Category Archives: Small Business Marketing

Growing Silicon Welly

One of Rod’s (final?!?) posts caught my eye today.

It was an article about the new Startup-Magazine edition which has just been released, with a cover that features “Just about everyone” Rod knows.

The reason it caught my eye was for the same reason. It’s the same old group of tech startups – some of whom, I don’t even think classify as startups anymore?

There are so many new players out there who are making waves on the international scene. It’s a shame that they are flying so far under the radar, I’m not even sure if the old boys know they exist.

I assume the new wave of startups are too busy making a fortune overseas to be blowing their trumpets locally, but it does seem a shame that we don’t hear more about them.

How to Win

We had our netball semi final on Tuesday, and I take back everything I said about us being losers. We played like a well-oiled machine. If the Silver Fern coaches were there, they would have snapped us up.

After the game and after I stopped jumping up and down long enough to ponder what went right, I realised there are some fairly cool keys to success that are pretty simple to replicate and apply across anything in life.

1. Overcome the odds

If life is too easy, you can’t be successful. In this case, we had ongoing psychological torment from the opposition who loudly and regularly commented on how ‘guys, we can’t like, win! We’re not going to be here for the final! Guys, why are we winning? We’re not MEANT to be winning’… All, which, if this was not social netball, you would have assumed was a plot to destroy our team’s confidence and leave us in tatters and without any faith in ourselves.

Instead it made us angry. And when we got angry, we started playing extremely well. We suddenly cared. Well I did anyway. It was my one and only aim in life at that particular stage in life to beat these guys. Yes we got competitive. You see the same thing with Startups and small businesses up against huge competitors. They get angry and then they get clever, and then they win.

2. Play as a team

Nik and I have worked together in the past. And despite that going largely well, I don’t think we have EVER worked together as well as we did in that netball game. The whole team was in the same boat. We knew our roles, and we fit together and relied on each other to exel and be where we were meant to be. There was no room for superstars in our team.

Yep. How many businesses have a prima donna/superstar who cannot work in a team? When people apply for jobs and say ‘I’m a good team player’ I find they are invariably lying. Few people really know how to let go of individual them and become part of a team. But it’s amazing the difference working as a team makes.

3. Play Mouse and Elephant

Yes, while you hate your competitors psychological games and they are awful and mean spirited, that is no reason not to use their tactics.

The best point in our game was when their 2-point shooter who had about a 100% hit rate previously, suddenly let Nik put him off. In the space of one of Niks spider jump defense moves, this guy went from mr Untouchable Elephant to mr Totally Freaked Out For No Reason. (the analogy, of course, refers to how Elephants are scared of mice for no reason – I’m not sure if this is a myth or not)

We totally psyched them out and the more we psyched them, the better we got. I’m sure it’s a really cool physics law, but I have never experienced it quite this well before. And I’m assuming it works in business as well. When your competitors start to see you doing very well, it freaks them out and they start stumbling.

Anyway, bring on the finals!

Geurilla Marketing, Dog Style

I was wandering the streets at lunch, when I came across a pink petition signing extravaganza.

The petition was to get lighting in official dog walking parks in Wellington (did you know currently NONE of our official dog walking parks has lighting at night or on dark winter days?). I vaguely recognised the brand that covered the stand where we were encouraged to sign the petition as Pet Angels.

Pet Angels is soon to be a major competitor of mine, when Verity and I start a company called to fulfill our desire to be constantly surrounded by cute puppies without the 17 year commitment. (FYI, our prices will be very competitive, as we are not planning on actually charging at all for our dog sitting services).

However, despite the fact that we now HATE Pet Angels because they will be a competitor, we LOVE the way they Guerrilla market themselves. How clever to cotton onto one issue and make it their own. And be out on the streets as a major dog advocate, getting all these dog lovers onside, then slipping them a brochure.

Pure genius.

I was talking this morning about the joys of becoming ‘the guy’ on a particular issue in terms of marketing. If you find an issue you care passionately about AND that just happens to be relevant to your business, start creating a fuss. The media will soon catch on and you will be the expert in the area. Then you simply squeeze in a word about your company, and voila! everyone knows about it.

I like it how the traditionally boring world of pet services has caught onto this! Good luck an I wish you all the best for when Verity and I launch :)

High Tea – the latest craze

I just got invited to High Tea at Kirkcaldie and Stains! Turns out this is the latest craze to (re) sweep the world.

From some article in the Dom Post:

“WHILE you are thumping your keyboard and shovelling junk food from the office vending machine into your gob, in downtown Wellington people are nibbling cheesecake, discussing genteel topics such as the scent of fresh roses and taking tea.
It’s high tea, Wellington-style, with wee mince pies and fat-lipped china.
Catching up over coffee is all well and good, and a tradition which surges through the caffeinated veins of this city, but there’s a growing market for the global resurgence in high tea.”

High Tea is expensive ($20) if you think of it in terms of tea and scones (like Emma does), but as the marketing guy in charge of the high tea ‘experience says’: “It’s not just the tea or the sandwiches or the scones. It’s the whole experience.”

I trust him, he is in marketing.

And also, it reeks of classiness, or being a delicate lady who would never flick spaghetti all over her face by accident, or knock over a tea cup or feel awkward whenever she is around breakable things. Of being a socialite in the 1800’s in our mother country.

But no sticky outy pinkies when sipping the tea. Turns out that is like sooo not cool at modern day High Tea.

UPDATE: This is sophisticated us
High Tea

Adding Personality to Your Website

There have always been competitions over the best 404/500 pages (the pages you arrive at when the website breaks or you hit a link that doesn’t exist). This is because people arriving on these pages are generally not going to be happy chappies, because they expected to go somewhere and instead landed nowhere.

So people got all creative and made cute, funky and downright funny pages that get their now happy visitors back on track.

But I’ve been thinking more about website personality. I LOVE it how Google changes their logo for different events. How cool is it when the normal Google page gives you a little surprise? It makes the average internet geek’s day.

I also saw a site recently that is dedicated to ‘beer o’clock’ and was thinking it would be kind of funny if on fridays everyone replaced their website with that uber disgraceful animated gif, scrolling fluro text filled page as they knocked off for beer… Even if it was just for an hour.

It would make me laugh, and probably lead to the entire Decisive Flow office winding up on your doorstep.

I like all the websites that put up fake sites on April Fools day. Not only are they a crackup, they go viral like nothing else (don’t you love it how I’m giving all these examples but not bothering to search for links to them?)… And viral marketing is a gazillion times better than anything else. ever.

It just struck me when Technorati threw me a cute error page about 2 minutes ago, that these website ‘quirks’ are just so cool. We should take more advantage of the fact the web is a bug ridden place and allows for people to end up virtually anywhere – and give them something cool to look at when they do.

Ok back to ‘real work’ now.

Market Research – The Old Fashioned Way

Last night I headed along to a market research session with two of my most outspoken friends, to offer feedback on a branding and marketing strategy in return for wine and freebies (note: If you do market research, you will be surprised at how much people will do for a free glass of wine)

The product was targeted at females and is a hot hair conditioning treatment… Which is all I’ll say because although we weren’t sworn to secrecy, it feels way more exclusive when I’m one of a small group who knows about it. However, here we are ‘testing’ the product:

Market research

Market research is a very interesting thing. These guys did a good job of getting a range of people, with a range of values and finances. They even let me go even though my hair has never been fortunate enough to be treated to a hot conditioning anything. I did feel like maybe this set me outside the target market, but I think I managed to come up with an alternative marketing strategy that would entice me to make a purchase (I have a cold and anything hot on my head sounded like heaven last night). Lessons we learned (other than Verity is allergic to vege crisps):

People who care about ethics need a LOT of convincing before they believe you

As Marie-Claire pointed out, we use RIDICULOUS amounts of products that quite literally harm others. While there were still a few eye rolls when the topic was approached,it became apparent that most of us do care, and most of us are rather cynical about modern marketing. If you are using cotton in your product, you have a responsibility to know WHERE it is sourced, WHO it is sourced from and HOW MUCH money they get in return for their labour. You also need to know what chemicals are used in the process, because we are not OK with you polluting any river, even if it’s not in our backyard.

And unless you stick a BIG MASSIVE label on the outside packaging specifying every single potential sin you could have committed and how you didn’t commit it, we WILL assume you are a bad guy. One person even commented she wont buy any cosmetics unless they are from an Organic retailer because otherwise she just DOESN’T know, another person pointed out that people are happy to come and spend $1,200 a pop at the shop she works at because they cannot live with the idea of purchasing clothes that have caused misery or harm.

It’s fashionable to be clean, green and human/animal friendly

Our wide rage of situations and finances did not stop us from having one nearly unified voice on what we expect from luxury products. We are sick of being pummeled with chemicals, we are happy to pay more to ensure the bunnies were not tortured and we just can’t feel comfortable with the idea that our beauty products produced through exploitation.

This is quite true. Maybe in 5 years there will be another fashionable issue (because I’m pretty sure a lot of people knew this stuff was happening years ago but didn’t have quite the same passion about putting a stop to it). But either way, you’ve still got a good few years to get on this particular train, so why not jump on the first carriage and get a headstart?

Girls care about their appearance

I think I am not very feminine, as I didn’t even know half the things people were talking about and clearly missed out on beauty school somewhere (I blame my equally non-fussed school friends). But other women DO care. They sit there with stunning gorgeous hair and complain about how they wish it was shiny. Crazy but true, so they are certainly willing to pay for this stuff (as I suppose the large cosmetic companies figured out a few years before me)… But they want to know it will WORK – they are sick of failure.

Non-constrcutive criticism.

I just arrived back to find the office all a flutter about someone pulling apart one of our websites ( and the design work we did.

Having worked in startups and design for a while, I am well used to getting criticised for the work we do – I am yet to find one designer who is universally loved and I would much prefer to be loved by some and hated by some than ignored by all…

So I take it as compliment really, but have been asked for comment, so here goes:

“Oh! and FYI… this is an example of exactly what not to do designwise…
Check out:

God Awful! When Web2.0 design goes bad! Cutesy bubbles, shadows, pink and HUGE type (cos we’re all blind). This is an example of design not being applicable to their market. And there’s no relationship between their site design and the product design.”

1. Cutesy bubbles, shadows, pink

The very reason why this website was a resounding success when they launched at Oracle open world is because their product was situated in a sea of masculinity and they were pink. I love pink, but you may notice we don’t generally design with it. In this situation the design NEEDED to make an impact. Check out any web 2,0 review site, there are like a million products on the market. Colour is one (very successful) way of standing out.

As for the cute part. We are of the opinion that business people are people too. I don’t understand or adhere to the belief that anything to do with business needs to be drab and boring. If you are using a product it should be fun and easy. Whether or not you agree with that only really affects whether or not you will be a customer of ours. It will never affect how we approach our design.

2. HUGE types (because we are all blind)

Erm. Yes. We kind of are… or will be if we spend too much time squinting at small grey text on lit up screens.

We do not apologise or feel at all worried about the fact we give your eyes a break when you are at our websites. You are not viewing a painting and therefore our design is not led by form alone. Function is key to everything we do and although big fonts are now so common they are almost cliche, it doesn’t actually make them less relevant. And I don’t intend to wear glasses before my time (as I have seen many web geeks forced to do) because some designer has decided 8 point font is more important than my ability to see. SO no apologies there.

3. No relationship between product and website design

We agree on one thing, which is why we are still working with Zogix to bring the product into line. This re-design was led by the knowledge that the current product was not up to scratch – but it was more important to have a good marketing site for launch than a half-done product.

Startups = compromise, but I don’t think this was a compromise that they regret.

So, in summary…

I’m quietly stoked we got such a strong reaction – and that such a recently launched product was picked up on! I’m also stoked that the things that were ripped apart were, for the most part, the MOST successful aspects of the website, and the website chosen has been a key factor in securing us more work as a lot of people seem to disagree with Mr Reviewer.

Facing (constructive) criticism

When you are young and in business, it is VERY easy to fall into the trap of people finding it so impressive that you are even scraping together a living for yourself they engulf you in praise and congratulations.

This isn’t actually that helpful and while I accept that owning a business in your 20’s SOUNDS super fantastic, the reality is that normally it’s just another job… But a job where unless you seek help, you don’t get it. There is no senior management staff out there to guide you through, so you really rely on outside people to offer criticism and identify weaknesses and teach you how to improve.

Yesterday , Emma and I met with our favorite branding person Simone Lennane from Maxim. The intent was to go through the beginning of a fairly grueling process of discovering WHO WE ARE.

And man oh man is it difficult!

Even with plenty of warning and stories about how she will go straight to the jugular (and to be fair I think she was pretty soft on us…), It was pretty hard to sit down and HONESTLY point out flaws and weaknesses and even the good bits.

It is something we have needed to do for a while, we have managed to get by with a lot of hard work, but it really is time to do as she says and stop thinking comfortable and start thinking world domination – even if only to make the business so well managed that we can work less.

But it struck me yesterday after the meeting, that I have come to expect surface slaps on the back and even though I know everything we pointed out yesterday has been sitting there in the back of my mind, I’ve never actually had to acknowledge it. That’s a pretty weak and dangerous position.

So. Simone (if you are reading this), I am sorry in advance for the tantrums I will probably pull at some point when the process gets hard, but Emma and I are VERY excited and pumped about the next month, we love your work and we are stoked to have met someone who really seems to care enough about our future that you are willing to tell us the stuff that’s hard to hear :)

Can’t wait to see where we get!

Canned Chicken… What WERE they thinking?

I was at the wine and food fair at the weekend and came across CANNED CHICKEN.

It struck me that this was THE worst business idea in the world ever. New Zealand is like one big farm, chicken (especially caged, battery chicken) costs next to nothing really and we can eat it fresh. Who, in this country, would buy the canned stuff?

I went about surveying people and had the completely expected feedback: 9 out of the 10 people I asked had seen the chicken but wouldn’t go near it. 1 person tried some for novelties sake and found it horrendous.

Did these people do ANY market research?

I suppose it should give faith to everyone who thinks they have bad ideas. Seriously it can’t get much worse than this one and they still gave it a shot.

Or has the product been launched by some marketing company to prove that good marketing can sell ANYTHING?

Are we black?

Emma and I went along to listen to Simon and Marie-Claire’s WONDERFUL seminar on branding. At one point things got contentious as we learned that 40% of ALL purchase decisions are made on country of origin.

We started talking about brand New Zealand… Which is generally agreed to be sub-par compared to what we COULD do and is starting to be discussed widely by branding people in NZ. Our national ‘brand’ currently focuses around:

“Clean and green”.

I am STRONGLY opposed to this. We were ok while no one in the world paid attention to what it actually takes to be clean and green, but now people are sitting up and taking notice, it takes about 5 minutes to realise the only possible way we manage to stay clean and green is because there are NO PEOPLE here.

Branding, as Simone so clearly put it, is about honesty, about understanding what you fundamentally are. And while we love to live in a country of wide open spaces and stunning scenery, we, as people, are not clean and green. The fact we promote ourselves as being so is something that WILL come back to bite us and in a very painful way.


We are. We’ve always been Britain’s testing ground for new ideas. We were the first to give women the vote, we were one of the leaders in getting rid of smoking in indoor areas, we basically make and sail every boat in the America’s Cup, we climbed Mt Everest first, we can do just about anything with a bit of number 8 wire.

But our major, major industries still export huge amounts of raw materials like wood and meat without doing ANYTHING to them. We let other countries take our stuff and brand it THEIR way. This is not innovative, this is a very old NZ philosophy of treating ourselves as Britain’s farm.

Strong, independent and proud

I’m not sure if this came up yesterday, but I think it is a key part of our brand. We are a tiny country that no one has really heard of. If your country wanted to invade us, they could and we would kind of just have to take it. But WE don’t view ourselves like that.

We said NO to nuclear and forbid US nuclear ships for entering our waters. Despite the fact this took diplomacy back numerous years, we stuck to our guns because we believed int he cause.

We said NO to whaling and put more pressure on Japan every year than any other country.

When we were the first to get a free trade agreement with China, the biggest backlash was because we know our brand so well, we know that free trade with a country that is openly occupying another country is not something that we should support.

We firmly, as a country, believe in equality. We may not be perfect but I’d say as far as race relations and gender equality go, we lead the pack.

But are we black?

Black is our national colour. From the almost magical spectical of the All Blacks roaring out the Haka, to the way most Wellingtonians dress, we embrace black with a passion.

Some people think black flies in the face of our brand. We are not black, we’re green and blue and bright and fresh and new and independent. We’re not corporate.

I think black IS who we are. We are innovative but simple, we are small but powerful, we are fun but serious. You may have never heard of us, but when you witness a blackwash, you will sit back in awe.

Which is funny because colours and graphics should come last but somehow we seem to have managed to stumble on the best colour for us before we could quite agree on what ‘us’ is… But brands are constantly evolving aren’t they?