Starship Articles

Influencer Marketing

May 4, 2021

“Do you want to be famous?” was the casting call used by the new HBO documentary, Fake Famous, luring young people into a new reality TV show aimed at creating a new influencer. Fake Famous is directed and narrated by tech journalist and Vanity Fair correspondent Nick Bilton. The title of the documentary clues viewers into how the director actually views this multibillion-dollar industry:

“[T]he documentary mocks influencers for a grueling hour and a half, casting an entire ecosystem primarily built and run by women as, one male talking head put it, people who are “not employed” and “without a sense of purpose.”

Thanks in part to social media, we have long passed the point where people can only be famous because they’re politicians, musicians, actors, or athletes. Influencers are not just people with a lot of followers: they’re people who provide content that people value. While the industry isn’t perfect, no industry is. The best way for brands to utilise influencers for the benefit of their product is to respect the influencer industry as a new form of marketing, and, as with any tool, consider its value with regards to reaching the brand’s desired target market.

Understanding Influencer Marketing

Effective influencers for a brand should be authentic people within their community, with fans who trust them. Ideally, they also have experience relevant to what they’re advertising: like a beautician vlogger advertising a skincare product. As influencers create their own content, it does require brands to trust them to follow the brand’s message, but this content does often appear more authentic than a carefully managed and directed traditional advertising. There are standard prices for influencers that often depend on the number of followers or views.

Influencers help brands connect with people who brands might otherwise be hard to reach, particularly now that the world has so much white noise. Followers of an influencer often watch their content daily, and trust them where they might be suspicious of ads that they see on traditional advertising like TV or outdoor.

Influencer vs Brand Ambassador


Brand ambassadors are typically people with long-term contracts, who become the “face” of your brand. Influencers are people with a following within their communities that often recommend products to their followers. There are micro influencers (people with smaller followings), celebrity influencers, vloggers and bloggers and more.

Mega-influencers are hyper-famous people, like A-list celebrities. They can charge a million dollars per post or endorsement, but often don’t have real conversion power-depending on the market in question. The power of a mega-influencer can be immense, however. Recently, one of the most popular Chinese dramas, Word of Honor, catapulted its two main stars, Zhang Zhehan and Gong Jun, into the upper lists of Chinese actor fame. When they chose to endorse the same shade of Tom Ford lipstick (03Lark) together, it instantly sold out in China, along with the preorder, then sold out in the rest of the world within days.

Macro-influencers are people with a follower count of around 100k to a million followers, but can be costly to engage, if not as costly as a mega-influencer.

Micro-influencers have around 1k to 100k followers, and often have stronger relationships with their followings. In other words, they tend to have a higher engagement rate: their followers are more likely to interact with their posts as their chosen niche of the community is smaller. As such, companies like Adobe often prefer to engage in micro-influencer marketing campaigns, as it can be a more effective way of spending a marketing budget.


Is it worth it? Industry statistics in 2019 indicate that 80% of marketers feel influencer marketing is effective, with 89% stating that ROI from it is comparable to or better than other channels.

Instagram is the most important influencer marketing channel ever since it hit 1 billion users in June 2018, with YouTube as the second most important. The key goal for companies using influencers is to raise brand awareness and reach new audiences, as the key KPI is engagement rather than conversions or sales.

Success stories

HiSmile, a teeth-whitening, easy to use tool, used to be a self-funded business with only 20k$ to work with in a budget. They invested almost all of it in micro-influencers as they felt bigger influencers were not viable for them, and because micro-influencers often have larger engagement per follower count. Today, they’ve generated over a million dollars in sales and now use celebrity influencers like Kylie Jenner.


Frank Body is an Australian-based success story, a body scrub company that grew until it now sells in over 149 countries around the world. Not having the budget for TV commercials, they used influencer marketing to grow their Instagram account within 12 months to 350k followers. Using hashtags to promote viral concepts, they reached out to influencers and micro-influencers, and managed to generate consumer-created content with their brand hashtag.

Case Study

Ozi Choice is an Australian milk powder and milk vitamin brand, which asked Starship for help with a micro-influencer marketing campaign, as part of our on-going relationship. Designed to be dynamic and adhere to a small budget, the campaign was targeted at attitude-leading mums with young families to push the Ozichoice Milky Bites vitamins.

As the product didn’t have a high shelf presence, Instagram stories were used creatively in this campaign to help them and potential purchasers find and buy the product. Essentially, we used influencers, to get influencers.

Despite only using 8 micro influencers, the campaign had over 14,000 total engagements with what we call ‘high power’ Mums, who are highly engaged themselves – thus we’re utilising Instagram stories to spread brand awareness to the client’s now engaged, preferred audience with a very high ROI.

Things to watch for

As an influencer has to be trusted to create their own work, brands should also carefully consider the influencers they use. Research needs to be done into their previous content, as they should hopefully align with the brand’s values (no offensive content etc).

Brands should also check whether an influencer’s followers are real or fake using online tools. Ideally, influencers are people whom the brand are already aware of within their industry due to a high level of follower count and trust. Partnerships with people like this may be expensive, however, and depending on the product, a good result might be to split between a number of smaller or “micro” influencers.

As Instagram is the most popular tool for influencer marketing, be sure to understand how to properly use Stories, hashtags, posts, and its other features – including the algorithm. Only then can an influencer strategy be worked out to the brand’s advantage.

Brand Names Have Power

February 8, 2021
Brand Names Have Power Earlier this year, Heinz asked people to ‘draw ketchup’, by giving them pieces of paper and a tin of coloured pencils. Most people, they claim, drew Heinz bottles. I’m surprised that nobody drew bloody red puddles, but to be fair, had I been told to draw ketchup, I’d likely have drawn a Heinz bottle too. Now that’s brand power – a true branding flex. Heinz has now leveraged all the drawings (which I hope they paid for) into custom bottle designs and a marketing campaign. Another form of a brand flex, if with some legal issues, is when your brand name or trademarked name becomes so closely associated with the product or service that people use it interchangeably with the product or service. A brand that might instantly come to mind on something like this is Xerox, which makes photocopy machines. Or Google – often when people mention wanting to search up something online they’d say they Google it.

Brand Names that are now Generic

Aspirin While this is great brand name power, it also risks the brand name becoming a generic brand term, therefore losing trademark protection:
“When something becomes so pervasive in everyday society as a result of its own fame, there’s an argument that it no longer represents the brand, it almost represents the action. So as a result of that, in trademark law, you cannot trademark things that are descriptive or generic in nature.” Michael N. Cohen, IP Lawyer, LA
Other than aspirin, some brand names that have become or are close to becoming a generic brand term include:
  • Onesies: Onesies is still a registered trademark, but have become widely used in referral to one-piece jumpsuits.
  • Bubble Wrap: While technically still a registered trademark of Sealed Air, it’s now effectively a generic trademark.
  • Crock-Pot: While people often refer to slow-cookers as crock pots, Crock-Pot is still registered, and a few years ago had to respond to an unexpected PR nightmare. Basically, a fan-favourite character from the show This is Us died after a crock pot accident set the draperies on fire. Crock-Pot had to create a twitter account to deal with freaked out fans throwing away their Crock-Pots, and even asked NBC for help to correct the misunderstanding.
  • Dumpster: Trademarked by the Dempster Brothers and patented by them in 1995, the trademark has since been expired or cancelled.
  • Jacuzzi: Still trademarked, but often used as a generic name for a hot tub.

Avoiding Genericism – A Xerox Story


Bayer Co. v. United Drug Co. was a seminal case in which Bayer lost its trademark for Aspirin to what experts now refer to as “genericide.” That 1921 case set the table for the modern standard that courts currently follow: If a brand name is understood by the public to refer broadly to a category of goods and services rather than a brand’s specific good or service, a company may be at risk of losing its trademark. Escalator, cellophane, and laundromat have all lost their trademark status to genericide.

Xerox Ad

Xerox’s IP counsel and marketing team works hard to ensure Xerox’s survivability as a registered trademark, avoiding what happened to Zipper and Aspirin. They do this by raising awareness that ‘Xerox’ is a registered trademark, educating people who use the trademark wrongly. They work with dictionaries, run ads, and also do work with Wikipedia and so on. So far, it seems to be working. Xerox still has its trademark. Other brands, like Velcro, have also run ads hoping to avoid this fate.

A Good In-Between

A great brand name that’s easy to remember and recognisable in the marketplace is ideal: it can help draw more people to your brand. If you’re starting a new business, coming up with a good brand name is one of the most important things you can do brand-wise, if only because of the effort it’d take to change it later if you regret it. At Starship, we’ve had a years-long track record in creating new and memorable brands for our clients. One recent work in progress is for us is Fig Out, a fig jam, conserve, and product brand that’s set to launch in the marketplace. Designed to stand out visually and verbally, Fig Out will be a notable addition to supermarket shelves in the near future. If you already have a brand name, particularly one that might soon become a victim of its own success like aspirin, you’d need to put in the work – like Xerox. Here at Starship, we’re experienced at running engaging, educational brand campaigns that’ll maintain and improve your brand’s position in the marketplace. Need more information? Give us a call.

Brand Evolution or a Rebrand?

January 14, 2021
Photo: AFP Photo: AFP As I write this article, the Cleveland Indians, an American professional baseball team, has become the second major American team to drop a racist nickname. This follows the Washington Football Team, which was previously known as the Redskins. Cleveland had already phased out logos and imagery of its cartoon mascot, Chief Wahoo, after it was called “no longer appropriate”. Cleveland has gone by “Indians” since 1915, but faced pressure from Native American groups and others to rebrand. They are by no means the last franchise group with a problematic moniker – there’s still the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Blackhawks. Rebrands, like the ones mentioned above, can be necessary. They are a bit of a gamble for anyone however, especially in today’s world. Even when they’re well-intentioned or have a good reason behind the revamp, you’d always have haters. Many people dislike change, and feel safer with what they’re used to. Change to a well-loved brand can be a shock-one that the brand will have to be prepared for. Further, a full rebrand-which might involve changing anything form the brand mark to the name, colour scheme, typography, image choice and more-can be an expensive process to roll out, depending on the brand. As such, some brands opt instead for a brand evolution or a refresh-more like small tweaks that retain the core look and feel of the brand without a marked change.

Choosing a Brand Evolution or a Full Rebrand

Brand Evolution or a Rebrand? Considering what’s right for your company? You’d probably be looking at:
  • Budget: Rebrands are expensive
  • Timing: Rebrands will take more time than a brand evolution
  • Stakeholders: What are your stakeholders’ appetite for change?
  • Last update: Is your current branding a year old or 10 years old?
  • Existing brand equity: If your brand has a lot of history behind it, a full rebrand might mean giving all of that up.
  • Reason: Are you updating to modernise the brand (e.g. legibility), for PR (like BP after the oil spill disaster), or because it’s the right thing to do (like Coon cheese, Washington Football Team and more)?
  • Target audience: Are you looking for a new audience, or adapting to a new audience?
  • Business matters: Was there a merger or some other issue that has spurred this consideration?
A rebrand means rebuilding your brand from scratch. Ideally, just about everything would change – not just the logo. Typography, colours, image language, maybe even the brand name. A great rebrand could improve your business (like when Apple shifted to its sleek, white and silver new look), your share of the marketplace, bring new people to your brand, and put you more in line with contemporary competitors. On the downside, a full rebrand could lose you customers, rack up costs in terms of distribution and set-up, or create small PR disasters in itself if not carefully considered. An evolution, on the other hand, is a small step forward. The risks are lower, but at the same time, the effects are also restricted. A few tweaks here and there might not amount to much. They’re more like refreshing the paintwork on a car-the car still moves the same, quirks and issues and all. Cheaper than a full rework, or a new car, but nothing much changes other than the veneer. Depending on what you need, that might do the trick.

Is this a Brand Evolution or a Revolution?

You might have seen some changes in the works in popular brands that appear to be attempting to toe the line between a rebrand and a brand evolution, such as Burberry and other fashion brands:

SANSMANIA Looking at that, you might have thought that the brands decided to just collectively find a sans serif typeface they liked and call it a day. There are trends in branding (including moving to sans serif typefaces), but we don’t recommend following them if you’re looking to make a change. Trends are fleeting. If you follow them, you’d likely have to go through the whole costly exercise all over again in a few years. Not to mention you might end up looking like the rest of the pack. There are good reasons to go sans serif, if created with a strategy in mind and a complete matching brand philosophy and suite: google_2015_logo

Hard to remember that the wonky serif used to be what Google looked like compared to the slick brand suite it has now, which it’s still rolling out across its other offerings like Gmail and Drive. Not everyone was onboard with the rebrand, nor has everyone been onboard with the new icons:


Still, given time, people will get used to it, and the design philosophy behind the change – to reinforce the brand by making the designs look like they belong in the same family – will likely stick. Google emerges with a stronger brand presence, one that’s more legible across the new digital age.

In Short

Still unsure what you might need? We’re here to help. You can also check out the branding work we’ve done with [ Scope ] and the evolution work that we’ve done with [ Musq ].

Holiday Season Retail in 2020

December 15, 2020
Holiday Season Retail in 2020 If you’ve been remotely online for the last few months, you’d have likely seen retailers like John Lewis crank out their usual high budget Christmas ads – with a twist. Some of the ads, like Disney’s, don’t acknowledge the 900 pound COVID19 elephant in the room. Others, like John Lewis’, try to encourage people to be kind. Amazon’s “The Show Must Go On” knocks it out of the park by illustrating how strange and quiet the holiday season needs to be this year with social distancing still in place across much of the world. In Australia and in Victoria, life seems to be cautiously moving on into a COVID-normal. Ramping up to the holiday season, the city’s looked crowded as we walked through it on a weekend, and Australia’s economy has been showing signs of recovery: sales lifted up 14% in October compared to September as physical stores reopened. Cafes, restaurants, department stores, clothing, footwear, and personal accessories were the biggest benefactors of the sales jump. November was another strong month for Victoria, though across the rest of the country, momentum could fall back. 40% of retailers still expect Christmas sales to exceed last year by 5%, while 24% expected it to decline by 5%. 44% expect more than 10% of their total sales to be online, the highest ever.
“Some have benefited from border closures and consumers spending more time at home, whereas others in the services, apparel and catered food market have borne the brunt of the downturn […] The polarisation of the market means that there is not just one narrative around COVID-19, but many.” –David White, National leader of Deloitte’s retail group.
City Councils have tried to pitch in, with initiatives running such as the City of Melbourne’s voucher program to try and drive spending in Queen Victoria Market. With people poised to spend more this Christmas with their lockdown savings or just wanting to do some retail therapy, here are some tips to making this holiday season one of your best ones yet.

Online, Online, Online

Even if your business doesn’t easily lend itself to an online presence, you’d be surprised how much a simple digital presence could help lend credibility to your brand and drive business to your store. If your business does work with online delivery, however? Get on that quick. There are several ways that you could easily set up your site for eCommerce – or create an online store with easy-to-use fronts like Shopify. Selling on existing platforms like Amazon and Facebook Marketplace get trickier for brands, especially if you’re not used to navigating the demands and requirements of the platform. If you’re just starting off, we’d recommend the following:
  • eCommerce capability on your site
  • A responsive site to maximise your SEO
  • A social media presence, along with adspend if you can afford it
  • Decent photographs
  • Decent copy
  • Stand out from your competitors – offer something different, say something new
  • Understand your target market’s purchasing choices and play towards that. Have an end goal in mind, or what we’ll call a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in the industry. Anything from a monthly sales growth target to a target average purchase value.
It’s competitive out there, so don’t get discouraged if your online store doesn’t take off instantly. Ideally, it’s just another way people might be able to pay you for what you’re offering, a seamless experience that’d tie in to any brick and mortar touchpoints that you have. The best website in the world won’t make or break your business – it’d still be one tree in a big forest. Partner with other brands. Try to get on gift lists. Advertise. Drive people to your tree.

Seasonal Products

holiday season retail in 2020 Tacky as stuff like Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte can be, there’s no avoiding the fact that consumers love that kind of thing. You don’t need to be a chocolate store to get out a Christmas range, and the more considered your holiday offering is, the more likely people will pick it up during their holiday shopping. What about doing a set of cheaper products aimed at getting under a Kris Kringle price range? Or items that riff off popular seasonal products in a great way, like the wildly popular Advent Calendar chocolate range in Koko Black? Or partner with other brands to do a hamper, or an unexpected gift pack. You’d be surprised how popular it might turn out to be.

Holiday Season Retail Offers and Lures

It might be too late to offer any new products or get eCommerce started so close to Christmas, but you could still run a seasonal offer now if you haven’t already. Free or discounted shipping will go a long way this year, or even a little gift or thank you Christmas card in anything you ship out. If you’re a store that might be in a Council initiative zone, make a play for voucher holders over social media or in-store with some smart messaging. There are still initiatives that you can run, even this close to the season. Better something than nothing, right?

In Short

Victorians are likely to keep spending through the lead up to the holiday season, and savvy retailers might be able to get a foot through the door for their share of the pie if they act quickly. Bolster your online presence, create seasonal products or tie-ins, and lure customers in with value-added offers – and more. Need more help? We’re happy to have a quick chat.

The Aussie Wine Exports Apocalypse

December 7, 2020
Aussie Wine Exports

You’ve probably seen the news by now if you’re anywhere near part of the industry: due to various reasons including the Australian Federal Government’s decision to ban Huawei from 5G networks and forming a new defence pact with Japan, China has hit Aussie wines with tariffs, ranging from 107-200%. The wine industry is only the latest casualty of China’s growing disagreement with Australia — the tariffs started on barley earlier this year, moved on to cotton, lobsters, timber and more.

The chairman of Yalumba Wines, Robert Hill-Smith, has called the $1.3billion export market to China a “basket case“. 39% of Australia’s wine exports were sent to China prior to the tariffs, a  market that has since effectively collapsed. This has two immediate issues for local wine producers big and small:

  1. Softening demand and prices: in the third quarter of 2020 as it is, the volume of Australia’s wine exports fell in value by 20%, and is likely to fall even further post-tariff; and
  2. Wine from the 800 or so producers that would’ve gone to China flooding local and alternative markets.

If you’re an Aussie winemaker of any size, either of the above would be a cause for concern. Given the pandemic, the oncoming recession, high supply and lower demand and prices, a possible second fiery summer season and worse, it’s probably tempting right now to sidle into your cellar, crack open a bottle of your finest, and drink until the new year. If that’s what you’re doing, we respect you — more power to you. If not: we’re here to help.

A Hardbasket Year for Everyone

The below image sums up what the year has been like in general for everyone:

Man holding burning newspaper

Australia’s economy hasn’t done as badly after COVID-19 as the International Monetary Fund had projected, though it’d likely still take years to recover from high unemployment and government debt. The economy is slated to contract through the end of this year before finally growing slightly by 3% in 2021, though unemployment is forecasted to increase to 7.7% through 2021. While the Federal Government’s plan is focused on trying to get businesses to hire more and more securely, if a vaccine doesn’t arrive, or if there’s further outbreaks or other shocks to the system, things could backslide.

Consumer sentiment might rise next year, but will remain negative overall — Aussies are projected to remain uncertain about the economy, job losses, house prices and more. Household discretionary income is expected to decline by 7.8%, particularly after the government scales back fiscal stimulus. On top of all that, Victoria lost its AAA credit rating. There was a spending spike after lockdown, but with households tightening their wallets because of uncertainty, job losses and worse, 2021 looks set to be another challenging year for wineries. If all this is making you eye your cellar door and your emergency batch of wine, we don’t blame you. Navigating a way out is likely going to need any measure of luck, a strong brand presence to stand out on the shelf next to your competition, and a bit of creative marketing.

Cool Things Other People are Doing

Bonterra Organic Vineyards’ 2020 ads poked fun at “wine snobbery” while reaching out to wine fans who might enjoy not just the lighthearted humour but the brand’s focus on sustainability, creating a memorable ad that still pushes the client’s brand promise. In today’s saturated space, marketing will not only need to push the envelope to get noticed, but also to convince pessimistic customers to commit to purchasing one wine brand over another that they might already prefer.

WBM also asked a few winemakers what they would do if they were given $1m for marketing. Answers ranged from going to France for research, hiring a marketing manager, and significantly improving digital spend. Going forward, an increased and robust digital presence is likely the best way forward for any beverages producer: from ad spend to partnerships, social media initiatives and more. With 75% of millennials saying that they’d spend more on wine if they could, that’s also a market to address seriously, with creative that has to be made to appeal to the millennial market.

Vee On Yay: A Starship Case Study

Vee On Yay

Our client, Peerick, decided to create a Viognier line marketed at appealing to millennials. Poised to become the largest wine-drinking generation by 2026, we decided to make an early start: by creating a wine label that looked fun, stood out as something different on the shelf, and all for a wine that tasted as great as it looks, all the while being easy to drink.

Some tips:

Buckle down: it’s going to be rough seas ahead in 2021. A few things that could help tide you over:

  1. Find new markets to appeal to — whether overseas, or to new demographics, or more
  2. Partner with other brands and events, even unusual, left-of-field ones
  3. With domestic tourism likely going to be stronger going ahead before a vaccine is released, push cellar door events where possible
  4. Go digital — both with online deliveries, newsletters, wine clubs, social media, and other initiatives
  5. Pray to the wine gods old and new

Best of luck. If you’d like to have a chat about the industry moving forward, get in touch.

Planning for the Post-Pandemic

April 24, 2020

It’s been a scary few months, but Australians stepped up to the challenge. Whether it’s been working from home, keeping kids at home, or doing necessary delivery, healthcare, and other work, things in Australia so far look under control so far, enough that elective surgeries are opening up and restrictions are beginning to relax. Projections for the post-pandemic economy predict a global recession: millions of people around the world have already lost their jobs, stock markets are see-sawing up and down, property prices are crashing, large companies like Neiman Marcus and Virgin Airlines have declared bankruptcy, and oil has dropped below $0. The effects of the pandemic are likely to be felt by Australians and Australian companies for a while. With some luck and forward planning, it’s possible to mitigate the fallout – and that’s where we come in. Here are some strategy tips to help your business get back on its feet.

Post-Pandemic Trends

  1. Watch that supply chain: As manufacturing shut down in China, the effect was felt across the globe. Businesses that were over-reliant on one part of the world for manufacturing were left in the cold. If you can make it locally, make it local. When the panic buying first hit Australia, products that were largely manufactured locally (such as toilet paper) were able to ramp up production and recover consumer confidence quickly. If you can afford to start up your own delivery service instead of being beholden to platforms that might consider you not essential enough or might become overburdened from general demand overnight, do so.
  2. Go digital: Social distancing has led to a boom in online and contactless transactions. This isn’t new – the outbreak of SARS in China caused its online retail platforms Alibaba and to become far more popular than they were. The current pandemic is likely to have the same effect, but globally. The behavioural changes brought about from the pandemic are likely here to stay for a while: if you haven’t been considering an omnichannel approach to your stores, it’s about time. Via Inside Retail:

    This new-world customer is now more comfortable with online transactions, fewer real-life interactions, and trained to constantly sanitise in public spaces. This, of course, may fade out, but some of these behaviours, habits and trends will stick. The physical store will be forced to change; it will need to be a strong enabler for online shopping, allowing for a much more seamless back and forth, with savvy mobile shoppers expecting faster, more convenient and smarter transactions. In China and Japan, stores are already set up as highly tech-enabled, allowing the customer to shop in-store but at the power of their mobile device. Product information could be discovered by a quick scan of a QR code; customers could roam the store purchasing products as they scanned, paying for it in the moment via WeChat.

  3. Reduce your physical footprint: As much as having a brick and mortar store will add to your brand’s credibility, it’s likely that retail will shift slowly towards smaller footprints or to a mixed retail and services outlook. Now that people are getting more and more used to getting things online overall, you’d need to either have an extra offering in-store, or just a smaller physical store. Small retailers – now’s also your chance. The playing field is starting to level down.
  4. Preserve customer and staff safety: Stores that were quick to put into practice measures that protected customer and staff built trust in their brand, while stores that put through half measures (or measures that didn’t work well at all, reportedly), began to generate bad press. In an increasingly information-rich world where people are willing to shop according to their values, showing a willingness to risk your own staff in the name of profit will be something people are likely to remember and avoid. On the other hand, brands that were responsive to their customers’ and staff concerns quickly shored up customer relationships, building lasting goodwill.
  5. Evolve ad strategies: Ad spend dropped off a cliff during the pandemic, or were quickly pivoted to COVID-19 related messaging. Brands with more digitally native platforms and campaigns were quicker and more nimble, which came off as being more responsive to their customers.
  6. Keep lower customer spending in mind: In a time of record unemployment, Australia looks set on entering a serious recession despite government stimulus. One in ten Australians have said that they intend to spend less after the shutdown, and will likely change their habits:

    Brands will have to adjust to this new spending environment, by looking closely at what they’re offering and how they’re offering it.

Want to know more? Like to have a chat? Give us a call.

Starting a Business from Home

March 24, 2020

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.

Basic ads

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.

Pandemic Advertising

March 12, 2020

When I visited the Duomo in Milan last year, it was packed. Tourists squeezed by the occasional local, taking pictures, piling into cafes, trying to get into the church. If you wanted to eat nearby, you had to dodge bomber pigeons and hordes of people hungry for overpriced pizza or Prada. Granted, it was near peak tourist season, what with the furniture show around the corner, but even the heavily armed anti-terrorism presence didn’t deter the public’s quest for the perfect Instagram photo. It’s strange to look at photographs of Italy right now, in the middle of an unprecedented country-wide COVID19 lockdown (for a Western democracy). An empty Venice, a silent Duomo square. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that Venice was considering a cap on visitors to its adult Disneyland of a city. Chinese restaurants are shuttering everywhere. In Australia, the crisis has fed into an existing retail reckoning — the highly popular stationery brand kikki.k, they of the inoffensive pastel Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic, has gone into receivership. Businesses are suffering, and who knows when the government’s going to offer anything more concrete than an “Ask not what the economy can do for you…” sort of message. While the government has promised funds to help Australians through this crisis, whether those funds are enough to even slightly help disadvantaged people and the millions of small businesses rapidly going broke is will yet to be seen.

The darkest timeline is going to get darker yet in Australia. During a press conference, the Victorian Premiere said that the window for containment has passed, and that the pandemic phase of COVID19 is inevitable. Toilet paper has been flying off the shelves, fought over in a sort of Mad Max lavatory Thunderdome scenario. I’m starting to side-eye anyone hacking their lungs out on the germ factories that pass as public transport in Australia. Soon, Australia might institute lockdowns as severe as Italy and other countries in the hopes of flattening the curve. Vaccines aren’t due for a year, at least, and the peak is yet to come.

We’re not here to peddle conspiracy theories though, or to give medical advice. Check out official sources for those, and for Gods’ sake, stop spreading rumours about this being a bioweapon or whatever’s the piping hot Facebook conspiracy theory of the week. Put down your phone for a moment. Breathe. Now wipe down your phone with an alcohol wipe.

All done? We calm? Good. This is Starship’s Brand Survival Guide.

Pandemic Survival 101 — Brand Edition

If you don’t have eCommerce capacity yet, get it. Are you in the FMCG business? If you don’t already have an online shop, you’re far behind the times. Into the provision of services? Explore whether live video is possible. Need to set up either of those in a pinch? Give us a call. Online shopping is currently booming in China due to the outbreak. Via Inside Retail:

The boom has caused significant operational and logistical challenges for retailers trying to keep up with the surge in demand, including delivery delays and out of stocks.

“While China is already at the forefront of e-commerce and retail innovation, the current situation would further accelerate digital commerce adoption among consumers and will have a long-term impact on the consumer purchase behaviour,” said GfK China and India MD Vishal Bali.

“Chinese consumers are likely to adopt more options to consume content and purchase products and services online, including e-learning, online healthcare consulting or buying products through social commerce and third-party apps. Therefore, brands need to also explore newer commerce platforms, payment methods, delivery options and loyalty programmes to connect with consumers across all city tiers and create a seamless shopping experience for them,” he said.

The research relating to online shopping in China showed many consumers intend to delay the purchase of big-ticket items such as consumer electronics until after the outbreak passes, preferring instead to buy products to protect their health and wellbeing.

The same situation will likely apply in Australia if matters worsen. People will be prioritising products that they believe will help protect them or keep them well, entertained, and occupied. Is your business built on items that people are likely to delay buying in times of crisis? You’d have to adapt. As to delivery delays, you’d have to think of that too. Your brand will need to figure out how to navigate the arrival of your product or service into the hands of someone who might be self-isolating, in a safe and respectful way. Via the Drum:

One of the biggest changes that has affected business in China is the closure of warehouses, physical stores and supply chains. To mitigate interruption, organizations should be increasing the weight of budget allocation towards diversifying their trade and e-commerce channels, including the establishment of a self-run e-commerce eco-system with payment and tracking/tagging functions. This greatly reduces risk, and for international brands that adopt this recommendation early, the impact of ongoing trade operations during the outbreak may be minimized.

If you currently have any brand campaigns in place, you might want to rethink them if your business is going to be affected by the situation. With people increasingly deciding to self-isolate or stay home from events, interactive brand content that increases online engagement may also work well for your brand. Information should be succinct, catchy, and real: don’t spread disinformation. People are already functioning at a state of heightened anxiety.

A good example of a brand that was recently affected by the pandemic: the Who Gives a Crap toilet paper brand. As people went on their Paper Apocalypse shops, WGC sold out. They’ve been extremely active on social media since, with stock updates and with additional brand content built to alleviate customer anxiety and build positive engagement:

Don’t be a vulture

There’s a difference between preparing for the pandemic and taking advantage of it. People have long memories. Estimates indicate that the pandemic will peak maybe in May or so and be over hopefully by Christmas. Short term gains — like driving up the price of essential goods, or driving up delivery costs to make a quick buck — will cost you in the long run. Don’t be a vulture. And for Gods’ sake, don’t start reselling face masks and hand sanitiser at high prices. Do you know who needs things like that? Medical practitioners. Do you know what happens when they don’t get it? They get ill, then their patients get ill, and it’s a vicious cycle. If your brand does its part to help out in some way or other, it won’t just be good PR, you’d never know: it might help the situation in the long run somehow.

Things you could do to help your customers: exploring different payment options, helpful products, not driving up prices, instituting social distancing in your business to keep everyone safe, keeping your premises clean, and so on. For Australia to pass through this phase of the virus, we have to flatten the curve, and brands can do it too. Be positive. People are desperate for positivity right now.

Make sure you have a work from home system in place for staff

Does your business have a plan if Australia has to institute Italy’s current measures: where only pharmacies and food markets are open? If not, you’d have to be prepared. Does your business have an isolation strategy in place? Is it possible for your staff to work from home? Are there ways you’ve already put in place to protect your customers? If you have events planned where there’d be large congregations of people, are you able to postpone them? Consider all that now while you still have the time.

Don’t panic

It’s tempting to freak out. We’re very plugged into social media, and you should’ve seen the meltdown when Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had contracted the virus, followed by the NBA cancelling its season within the same half an hour. It looks like the world’s ending, but it’s not — and brands can do their part, survive, and come out on the other end in shipshape all at once. Want to know more? Give us a call.

Feature image by Stefano Mazzola, for Getty, from the Atlantic. See its photo series here.

How to Advertise and Market Retail in a Recession

March 10, 2020

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.

Customers matter

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.

Use strategy

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.

Meet competition

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?

Improve service

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.

Existing customers

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.

Destination point

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.

Smell nice

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.

Feed them

Free sandwiches or a soup for $5 is better than 20% off a couch.

Meter maids

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.

Get together

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.

Conspiracy Theories and Other Stories

February 20, 2020

I’m beginning to fear my family’s Whatsapp chat. My Chinese Singaporean parents are in their late 60s and aren’t very good with technology, but sadly they’ve learned how to share videos and memes on the platform. Despite the Singapore Government’s crackdown on fake news, quite a few things they’ve shared won’t exactly meet any sort of journalistic standard, let’s put it at that. I’ve no idea how to fix this, and I’m not alone–several of my friends bemoan the “auntie-uncle conspiracy theory network”, as we call our parents and older relatives’ group chats on Whatsapp, Facebook, and other more accessible social media networks. It puzzles me that this is even a problem. Our parents are often highly educated, business-savvy people who have seen a lot of life and of the world. Why is it then that I had to wake up on the weekend to my dad, a retired robotics engineer, sharing a screenshot of an article claiming that India has few coronavirus cases because they eat a lot of curry, which contains turmeric, which conveys some sort of magic protection against the virus? In 2015, there was a H1N1 pandemic in India that tragically killed 2,035 people. 2015 wasn’t that long ago, and besides, India has COVID-19 cases.

The spread of conspiracy theories haven’t been limited to the older people social media network groups, though. Some of the spread of fake news can be sourced to government officials who really should know better. A “COV-19 is a bioweapon!” BS theory could be traced to Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on Faux News, who had to take to Twitter to clarify that he didn’t say it was true, only that it was possible. No, it’s not — it’s a fringe conspiracy theory that’s been debunked. Political fake news conspiracies by American Senators who lack empathy aside, fear has always been an easy way of making people completely lose their sh*t. Armed gangs in Hong Kong recently stole toilet paper rolls as panic buying hit the city. Via BBC:

Knife wielding men robbed a delivery man outside a supermarket in the Mong Kok district, police said.

Police have arrested two men and recovered some of the stolen loo rolls, local media reports said.

The armed robbery took place in Mong Kok, a district of Hong Kong with a history of “triad” crime gangs, early on Monday.

According to local reports, the robbers had threatened a delivery worker who had unloaded rolls of toilet paper outside Wellcome Supermarket.

An Apple Daily report said that 600 toilet paper rolls, valued at around HKD1,695 ($218; £167), had been stolen.

Toilet paper robberies? Is this how the end begins? Outbreak, World War Z, and the Andromeda Strain never prepared us for this. Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres in games, books, and film: it’s fun trekking through the sun-blasted irradiated wastelands of Fallout, listening to old jazz songs. Of all the hundreds of ways I’ve read about the world ending, though I didn’t expect stupidity to be one of them, but two months into 2020, I’m beginning to think that it’s the most likely end-of-days scenario.

The Virus of Fear

Recently, one of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne’s Chinatown closed. Sharks Fin House has been kicking around since 1989. It was already a staple on Chinatown when I first came to Melbourne in 2002, and back then, you couldn’t order much at yum cha unless you could speak Cantonese. Because of Sharks Fin House, I memorised Cantonese words for my fav yum cha dishes. I went there on Chinese New Year weekend with a friend, and it looked busy. I guess you never know. The closures have been hitting Sydney’s Chinatown hard as well. Via Goodfood:

Struggling restaurant owners in Sydney’s Chinatown say they have lost as much as 85 per cent of their business due to the coronavirus outbreak blocking Chinese tourists and students from coming to Sydney.

On Thursday the federal government extended the travel ban for all non-Australians travelling from China for at least another week as the death toll from the virus continues to surge.

The effect of that travel ban is plain to see in Haymarket where foot traffic is well below the usual bustling level. The Sun Herald and Good Food visited multiple restaurants in Chinatown this week and each of them reported vast falls in patronage and revenue.

There’s no reason to just stop eating an entire region’s cuisine out of fear, but here we are. The problem isn’t limited to Australia. Chinatowns across America are also experiencing economic crises. Via Eater:

The Times reports that NYC’s three main Chinatowns — in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn — have seen business drop from 50 to 70 percent in the last two weeks. The owners of restaurants like historic Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan describe their environs as a “ghost town,” telling Grub Street that business had reached a five-year slowdown last Monday.

Steve Ip, owner of Yin Ji Chang Fen, tells the Times that he’s been expecting crowds of international students visiting New York-based family during the Lunar New Year: They haven’t materialized, and business at Yin Ji Chang Fen is down by half.

The phenomenon is widespread. Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown are suffering, too: At a time when businesses like New Golden Gate Seafood Restaurant are normally bustling, that establishment and others are practically empty, Boston radio station WBUR reports. Business leaders in Houston’s Chinatown are seeing the same situation. The owner of Houston’s Shabu house, Debbie Chen, tells Houston TV station KPRC2 news that she’s worried about being able to pay her staff. Internationally, Chinatowns in London and Sydney observe declining business as well.

It isn’t just food places that will be feeling the sting. With much of the world shutting out a major economy and manufacturing hub out of flights, some even restricting cargo imports, the impact on the global economy is going to hit hard. UBS has estimated that coronavirus could cost Australia $1billion in services exports. Via ABC:

While they say it is far too early to know the total cost, just the group travel ban by the Chinese Government, which will stop many tourists leaving the country during the peak Lunar New Year holiday period, could directly cost Australia at least $1 billion in services exports.

“However, if travel disruptions are extended, or expand to cover independent travellers, the cost could be much greater,” the report warned. Global share markets have fallen only modestly since the coronavirus outbreak intensified, but some sectors such as travel and leisure have been hit much harder than others.

“Due to the virus, currently we expect only mild downgrades to global economic growth and corporate profits,” Nikko Asset Management’s chief global strategist John Vail wrote in a note.

“China will be affected the most but, as it is such an important country for supply chains and its demand for goods and services (especially its large tourist contribution), other countries will feel some pain too, at least temporarily.

We do need an effective, rational, well-funded, controlled approach to containing COVID-19. I’m glad that people are racing to produce a vaccine. Illnesses are scary, pandemics even more so. People have died. Our focus should be on flattening the curve. Hoarding essential supplies can hurt people (such as the low income or homeless) who rely on them normally for a living.

Follow the guidelines: wash your hands often (and for 20 seconds each time), use hand sanitizers, try not to touch your face too often. If you’re ill, stay home. If you suspect you have COVID-19, call in ahead. These are all rational ways we can respond to what’s happening. Racism is not rational.

Fighting Conspiracy Theories… With Your Stomach

My fears are perhaps a little self-serving. If the ban extends to Singapore and other Asian countries, the visits of family and friends will be curtailed, my own freedom of movement will be restricted, and the “No Chinese People Allowed” ban at certain businesses around the world might envelop the rest of us: the most populous ethnicity in the world. Melbourne, I hope, will be continue to be pretty good about this. There’s a benefit to living in extremely hipster cities. I’m not afraid to clear my throat on public transport–at least, not yet.

In the meantime, support your local Asian business. They’d probably need it — especially the restaurants. Sharks Fin House might be gone for good, but here’s a few I can think of offhand still kicking around Melbourne CBD that’d be good for a delicious feed:

  • Dainty Sichuan, Various
  • Din Tai Fung: Emporium, 4 Emporium, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Golf Leaf: District Docklands, 10-11 Star Cres, Docklands VIC 3008
  • Hawker Chan: 157 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • HuTong: 14-16 Market Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Lee Ho Fook: 11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Panda Hot Pot: 100 Victoria St, Carlton VIC 3053
  • Secret Kitchen: 222 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Shandong Mama: Mid City, 7/200 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Supper Inn: Level 1/15 Celestial Ave, Melbourne VIC 3000

There are also great restaurants over at Box Hill and beyond. Most of all, don’t freak out. And for the love of God, don’t rob people for toilet paper.

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