basic brand, you can do something to put on preliminary packaging/your site/your media. There are a few free fonts out there that are great, like Fira Sans, Roboto, and Playfair, that you can find on a quick search. Put your brand name in bold / light / all caps depending on what feels right. It’s just a standby look for you to get started with, so it isn’t the end of the world. Use the same font or another good workhorse font for everything. Make sure you use a max of 2 fonts. You can get pros like us to give you a refurbished look later.
- Don’t use Comic Sans.
- Or Arial.
- Or Times New Roman, or Papyrus, or Curls, or Wingdings, or Calibri, or Trajan.
- If you really have to, fine, Helvetica is all right… bland, but better than Arial.
- Colours: Don’t go too crazy. Black and white is a classic look, if you don’t want to have to decide right now.
- Graphics: At this point, we wouldn’t recommend trying to do one by yourself. There’s a science to brand mark design, and mocking one up on Microsoft Paint really isn’t going to cut it.
- Free programs like Canva will work for now for you to create presentations and other documents. It’s basic, but it’d do until you can get professional help.
- Set up your social media — carefully. Don’t make names like NewCompany123.
- Free drag and drop website builders like Wix can work for basic sites, but we wouldn’t recommend using them in the long run if you need anything complex. At Starship, we usually build sites off WordPress or other similar platforms for clients using agency tools, but web development and design is difficult for many clients to understand. If you need eCommerce capacity, try Shopify.
Here’s another part where you usually call in professional help. You do need a coherent branding and social media strategy, or you might be throwing in good money for nothing. If you want to give it a shot, though, here are some basic tips:
- Read the guidelines of the platform you’re intending to use.
- Research which platform works for your target audience. Different people use Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and others.
- Facebook’s ad manager is free to sign up to, and in its basic form, is fairly easy to understand. You can target audiences by interests, geographic location, and more. Take a look.
- Think about what you want your ads to do, and set yourself some realistic goals (we call them Key Performance Indicators). Do you want to drive more people to your website? Do you want people to buy a product? The more you can drill down on your goals, the easier they will be to meet, and the more effective your advertising will be.
You Get What You Pay For
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for — but sometimes, there’s only so much you can pay for at the start, and that’s completely OK. There’s only so much you can do from home, and besides, it’s important to get the basics down anyway. Getting a headstart on all of the above will help you build your own understanding of what you’re trying to do as a business, as well as get you a foot through the door. Once you get some traction, you can bring in the big guns.
Looking for more advice? Give us a call. We’re here to help.
I’m running late for a meeting which has been called on virtually no notice by a client. I’m heading East towards the real burbs.
The traffic opens up a bit as I get past the Leader Newspaper headquarters on Whitehorse Road, and I plant the foot. I leave behind the rich feeding grounds of the BMW X5s and Merc 4WDs. The landscape is now dotted with Ford Territories and Subaru Foresters. I can see on the distant horizon the land of the real Aussie car, calling me, like a mirage in the desert. The rolling hills of suburbia. I’m heading out to where the V8 Falcons, Commodores, and Magnas hide at night, huddled in their cold, brick garages. The Falcons dream of running over BMX bikers. The Commodores of having their panels endorsed by a cigarette company as they race around the Mountain at Bathurst. The Magnas just dream of being either Falcons or Commodores; hating being copies of real cars.
Ah, the suburbs, true backbone of western society. Where even the native trees get clipped and credit cards get clipped even more. The Whitehorse Road shopping strip is retail central for Melbourne. Kilometres of big factory-style outlets. There’s Bunnings, Beacon, BBQ Galore, and that’s just a few of the Bs. And it is furniture retailer nirvana. There’s Outdoor Furniture, Oz Design, Scott Berkowitz, bloody Ray’s (used to be Ray’s Tent City) has furniture.
I look to my left and right as I race along and it seems different to the last time. More angry. More desperate.
Every single retailer has a SALE sign up. For some, it’s the entire window of their showroom covered in the word. Others have a plastic banner stretched along the roof-line or staked on the grass in front. Some have big balloons floating above the store or those bouncing thin plastic men blown up by a pump that beckon you in but only manage to scare me away.
Most have 30, 40 or 50% off. As original as another re-run of the Simpsons. If you’re all doing the same thing, why would anyone go to your shop over the next one claiming super specials too?
This is doubly frustrating as a marketer when you think about what they are selling. I wouldn’t mind if they were a little original in their buying. But they stock the same stuff. There are literally hundreds of identical donkey-brown square-angled latex-filled sofas along Whitehorse Road. Hundreds and hundreds of identical Balinese-inspired teak dining tables surrounded by thousands of identical folding teak chairs.
I know where the rainforests of Southeast Asia have gone. There are more teak trees in the 15 kilometres or so between Box Hill and Bayswater than there is in the 15,000 kilometres between Port Morseby and Ho Chi Min city.
No wonder everything is on Sale. Anybody with half an ounce of intelligence would do something else. Would say ‘Get new stock. Get rid of the crap. Move on with your lives. Change’. But do they? Year after year they go to the same conventions overseas. Visit the same exhibitors. Get told the same crap. Buy the same story and suffer the same problem. They compete on price because they are comfortable doing it and they just don’t seem to get the idea there are other things you can do besides reduce your profits every second day.
They claim they are ‘marketers’ because they’ve been to a seminar once on selling, but they constantly make the mistake discussed in the first 10 minutes of the first lecture in Marketing 101. If you’re looking for an inspiring career in marketing, don’t do furniture retail in Melbourne. You’d be better off joining the Army. In the Army, they actually know marketing has little to do with fighting the Taliban, or whatever the task is today.
And there is the pall of death. You can see it in the eyes of the managers of the stores. Poor suckers who agreed to a commission-based salary, sold through as a ‘profit-sharing’ deal. Here they are, on a lower base, now taking home less money than the people who cut down the trees in Malaysia and chopped them up to make occasional tables.
Why care? Because some people in retail are doing a great job and deserve better than to work for people with the I.Q. of a wing-nut, and besides that, I started my working life in retail and I happen to love it. I love the people contact, the edginess of it. The absolute make-or-break that it is each and every day of retail. I just wish it could be done a lot better than it is in dreary, suburban Melbourne.
Now that the recession is starting to bite and the blood is starting to flow on the streets – it’s about time we consider how to do retail in tough times properly.
What’s tough times?
The government thinks a dip in the GDP of 2 quarters is a recession and a depression is anything more. I’m talking say 1% lower. Any business that’s had two-quarters of minus one percent would be laughing at calling their situation anything other than a slightly flat period. A recession in the real world is when hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs go and a depression is when we’re begging for food on street corners. Keep in mind we’re a long way from either.
It’s all attitude
The whole game is attitude. The most important thing you can do is maintain a positive one. When you get up in the morning, say to yourself ‘I’ve got two ways of treating today. I can be a son of a bitch with a migraine, or I can be a fun, positive person who gets on with life and the rest of the human race and makes other’s lives a pleasure’. Whistle while you work. Be pleasant to be around. Be a leader.
Live it up
Fill yourself and the people who work for you with confidence and happiness. I don’t care if this means you have to take large amounts of morphine or start drinking at 8am. Make jokes. Spray perfume. Buy people lunches. Download some good music and play it too loud. People shop where they feel best and optimism makes everybody feel better.
And for God’s sake, focus on the needs of your customers. Australians love to shop no matter what the economy is doing. This is true in both business-to-business and consumer marketing. Consumers buy anything that makes them feel good. The entire fashion industry (plus beauty/ furniture…) is based on the idea that things don’t wear out, they simply loose appeal/ are no longer cool. So getting new ones makes you a better/cooler person. And this is accepted as raw fact.
Smart companies are always looking to invest in products and services that help to improve their business. They do tend to make decisions based more on logic, but only by shades. Businesses still decide to change over their carpet because it doesn’t match their new corporate colors. Their phones because they don’t work with wireless….
Yes, I know retail is starting to die a slow death across Australia over the last few years, what with big names like Jeanswest and Harris Scarfe folding up shop. Kmart apparently won’t be renewing their Northcote lease. It’s not the end though, no matter what you might think from the news. JB Hifi just recorded its strongest half-year profit to date:
Retail expert Amanda Stevens told Yahoo Finance that the electronics store’s surprising results aren’t that surprising at all given their customer service model.
“If you’ve been into JB Hi-Fi lately, it’s a fast-moving big box retailer, but they really have knowledgeable staff, which is always a sigh of relief for consumers versus other retailers you go into, and you could spend up to 15 minutes finding someone to give your money to,” she said.
And it’s something JB HI-FI’s group chief executive officer Richard Murray agrees with.
“I would like to thank over 12,000 team members across Australia and New Zealand whose hard work and continued focus on our customers delivered this result,” Murray said.
See that? Customers matter. Make it easy for people to give you their cold, hard cash. And make it feel good for them to do so.
Look at every day as a new start
Go to work with a vision. Have a goal. Keep your focus on the task at hand and never, ever concern yourself with the ‘what could go wrong?’ There are millions of things that could go wrong. You could have rolled under a bus at the age of 7, but you didn’t. Get a focus on the future and start going there NOW.
Advertise more, not less
When you think it’s time to cut back the marketing dollars, the smart players advertise more. Increase marketing efforts during slower sale periods. Fight for market share.
Generate buzz around your business
Whenever anything (I’d add ‘noteworthy’, but it doesn’t matter what you think – it’s only about what a journo will pick up) happens within your business, send a press release to the media. (‘Starship cleans floors on Tuesday’ will do.) Grab any free positive coverage possible. Use what you can generate a good buzz about your business. And be careful about how your business presents itself across any touchpoint.
It’s no longer true that any attention is good attention. Consumer activism is even more powerful than ever. However you call it – wallet activism, buycotting – people have been making more conscious choices about where their money goes to. Brand loyalty isn’t as strong as it used to be. If you’re doing stupid stuff, people will find out and leave for your competitor. Via the Washington Post:
In a report released Jan. 30, the firm surveyed 2,000 U.S. and British consumers who had taken at least one of nine actions in response to something that a company or brand did. Fifty-nine percent of these more activist-minded consumers said it was more important than ever to participate in consumer boycotts, while far more — 83 percent — said it was more important now to support companies they believe “do the right thing” and buy from them.
Even among those who had taken part in some kind of boycotting, a greater share said supporting companies with purchases (or “buycotting,” at 79 percent) was what mattered most rather than boycotting (62 percent).
You might have seen the about-face that Barilla did. Yeah, that pasta and pasta sauce brand that you’d have seen in the supermarkets. When its chairman, Guido Barilla, made homophobic comments on a radio station in 2013, social media ignited with outrage:
Amid calls for a global boycott, Colzani’s family and friends asked what he was doing running that sort of business, and members of his leadership team said they felt deeply uncomfortable. Harvard pulled the pasta from its dining halls, and major retailers in the U.S. and Europe asked to meet with Colzani to clarify the company’s stance. The list of celebrities pledging to shun the brand included Jodi Picoult and Chrissy Teigen, who suggested in a tweet to her 11 million followers that she would fund gay pornography filmed in a bathtub filled with linguine.
The actual market impact was low, but the brand’s CEO became concerned that the brand would be seen as out of date:
The radio interview effectively rescinded Barilla’s seat at the table with progressives, whom it needed to ensure the long-term viability of the brand. “I would guarantee that there would have been virtually no drop-off in sales, because capability—Does the pasta taste good? Is the distribution effective?—means more to the customer than character, which has more saliency with employees, retailers, and community partners,” said Rupert Younger, who leads the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation and is a co-founder of communications company Finsbury. Instead, a typical betterment catalyst in cases such as Barilla’s is the landslide of staff—including senior managers—voicing their anger at the discriminatory statements, he said.
The turnaround has been fast:
Colzani called former colleagues for counsel and appointed a chief diversity and inclusion officer. He leaned on workplace consultants Korn Ferry for advice and formed an external advisory board. U.S. public-relations company Edelman was drafted to steer communications. Colzani started spending about $5 million a year devising an ambitious reputational turnaround. For the past five years the company has earned the highest possible score on the Human Rights Campaign’s corporate equality index.
Barilla is still trying to repair its image. Retailers that are less of a global powerhouse might do well to learn from its mistakes – and from its genuine efforts to make up for them.
Selectively improve your margins
Too often services for which customers would be willing to pay are provided free of charge, while services that customers don’t want, drive up prices. Ask people what they want. Run focus groups. Use a register card questions system. Achieving good service margins requires two things: customer needs vs. their willingness to pay. And that’s it.
Most retailers don’t. There are some exceptions. Bendigo-based Jimmy Possum (clean-lined, often recycled red-gum and messmate tables/side boards) has gone national with its strategy to be as different from other furniture retailers as possible (gotta love that approach)– no discounts, no sales and no airheads on the shop floor….
Don’t focus on pure price
Specialist retailers should forget about trying to compete with the big retailers on price, and instead focus on creating a niche. “A common trait between successful entrepreneurs is a passion for what they do and passion for the niche customers they are delivering too,” says Stafford at Smiggles.
Merchandise your store for sales
Use lighting techniques and creative displays to enhance the customer experience in-store. Play videos for product education, customer entertainment and any other up sell or promotional tie-in. Get your suppliers to help. They are only a phone call away.
Close on cross-sells – boost transaction size
Cross-selling is not exploited much in OZ. Update your crew with suggestive selling and up-selling techniques (Have you earrings to go with that skirt? – I’ve got some beauties over here…) to ensure that your store’s transaction size is the best that you can make it. This is an area in which many are throwing away trade. They are letting the punters walk out with money still in their accounts.
Distribute resources in a more targeted way. Improve your resource allocation. Segment. Add value-based, differentiated support concepts. That means check your local demographics and change the offers to your locals – different ads in local papers, different products on the leaflets….
Stay on top of freight and supplier costs
Many retailers are losing profit every day by not keeping up with current volatility. Agree to a meeting with the next dickhead that rings up from a courier company.
I love email. I love it so much I’d like to get in the back seat with it and give it a full-on tongue kiss. Who cares whether it will love me tomorrow? All I care about is now. Create a mailing list by asking for contact stuff from customers. Then send them something every few days. It’s free!
Social, social, social
Social media can feel a bit like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. It’s necessary in this day and age, though. If you don’t know how to do it well, get a professional to do it. Be polite, be consistent, and be responsive. Think of it as a further way to engage respectfully with your customers, like a digital shopfront with windows in to your business across Facebook, Instagram, and any other platform that’s relevant to your preferred audience. Social media does take work to do well, but if you put in the effort, it’d be as valuable to you as a good webpage.
Dominate a time or a day
On media, especially radio it helps if you’re on at a regular time. Boosts psychological effect and drowns out competitors.
Go wider or narrower or across the gap
If you’ve been focusing on your local area – try expanding your local paper ads to the next suburb too. Many don’t cross ‘natural’ boundaries like rivers or highways for distribution of leaflets. Now is the time to. Or if you’ve been advertising widely with diminishing returns, go more local and more frequent for the same money?
Go more in your face
Funnier, brighter. This is not the time to be subtle. Note I did not say discount. I’m suggesting you use better creative instead of just cutting margins more than you need to.
Yes, if they’ve cut prices you need to stay aware/competitive. But all purchases are about value, not price. Thrown in a set of steak knives (only kidding – but what about a smoking machine or cover?) with a BBQ?
When competitors are trying to undercut you on price, make your service level a notch higher than them. Give much more than they expected. You might have to bend over backwards, but it pays off. Have your team wash their cars. Throw in installation. Ring them after they’ve bought and make sure they are happy. Satisfied customers are the linchpin of Word of Mouth.
Follow up on old leads
Take out any old inquiries that had not been converted into orders and follow up on every single one of them. Bring out old business cards, brochures or any other lead that you may have and start calling. Or get a pushy staff member to do it. You need perseverance, but keep on following up – you don’t have anything to lose. Keep in mind, like NOBODY in retail rings you. The cut-through is incredible.
Your existing customers will probably keep your business running during lean times. Take special care of them – your competitors will have their eyes on them too. Keep in regular touch. You might tease or reward them by offering special discounts or gifts as a token of your appreciation, but I wouldn’t take it too far – could look like you care too much. There’s a fine line between showing an appreciation for loyalty, and looking plain desperate.
Find new customers – do something different
Be more flexible. Take smaller orders. Do deliveries. Opening late at night–now is the time. Keep an open mind and bend your rules a little to accommodate them.
Consider more services for your customers – additional warranties, on-site service or telephone support. Give things away for nothing – free coffee or toilets? I’m convinced Maccas is the success it is must be somehow connected to the fact it’s the only place you can go to the toilet on a main road.
Make your locations meeting places, greeting places. Start clubs. Get Mums to have coffee there. Bunnings has a sausage sizzle for local charities every week-end. I’d be more likely to turn up at a Home Hardware on a Tuesday arvo if I thought Megan Gale was going to be demonstrating what she can do with a roll of gaffer tape.
There’s something powerful about smell. People buy when the smell is right and don’t when it ain’t. Coffee works. Fresh bread works. Dog poo doesn’t and neither does fresh, ‘recently cleaned’ smell.
Free sandwiches or a soup for $5 is better than 20% off a couch.
City Councils throughout Australia are doing their damnedest to hurt small business by fining people coming into your stores for daring to park on their streets. Plus, they make a fair quid in the process. Ruin their day by having your staff fill your customer’s parking metres. Works in Surfers Paradise.
Show movies for little kids
Young mums need to be able to shop but can’t take their eyes off their kids. The little buggers slide under forklifts or jump off balconies. You could help by entertaining them. You would be loved.
E-commerce on website
Get the fricking thing making money for you and stop stuffing around with e-commerce. Spend serious money on it. It’s here to stay. Grow up.
Be more relevant
If you’re not sure what that means, ask someone who cares.
With other retailers – run a shopping strip promotion. God knows TV air time is so cheap at present, little old High Street Armadale could be on prime time.
Retail other ways
You could do DM direct from TV – think about being the Demtel of furniture, the ab slider of fashion. Guerilla marketing’s all the rage now as well. Keep your mind open. You might surprise yourself.
Take the show to them
If you can’t get them to come into your stores, take it to where the punters are – go to markets, sport events. Let them see you, let them try your products.
Don’t say ‘it’s not our fault’
Or ‘it’s a sign of the times’. As a retailer, you are a predator. Think like one. The lioness does not blame the drought for her hunger – she just eats. She climbs a tree and kills a monkey instead of wasting days on the prairie looking for rabbits.
Retail is only selling stuff at higher margins than wholesale, with the advantage of convenience. In good times it’s great, in bad times it’s tougher, but it can still be profitable – remember, they still have to eat, their clothes wear out, their fridges pack it in, their kids want an iPhone. Someone, somewhere is getting their money. It is just who they buy it from that makes a difference, to you. But they are still brand conscious, still peer-influenced, still time-strapped, still tired. If you put yourself in a situation where it’s easy for them to buy from you, and they don’t feel ripped off, you’ll get the deal. You’ll keep the doors open. You might even be able to buy me lunch.
Article updated on 10 March 2020.
I passed the new year’s celebration in Singapore, watching Australia burn. Our climate change doubter-in-chief, the Australian PM, Scott Morrison, released a hilarious New Years message that not only doesn’t link climate change to the bushfire crisis but which suggests that the current fire season is somehow business as usual: nevermind the apocalyptic images of red skies over Mallacoota, or even the yellow world that dawned over in Dunedin, New Zealand, thousands of miles away. Or the freak fire tornado that killed an RFS volunteer only two days before the message.
Did you see that video of the fire front overtaking a truck? This is not business as usual for Australia.
It’s hard to know what to write. A national bushfire recovery fund was only established on 6 January — months after the fires already started burning in New South Wales, turning Australia’s most populous city, Sydney, into something that looked like the set of a disaster movie. It took a couple of months for the government to move from calling people who linked climate change to the current catastrophe “inner-city raving lunatics” to having to mobilise the troops to rescue people off the beach.
Sadly, ScoMo still has no plans on changing Australia’s emissions reduction policy. Nevermind that Australia was recently rated the worst-performing country on climate change policy out of 57 countries. Yeah, worse than the USA, which as far as I can tell is currently led by an evil Cheeto that has mysteriously gained sentience. Somehow, the crisis in Australia feels worse than watching Cheetolini bumble around trying to start the next World War. It isn’t just that it’s closer to home: it’s that so much of all of this could’ve been avoidable. The last decade has been rife with climate inaction, fearmongering, denial, and attacks on what could’ve been a healthy, bolder local renewables plan. Business as usual — in politics — has gotten us here.
Where next? As Robinson Meyer writes in the Atlantic, Australia is caught in a climate spiral:
For the past few decades, the arid and affluent country of 25 million has padded out its economy—otherwise dominated by sandy beaches and a bustling service sector—by selling coal to the world. As the East Asian economies have grown, Australia has been all too happy to keep their lights on. Exporting food, fiber, and minerals to Asia has helped Australia achieve three decades of nearly relentless growth: Oz has not had a technical recession, defined as two successive quarters of economic contraction, since July 1991.
But now Australia is buckling under the conditions that its fossil fuels have helped bring about. Perhaps the two biggest kinds of climate calamity happening today have begun to afflict the continent.
The first kind of disaster is, of course, the wildfire crisis. In the past three months, bushfires in Australia’s southeast have burned millions of acres, poisoned the air in Sydney and Melbourne, and forced 4,000 tourists and residents in a small beach town, Mallacoota, to congregate on the beach and get evacuated by the navy. A salvo of fires seems to have caught the world’s attention in recent years. But the current Australian season has outdone them all: Over the past six months, Australian fires have burned more than twice the area than was consumed, combined, by California’s 2018 fires and the Amazon’s 2019 fires.
The second is the irreversible scouring of the Earth’s most distinctive ecosystems. In Australia, this phenomenon has come for the country’s natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef. From 2016 to 2018, half of all coral in the reef died, killed by oceanic heat waves that bleached and then essentially starved the symbiotic animals. Because tropical coral reefs take about a decade to recover from such a die-off, and because the relentless pace of climate change means that more heat waves are virtually guaranteed in the 2020s, the reef’s only hope of long-term survival is for humans to virtually halt global warming in the next several decades and then begin to reverse it.
Meeting such a goal will require a revolution in the global energy system—and, above all, a rapid abandonment of coal burning. But there’s the rub. Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal power, and it has avoided recession for the past 27 years in part by selling coal.
Coal is why we’re here… and, sadly, a political love of coal isn’t going to go away anytime soon. ScoMo, after all, is famous for being the clown who brought a lump of coal to question time. So far, his stance has worked out for him, bringing victory to his embattled government this year. It remains to be seen whether his tepid response to the bushfire crisis will change anything.
Advertising on Fire
One of the more amusing (insofar as everything now is bleakly amusing) memes to come out of the bushfire was labelling ScoMo as “Scotty from Marketing”, a joke that was born out of the Betoota Advocate, a prominent Australian satirical site. As Reddit put it:
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, before he went into politics, had a career in marketing, and specifically in tourism marketing (having been responsible in some way for campaigns related to Australia and New Zealand – he is associated with a prominent and controversial Australian tourism campaign with the catchphrase ‘where the bloody hell are ya?’).
The Betoota Advocate, a prominent Australian satirical website, tweeted a link to an article of theirs on November 12th which satirised Morrison’s response to the (still-current) bushfire crisis that was beginning to emerge at the time (sigh). This satirical article portrayed him as cynically using public relations techniques to minimise the importance of the fires, rather than doing something about them: PM Morrison Dusts Off His Marketing Hat To Rebrand The Climate Fires
On the 7th of December, the Betoota tweeted a link to another satirical article titled Mate, Do Something, Anything. Taking a similar slant to the previous linked article, this one started with the words ‘Scotty from Marketing’ referring to Morrison (I think this was their first use of the specific term). ‘Scotty’ as a slangy version of Morrison’s first name has connotations of a lack of respect, and ‘from Marketing’ rather than ‘Prime Minister’ implies lack of leadership; marketing as a profession is often seen as full of people well practised in the art of bullshit, the implication being that there is more to leadership than being able to bullshit.
After Morrison took a holiday in Hawaii during some of the worst of the bushfires in mid-December, the phrase seemed to strike a chord amongst #auspol (Australian politics twitter), and became a prominent hashtag, #scottyfrommarketing, which has now been used by everyone from celebrities to commentators to former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Perhaps because having an instinct for irony requires some understanding of shame, Scotty from Marketing recently ran a Liberal Party ad celebrating his government’s response to the crisis. Unsurprisingly, this was met online with derision/revulsion:
Michael Klaehn, QUT associate lecturer in Social Media, Advertising and Communication, writing on Facebook: “Ads can be funny, heartbreakingly emotional and anywhere in between. Producing an ad in the middle of a national disaster to promote yourself is absolutely disgusting. How much money was wasted on producing and booking this that could be used better. Mindbogglingly stupid.”
The ADA also took offence:
The Australian Defence Association (ADA) — a public-interest watchdog of Australian Defence matters — said on Twitter the video “milking ADF support to civil agencies fighting bushfires” was a “clear breach of the (reciprocal) non-partisanship convention applying to both the ADF & Ministers/MPs”.
Oddly enough, ScoMo has stood behind his decision to release the ad. Keen-eyed people on twitter noted that ScoMo’s donation button link on his Facebook post with the ad was raising money for the Liberal Party, and not for bushfire relief:
People should be aware that the prominent DONATE button in the link the PM has posted with his bushfire ad on FB is raising funds for the LIBERAL PARTY and NOT bushfire relief. pic.twitter.com/9aav1trL5N
— Matt Burke (@matttburke) January 4, 2020
After the twitter outcry, the link was quickly removed, but the ad remains. What’s worse, it’s a bad ad, with Todd Sampson from Gruen saying:
“Advertising! There is something not right about running political advertising during a devastating National Crisis. It’s like being ‘sold to’ at a funeral. PR Crisis 101: say less and do more.(Btw, the bouncy elevator music is too juxtaposing and really annoying.)”
You’d think Scotty from Marketing would’ve at least known better.
Donate… but not to the Liberal Party
Did you know that Australia doesn’t have permanent funding for the nation’s bushfire services? It’s just run on a top-up basis. It’s amazing to think about that — and frustrating to know that only in May 2018, the National Aerial Firefighting Centre asked for a $11m top up to its annual budget that was left ignored:
The business case shows the annual costs of leasing aircraft and coordinating that NAFC have been rising due to inflation, but the contribution from the federal government has remained the same.
On Saturday morning, the NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said: “We haven’t seen a positive response to that business case.”
The NAFC – which works coordinates aerial firefighting across all states and territories – asked the federal government for an extra $11m a year, on top of the existing $14.8m a year budgeted in the five years to 2017-18.
I could go on, but there’s a limit to how much rage you can put down in words all at once. Government aside though, the bushfire response has been great. More than half a million people across the globe have pledged a total of $30 million to the NSW RFS through Celeste Barber’s Facebook fundraiser. The firefighting efforts have been heroic. The clothes and food fundraising for Victoria has been so overwhelming that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been urging people to donate cash instead, stating that other donations have now become a logistical issue.
If you’re still looking to donate, check out the following pages:
Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings! We’ll be back next year. See you then.
Every time I see a comment by someone lamenting that everyone nowadays is on their phone, I confess I get annoyed. Yes, I’m a millennial, and I like my phone. It’s the first thing I check in the morning and often the last thing I check at night. Through the phone, I can access my banking app, budgeting apps, books, emails, music, film, friends, order food, call a cab, and more. It’s a powerful computer that fits in my hand. Why shouldn’t I be on my phone? What else is there to look at anyway – everyone else who’s also looking at their phones? It’s true that phone addiction is real, and has mental health risks:
Another study, presented last month at the Radiological Society of North America conference, looked at the brains of teens who fell into the category of smartphone or internet addiction. The authors found some differences in the chemistry of the reward circuits of the brain, particularly in the ratio of the neurotransmitter GABA to other neurotransmitters. Interestingly, when the teens went through cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for their addiction, their brain chemistry changed and looked more like non-addicted controls.
Earlier studies have also looked at activity in the addiction circuits of the teenage brain when they’re actually interacting with social media. It found that cells in one of these areas, the nucleus accumbens, were activated when participants viewed Instagram pictures with more “likes.”
In Australia, according to studies, 88% of people have a smartphone. This makes Australia one of the foremost adopters of smartphones in the world. While there are detriments to smartphone ownership, there are also undeniable benefits. Staying connected to business and personal and social matters aside, smartphones and their ready access to the internet and social media have advanced causes across the world beyond traditional press, bringing a spotlight onto issues such as Black Lives Matter and the Hong Kong protests. Regardless, smartphone usage will only keep rising across the world, and as such, brands need to increasingly understand mobile-first marketing strategies.
About Mobile First Marketing
Recently, I tried to book tickets for a chicken event in Melbourne. The desktop website worked, but the mobile website only loaded to a single image, with no booking for. To book on my phone on the go, I had to try requesting the Desktop site, and in the end, it was just too hard. The first lesson for people looking at mobile-first marketing therefore, in our opinion, is to have a mobile-first website. This means that at the very least, the website should function on a phone. Preferably, however, it should also be designed with mobile in mind, responsive to various resolution settings so it can look good across devices. This is the most basic part of any digital strategy — even if you don’t necessarily want a mobile-first marketing campaign strategy, your website should be accessible even if someone is using a phone or a tablet.
The second part of a mobile-first marketing strategy is the bit that most people are familiar with: ads on websites and ads run across social media, among other things. These ads would be built to be seen over a mobile phone, and as such should connect to a landing page / result that is mobile-friendly. The ad or piece of media itself should be easily accessible for phone users: in other words, more image-heavy, with an obvious call-to-action, maybe with contextual targeting (geolocations, messaging etc), with a view toward how your audience would handle the strategy.
Some things to keep in mind about mobile-first marketing strategies:
- Research. You need information about your audience before being able to come up with a good strategy. Does your audience use phones often? What kind of apps or sites do they tend to visit? Do they buy your product on the phone? Find out.
- Video. You might have seen the hilarious bit of news this week about how Facebook had to pay a slap-on-the-wrist fine for inflating its video views. That being said, it’s still good to have video / gif-based content on the mobile. Make sure it’s still understandable without audio.
- Social Media is King. If your mobile-first marketing strategy isn’t pivoting off social media platforms, you’re wasting your time. Depending on your product and your audience, you might have to consider running content off Facebook, Pinterest, or even Tiktok.
- Do you really need an app? App installs can be a tough sell to anyone, even the most tech-savvy. We’ve got an article on that. To make your strategy the most accessible, we’d recommend websites or messaging instead of trying to get your audience to install an app. The app graveyard is growing.
- Retargeting. Even if your audience moves off that shiny piece of content you made for them, you can try attracting their attention again with retargeting.
Want to chat? Need to know more? Get in touch.
I hate crying during films, even if I can’t help it. I don’t like how you have to hide your sniffles and try to surreptitiously palm tissue out of your bag, or how I pretty much felt emotionally drained after films like Moana and Coco. Ads are worse, since I usually watch them in the office in order to decide whether they’re good enough to post on our social media. Anything with cute puppies is usually an easy sell for me. I confess I’ve cried in the office over Budweiser ads, Shiseido ads, and even an IKEA ad. Tearjerker Advertising is memorable, easily shareable, and built for contemporary attention spans: a very short emotional film that just happens to sell a product.
At the same time, there’s been an increasing backlash towards brands tacking themselves onto movements without actually contributing much more than a token nod to the cause. Dove, I’m looking at you. After a few award-winning femvertising campaigns, including #LikeAGirl, Dove stepped into it in 2017 with its ill-considered and crass Real Beauty Bottles campaign:
The question is: why? The concept – six differently shaped bottles of shower gel, designed (in Dove’s words) to “evoke the shapes, sizes, curves and edges that combine to make every woman their very own limited edition” – might have seemed compelling in an energetic brainstorming meeting, but that’s surely where it should have stayed. Packaging is one of the most important ways a brand communicates with its customers, and translating a bunch of different body shapes into plastic is crass. As one Twitter user pointed out: “The Dove bottle with my body type hurts my feelings.” And therein lies the rub: allowing customers to “choose” a bottle that mirrors their body shape is the opposite of empowering. Suddenly, shower gel is as fraught with body-image dilemmas as their jeans purchase.
Not sure if Dove reacted very much to the controversy, since the video’s still up on their brand YouTube. That being said, there was criticism over even its earlier award-winning femvertising campaigns:
Why no major ad critics have aggressively called Dove’s bluff on this unethical fakery is amazing to me. But finally, Tom Ellis-Jones writing for U.K. trade publication Marketing, called foul on Dove’s latest ad “Choose Beautiful” — where women in five cities around the world were given a choice to walk through one of two doors labelled “Average” and “Beautiful.”
First, he noticed that the woman in the opening scene was an actress, Dezi Solèy. He then went on to call the ad’s scenes “perfectly engineered … clichés being dressed up as a genuine social experiment.”
Watch the ad closely and you’ll see he’s right — the reactions, what’s said in the interviews, the mom playfully pulling her daughter through the “Beautiful” door — it’s all just so perfectly wonderful, isn’t it?
It’s an ad — it’d be scripted, and chances are, the people in it are paid actors. The ad can still resonate emotionally with people, and it did. Dove’s Real Beauty campaigns caused sales to jump from $2.5 to 4 billion in the first ten years of the campaign. It might not be entirely ethical, but it worked, and they won awards for it. Speaking of which, is it possible for a brand to have authentic, ethical tearjerker advertising?
Tearjerker Advertising and Ethics
Ethics and advertising? You’d be forgiven for thinking that they can’t be said positively in the same sentence. Given that in this day and age, many people do buy brands that align with their personal beliefs, brands have to tread carefully for fear of being seen as inauthentic. Take Samsung’s extremely choreographed ad with clunky brand advertising in its script, Hearing Hands:
Made by Leo Burnett, the ad went quickly viral online, racking up millions of views. We’re not sure if Leo Burnett consulted very many deaf people in the build up to this ad, because the reaction wasn’t all policy — from the deaf community:
It’s pretty obvious that the vision here has been created by hearing people…for hearing people. And most likely done with little input from the Deaf Community itself. The whole tone of this video is doing FOR the Deaf person, rather than WITH the Deaf person. What comes across isn’t a sense of empowerment…it’s a sense of pity. We see Muharrem as this “poor deaf guy” whom we have to help, for whom we have to do these nice, kind things to help him have a “special day” – as if he was a child that we have to encourage to smile.
So please…put away that box of tissues. Stop feeling sorry for this guy and his obviously “anything but normal life in a silent world.” Stop applauding these folks who came together to help create an advertisement. Yes, this video might have gotten people thinking – but did it really change their views about Deaf people? Judging from what I have read…not really. We’re still being labeled with the wrong terms, seen as suffering from an affliction, viewed as objects of pity. We are still characters being used to make people cry and feel sorry for us, rather than making them cheer and feel proud of us.
I realize that Samsung had the best of intentions here. I do applaud their efforts at creating accommodations. That’s what we in the Deaf Community want and need – Equal Communication Access. I do wish the company the very best of luck with this video calling center. But I’m not sure that their approach here is as positive, as sensitive or as Deaf-Friendly as it could and should be.
Another tearjerker campaign is Microsoft’s push to inspire more young girls to pursue careers in STEM, including their recent “She Can STEM” campaign:
As well as earlier ads like the “Make What’s Next” campaign:
This would be more heartwarming if Microsoft tried walking the walk. According to Reuters, women make up 26% of Microsoft’s worldwide work force, and only 19% of its leadership. Worse, there’s been a pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination issue:
Microsoft received 238 internal complaints of gender discrimination or sexual harassment from 2010 to 2016, according to court filings made public in March. It was sued in a Seattle federal court in 2015 for systematically denying pay raises or promotions to women. The company has denied these claims.
The company said in March it had dealt with 83 complaints of harassment and 84 complaints of gender discrimination in 2017. The complaints resulted in about 20 employees being fired.
So sure. Girls can look forward to a STEM career in Microsoft — if they’re happy being paid less, promoted less, and maybe harassed in the mix. It makes you laugh.
On a more positive note, Gillette recently ran an ad about combating toxic masculinity, with their “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” campaign:
The trolls promptly came out of the woodwork, but the ad was overall well-received by its audience:
On January 13, Gillette released a new ad that takes the company’s 30-year-old slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” and turns it into an introspective reflection on toxic masculinity very much of this cultural moment. Titled “We Believe,” the nearly two-minute video features a diverse cast of boys getting bullied, of teens watching media representatives of macho guys objectifying women, and of men looking into the mirror while news reports of #MeToo and toxic masculinity play in the background. A voiceover asks “Is this the best a man can get?” The answer is no, and the film shows how men can do better by actively pointing out toxic behavior, intervening when other men catcall or sexually harass, and helping protect their children from bullies. The ad blew up; as of Wednesday afternoon it has more than 12 million views on YouTube, and #GilletteAd has trended on Twitter nationwide. Parents across Facebook shared the YouTube link in droves, many mentioning how the ad brought them to tears.
Gillette’s ad plays on the feeling that men right now want to be better, but don’t necessarily know how. When Gillette was researching market trends last year, in the wake of #MeToo and a national conversation about the behavior of some of the country’s most powerful men, the company asked men how to define being a great man, according to Pankaj Bhalla, North American brand director for Gillette. The company conducted focus groups with men and women across the country, in their homes, and in online surveys. What Bhalla says the team heard over and over again was men saying: “I know I’m not a bad guy. I’m not that person. I know that, but what I don’t know is how can I be the best version of ourselves?”
“And literally we asked ourselves the same question as a brand. How can we be a better version of ourselves?” Bhalla adds. The answer is this ad campaign, and a promise to donate $1 million a year for three years to nonprofits that support boys and men being positive role models.
This dual-pronged approach of not just being unafraid to offend part of its core audience, as well as supporting the community by earmarking donations to nonprofits, makes a campaign like this stand out, authenticity wise. Oh, and the ad is great, too.
Things to Think About
Emotionally resonant ads are a great way to get your ad widespread attention, but there can be pitfalls and risk if not approached in the right manner. Some quick tips, in summary:
- Be genuine and authentic. Your brand should be genuinely interested in the social issue that forms the core of the ad.
- Involve others. Consult with advocacy groups and the community in that area of interest.
- Do some good. Earmarking money for donations to support the issue will go a long way to making it clear that your brand is genuinely interested in the matter.
- Have the ad as part of a core strategy, not just a throwaway.
- If all else fails, make a story about cute dogs.
Still curious? Get in touch.