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Episode 63: Low cost marketing for small business success

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All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü

“I think the main thing is looking at the customer and looking at how savvy they’ve become.”

That’s Emma Sharley, director of the consulting business that bears her name. On this must-listen episode of Xero Gravity, Emma talks about the two things that define your business: your product (or service) brand and your personal brand.

Amongst the show highlights: why marketing is absolutely the key, not an afterthought to your company’s growth; ways to make the combo of creativity and business thinking work for you; how brand storytelling is the emotional thread that ultimately connects your product’s rational benefit(s) to your customers’ wants, and the low-cost, high-value power of brand influencers.

Plus a look at the ways customers are staying one step ahead — and what to do about it, Emma’s shopper perspective, spray tanning and freelancer world domination.

Small Business Resources:

Episode transcript

Host: Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]

Guest: Emma Sharley [ES]

Intro: You’re listening to Xero Gravity, a podcast for small business leaders and entrepreneurs around the world. Now to your host, Elizabeth Ü.

EÜ: Hi everyone. I'm Elizabeth Ü and this is Xero Gravity.

ES soundbite:

“When we look at reasons why we buy, often we're driven by our emotional triggers because we love a brand, or we love a brand's experience, or we love what they stand for, or we love the story of how they came into play.”

EÜ: Meet Emma Sharley, director of Emma Sharley Consulting, brand marketing expert and small business owner.

With more than a decade of experience in the marketing industry, Emma knows what to do when it comes to making your mark with marketing, as well as what not to do. Emma loves working with small businesses, and she joins us today to talk about the challenges that small business owners face when it comes to standing out from the crowd, without breaking the bank. Emma talks a lot about the value that comes from having a strong brand identity and the role that personal branding plays in that — especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

ES soundbite:

“A lot of your customers are buying into you as much as your business or your brand or a business' brand. So it's really important for a business owner to focus on how they can actually develop their personal brand and how they can become an influencer in their own right.”

EÜ: So we have all that and more, coming up on Xero Gravity, right after this.

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EÜ: Emma, thanks for joining us on Xero Gravity.

ES: Thank you for having me.

EÜ: So thinking back to when you were a teenager or even before that, what was
the most unusual job you've ever had?

ES: Spray tanning. [laughing] Do you have that in San Francisco?

EÜ: Yes. We definitely… I've never experienced it personally. [laughing]

ES: [Laughing] So interestingly enough when I was in my last year of uni I decided I want to go travelling. It was very last minute. So I took on a couple of additional jobs. One of them being in a solarium and spray tanning franchise. So that was the most interesting job I had.

We also had a couple of clients that would come in, but it gets to a point with people spray tanning and using solariums where it becomes an addiction. Where we'd actually have to say, "You can't use the solarium any more times this week." They were so brown. And then they'd have a spray tan on top of that.

EÜ: Oh gosh.

ES: What's the most interesting job you've had?

EÜ: I worked for a Grateful Dead bookstore, if you're familiar with that band [laughing]. I was a huge Grateful Dead fan growing up.

ES: Okay.

EÜ: I don't remember that many people coming into the store, honestly, so it clearly wasn't that lucrative a business for the owner. But it was really fun for me.

And you've got so much experience in the world of marketing — tell us how you got started.

ES: Well, I actually started by beginning a double degree in both commerce and architecture. So it wasn't my initial primary choice.

EÜ: Wow, that sounds like it kept you busy!

ES: [Laughing] It kept me very busy. It was a full workload in that first year of university. What I found was that I really loved the marketing. I loved the combination of creativity and business. So I decided to pursue that further. I then finished my degree and did a little bit of travel after university, which took me overseas.

It took me to London as a lot of Australians seem to go after their studies. So I did a wonderful trip around Europe for three months backpacking, and then settled in London where I started in my first marketing role with Lords Cricket Ground, which was fantastic. It was really really good experience. I think they may have hired me because I was Australian and [laughing] assumed I knew everything about cricket, when in fact I knew nothing.

EÜ: Oh-oh. [laughing]

ES: But it was obviously coming on board with, you know, the marketing knowledge that I had learnt. I was able to apply that to an industry and then learn all the industry specific terms and nuances as we went on. I then moved to a couple of different other industries in London, so stayed there for a couple of years all up. Diane von Furstenberg; so in fashion and also T-mobile in telecommunications. And that was another really interesting role. We were actually setting up the first website for the brand.

That was in 2006 — so 10 years ago. It's crazy to think that 10 years ago, brands didn't even have websites, and particularly brands as big as T-Mobile: a global brand.

EÜ: Can you tell us more about this combination of creativity and business that really drew you in at the beginning?

ES: Yeah. I was having a chat with someone the other day and we were talking about data and the fact that, you know, big data's been a term that's thrown around a lot in the last couple of years. And there's a lot of different analytics that you can dive into when it comes to marketing. And I think for me it's really about pulling the insight and then really understanding what those insights are saying and what they're telling.

And in a way that's an element of creativity where you're actually manipulating the data to tell a story that's relevant for the strategy that you've just put in place. So there's that creative element and then there's also the visual and, you know, the creative ideation that comes with campaign development, comes with brand, comes with — you know how you make your point of difference in the market.

EÜ: And what were some of the turning points that took you from being a marketing professional and working for other firms, to starting your own small business?

ES: I often get asked this question. [laughing] It was, to be honest, a little flame that I had inside of me to start my own thing. If it wasn't marketing consulting it would have been my own business. And it really eventuated — I was working for Westfield, had this burning flame, and I had a real desire to get out and, you know, look at how marketing could be transformed in terms of the agency model. So we were working with a lot of agencies at that time and I knew that there was this, you know, the future of work was changing.

So I decided to build my business around that. I had Westfield as my first client once I started the business, and then built it up from there. As I mentioned, mainly working with retail, property and lifestyle clients.

And it's that agility and the fact that we're really nimble and we're working with clients that, you know, small to medium and even the corporates that appreciate that. The fact that we can turn around things really quickly.

EÜ: I wanted to go back to what you were saying about T-Mobile, and working with them on their very first website. How have things in marketing evolved since that point, and what have you seen have been the biggest trends and the biggest shifts?

ES: It’s changed incredibly in the last couple of years. I think the main thing is looking at the customer and looking at how savvy they've become. So often you'll find— and I had this experience the other week — that the customer often knows more about your product and service than your employees do. And a typical example in Australia is in the retail industry. A lot of customers are doing their research and discovery, the pre-purchase stage, online through websites, EDM, mobile, social media.

And they're equipping themselves with all of this knowledge so that when they go into a retail store they may know exactly what product, the number they need, color, size and all of that. If the retail staff or the customer service assistant cannot answer straight away and cannot help them, then obviously the customer becomes frustrated with the service. So the expectations of the customer have become incredibly high, and it’s really forced brands to become really accountable in terms of what their business processes are when you look at product knowledge, service knowledge.

But also looking at the brand and how it's replicated across all the different channels. So my experience online on a brand's website needs to be the same as in store. If there's a mismatch there, if it's inconsistent, then that brand's going to lose credibility with me. So big onus on brands to maintain that knowledge and education amongst their team, but also to maintain the seamless approach across all the different channels.

I think the other thing to mention out of that is that the way we shop has completely changed, or the way that we find brands, or the way that we make decisions. A lot of that research and discovery phase is sitting in mobile and then online as well: social media, but also through recommendations. So when we look at the rise of influencer marketing — which a couple of years ago wasn't even a term that was known broadly — it's really looking at people in the media, people in industry, but also people in my network that I trust and I seek out recommendations from them to influence my purchasing decisions.

EÜ: I imagine there's a lot of us listening and thinking, “Gosh I do all the marketing for my business along with managing all of the other functions.” So what are some of the things that we can do to make sure we're approaching marketing from a more strategic perspective?

ES: So I think in the beginning it's important definitely to educate yourself on marketing and to have a certain level of knowledge in saying that it's also important to bring on the right experts at the right time. So not so you're overcommitting. Obviously it's important to remain lean if you're going to be a viable business. But at the right point in time bring on consultants or bring on freelancers that can help you with particular elements of marketing. And that might be from strategies on through to execution.

Because you've got to think about, as a business owner, the value of your time, and if your time is being spent doing social media posts when you're not focusing on business strategy or the operational side, then there's something wrong there.

What we've seen, and in fact what my business model is based on, is the freelancing and consulting model's completely changing. It's growing. There's some incredible stats coming out of the US that by 2020, 40% of the market is going to be working in a freelance capacity.

EÜ: So this gets us to something that I actually was really hoping I'd have the opportunity to ask you. But I think that a lot of small business people mistake marketing as being only something that you do after you've developed your product and then you're trying to get it out to market. I love the story that you've just told because it really speaks to the importance of doing market research prior to developing even your ideal customer profile or prior to developing the product at all. So are there other misperceptions about marketing in general that you'd love to set the record straight on as far as small businesses go?

ES: Yeah. Definitely. I think that's a really interesting point you've made and to give you an example, so one of the other brands I worked for was Westfield. I worked there for six years and it was really interesting to see the change in the perception of marketing along those six years. So when I first joined it would have been 2009. And at that particular point — and this is industry wide, this is not brand or business specific — marketing was considered a support function. So, as you say, the product or the service was developed, then a pricing was put in place, a strategy was put in place, and then the business would go to the marketing team say, "Hey guys, this is what we've got. Can you go and sell, drive traffic?" Whatever it may be.

And in fact now it's marketing that's consulted right up in that particular process. So once an idea or once the new category or a new product or service opportunity is identified, it's then working with marketing to understand what the customer wants, and understand the landscape, understand competitors and then actually pull the opportunities from there. It basically means that you're then delivering on exactly what the customer wants and the product or the service is much more likely to be successful once it's launched in the market.

EÜ: Can you recommend some good resources or blogs that small business owners can read to stay on top of marketing trends?

ES: So I've got a couple of different industry specific marketing influencers that I follow. I love Seth Godin. He is incredible and he's very insightful. He releases daily tidbits in terms of what's happening in the landscape, but also his point of view. I love forbesinc.com and those particular platforms to keep up to date in terms of what's happening on a business level.

One of the other clients that I'm working with at the moment is a media platform that actually curates information from influencers. So it's the first of its kind in Australia. And it's a really interesting model because what we've seen is that influencers have their own voice and their own platforms through their blogs, and they're publishing content that way.

EÜ: This is reminding me, too, in a previous life I also helped launch an iPhone app in the travel space. And I know that when we were looking at potential partnerships with influencers, it turned out that all of the travel bloggers had banded together and had even come up with their own guidelines as far as the prices that they were charging for various types of partnerships. So I was really surprised to see how organized these personal brands, these, like, really lower tier bloggers had become.

ES: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, they're businesses in their own right. And I think that's a really good point to make in terms of if you're starting out, looking at your pricing structure or whatever it may be as an influencer, but also as a business. I think working with these different influencers and partnerships, yes, there's a cost involved. But there's also ways to do where it's a value exchange.

So obviously being a small business you don't have large budget, and for them you've got to look at what they're after. And most of the time it's exposure. So if you can give them exposure or if you can give them something that they're after that's of value to them, then often there's no financial exchange. It's more of a value exchange and a contra partnership. So we've set up quite a few between brands and influencers at no cost to the clients, which is great.

EÜ: And what would that actually look like if you're not exchanging money but there's a value exchange. Can you give us an example?

ES: Yeah. Absolutely. So if you're offering a product or service then you can use that to give to the influencers. So it might be a retail product that you're giving away to them in exchange for a certain amount of exposure on their channels — whether it's the number of Facebook posts, Instagram posts, blogs, etcetera. You can also set it up so that you might put a particular brief out to them and say, "We've got an event happening on this date. This is the strategy behind it. This is what we're looking to achieve." They might want to attend and then share it through their own channels or bring other bloggers and, you know, form the partnerships on their end.

So as a small business; it's looking at what's achievable and looking at those lower local influencers who you can work with. There's a really good platform in the Australian market that's launched called Collabosaurus. And that actually facilitates the partnerships for you.

So you can put a brief out to the platform and then the influencers respond. There's a lot of retailers like TopShop and a couple of other big ones using that at the moment. So through tech it's quite seamless and it's quite an easy process. But I think it's important for business owners not to get too wrapped up and not to spend too much money on making it happen.

EÜ: So this could include the mommy bloggers and other influencers in less professional media channels.

ES: That's right. And it's again within that influence and marketing that's changed quite a bit. So a couple of years ago we had the top-tier bloggers. We had the Nicole Warnes, the Margaret Zhangs, you know, the ones with the million plus followers who were really spearheading that movement and working with brands on a global basis. What we’ve seen since then is the rise of the mid-tier and the lower-tier influences, and that's based on their reach. So a lower-tier influencer would have 5,000 to 10,000 followers, for example. But interestingly enough the brands that I've worked with — and we've done influencer partnerships across the last few months — we've picked up a key trend in that the engagement rate is a lot higher with those local influencers.

  So someone's much more likely to trust an influencer within their network, so within the local market, within the Sydney, Australia market with 10,000 followers than an influencer with a million followers.

We're also seeing the rise of personal brands and people becoming media influencers in their own right. And again online it's opened up a whole opportunity there. And when you think about a business owner, particularly when you're starting out, a lot of your customers buying into you as much as your business or your brand or a business' brand. So it's really important for a business owner to focus on how they can actually develop their personal brand and how they can become an influencer in their own right. It doesn’t mean you need to start a blog. It doesn't mean you need to start an Instagram account. There's ways to be an influencer through speaking through events, through, you know, helping other people connecting, publishing, writing, all of that that can help benefit your business.

EÜ: So I actually want to ask you a couple of questions about you, yourself, as a shopper. As somebody who knows the ins and outs of marketing so well as a professional, does this affect how you shop?

ES: It does. It does. And I think coming back to that expectation piece. I often find I get really frustrated if the customer touchpoint — so what I'm seeing across website, mobile, social media — is not consistent with the offline experience. So in store customer service, client service, etcetera. And it'll actually, you know, turned me off a brand if that model is completely broken. I think the other thing to mention is that over delivering piece. So when you look at brands — the ones that do it really well — they're adding value every time they interact with you. They know what you're after and they're adding value on top of that.

They're also making it a really seamless experience. And they're also, in some cases, giving you what you want before you even know it. So Über's a great example. Uber's one of my favorite brands. I use it a lot to get around Sydney. But the fact that they're, you know, they're giving me what they want. I've got my personalized Spotify playlist. When I'm in the car I've got water, I've got snacks and all of that. And obviously the different iterations they're bringing out to market. So I think for me it's that expectation piece because I know what's possible and I know when a brand's not delivering on the different, you know, touchpoints as best they could be.

EÜ: And as somebody who was shopping long before you entered your professional career, do you think that some of your experiences as a shopper or as somebody looking for products or services early on in your life, encouraged you to pursue a career in marketing?

ES: I think it's an interesting one. I've always been fascinated with how products or services are represented in market places. So particularly also from a brand point of view. And we haven't talked much about brands today, but that's an integral part of marketing — really ensuring that a company has a strong brand and a strong identity and it's unique and it's professional and it's relevant to what they're selling, what product or service they're selling. So brand's something that I've always been interested in and then obviously applying that to the shopper experience to the customer journey. Then you know, those two big elements of marketing is integral to a business' success.

EÜ: And what were some of your favorite brands when you were growing up?

ES: I [laughing] I do have a tendency to deviate towards fashion brands, so Nike I've always loved. I am a big runner and I have never worn any other brand apart from Nike.

EÜ: Oh wow, so you're quite loyal.

ES: I'm a very loyal, loyal customer. Apple is another one that I won't deviate from. I also love the smaller niche brands. And again, if we take retail as an example, that have their own story. There was a beautiful brand that I bought a pair of shoes from recently called Ball Pages. They're French and they've got a couple of different locations in the Sydney market. And the whole story behind these shoes that they create is… I almost fell in love with the story more than the actual shoes that I was buying.

Because it was just beautifully presented, packaging, the link then back to website, to social media, was just incredibly powerful. And speaking of that story and the link back I think it's another really important part to consider with businesses. Obviously there's an objective there to get to the sales and get the traffic through. But what are you doing after the customer's actually made that purchase?

And I think this is one of the things that smaller businesses or businesses that are just starting out can take advantage of that doesn't actually cost as much as some of the larger campaigns, that a Nike or an Apple might implement.

EÜ: Can you tell us more about the role of storytelling in marketing a small business, and in particular I'm wondering what are some other things that entrepreneurs can do to market themselves without breaking the bank?

ES: Absolutely. And it's definitely something that a lot of businesses don't look at, they look past it. And what I do with brands when I'm initially engaging with them is really try and understand and unlock that story in the beginning. Because without that story it's a product or a service that has a rational benefit but not that emotional benefit. And when we look at reasons why we buy often we're driven by our emotional triggers because we love a brand, or we love a brand's experience, or we love what they stand for, or we love the story of how they came into play. So unlocking that brand story is something that's incredibly powerful.

So really understanding why it is that you do what you do and drawing that passion out. And I think, you know, passion's a huge one to really play on, because if you're passionate about your business and you're telling that story in an engaging way, customers are much more likely to be passionate about it too.

EÜ: So we're going to finish up with our question countdown, which is five quick questions and five quick answers. Are you ready?

ES: Brilliant! Let's go.

EÜ: What business book or idea made the biggest impact on your life and why?

ES: I recently read Adam Grant's Give or Take, and it's around the notion of giving verses taking and looking at some key people and key influences in the world that have built their whole business on giving. So Bill Gates is a great example. And love the idea, love the concept behind it not only for individuals, yet also businesses: what are they giving to their customer and what value are they adding?

EÜ: And what's the one thing you can't live without?

ES: My headphones. I'm constantly on my phone and I also love listening to music.

EÜ: Well, I have to sneak this one in here. What's your favorite band right now?

ES: [laughing] Favorite band — Moby.

EÜ: Oh. The most useful app on your phone right now?

ES: Über gets me around Sydney from meeting to meeting. Without it I don't know what I would do.

EÜ: In one sentence, what's the greatest lesson you've learned throughout your small business journey?

ES: Anything is possible if you love what you do. The sky's the limit.

EÜ: That's so true. And finally what skill do you want to enhance this year?

ES: I would love to strengthen my delegation (skills). I love being involved in everything, but obviously with a growing client base and growing team that's something that I would like to refine a little bit further.

EÜ: Well, what a great conversation. Emma, thanks so much for joining us on
the show.

ES: Thank you for having me. Great to chat!

EÜ: That was Emma Sharley, director of Emma Sharley Consulting. Thanks for listening to Xero Gravity. Have a great week and we'll catch you next time.

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