PODCAST EP 71
Simon chats with Isabella Villani, Company Director and Chief Customer Officer at Exceed Global.Listen Now
City Beach opened in 1985 with a single retail store just off Queen Street Mall in Brisbane’s CBD. Since then, City Beach has grown to be a household name in many of Australians. City Beach provides a unique place to shop by making the stores a fun place to hang out.
You can contact Mike Doyle here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mdoyl3/
Simon Dell: Welcome to the show, Mike Doyle, who is the Head of Marketing for City Beach and also my very, very first Canadian on the show. You have broken my Canadian virginity.
Mike Doyle: Listen, I’m happy to be here with you on this special occasion. Together, we’ll get through. It’s exciting.
Simon Dell: Now, just for the people who are either old and have never shopped at City Beach or haven’t shopped at City Beach recently, or for those that are listening in another country, which we do have quite a few, could you give us a bit of an understanding about who City Beach are and exactly what they do?
Mike Doyle: City Beach is an online and offline fashion retailer, primarily focused in the youth space. That’s not to say that there’s not lots of old people that feel very comfortable shopping in our stores. I’m sure that some of our team would be cringing at the idea that someone over the age of 30 is walking in buying a few of our clothes, but there certainly are. It’s been around since ’85 as I’ve mentioned, and a mix of physical and online. There’s about 70 locations across Australia. It’s also based out of Brisbane.
Simon Dell: I’ve got lots of questions about City Beach and what you guys are doing there, but I want to get a bit of your background. We know you’re Canadian. How did you get here?
Mike Doyle: As is always the way, it was a girl. I was a group sales coordinator up in the ski resorts and managing all the Olympic teams that are coming to train. I used to ski quite a bit, but I broke both my knees, so I was somewhat less capable as a skier. But when my employee, when I was in the HR department, he invited his family to come up to the ski resort, and the only person that wanted to ski was his sister. Everybody else wanted to snowboard.
So, I was anointed as the Chief Ski Instructor for that faithful trip, and it was probably a few weeks later that we formalized our love for each other. Basically, 3 months later, I married her. I moved here about 15 years ago to Australia and haven’t looked back. Had to find myself some employment, and that’s where the journey began.
Simon Dell: And you started off in Sydney, didn’t you?
Mike Doyle: I did, yeah. So, I was in Sydney for quite a while, first off as the marketing manager for a telco, and moved around and ended up in a couple of startups, and then moved up to Brisbane to work for Topdeck Travel, part of the Flight Centre group now, and then onto City Beach.
Simon Dell: What got you into marketing originally? I can see you’ve got a degree in communications and humanities, but what set you off on that path?
Mike Doyle: I suppose the reality is that I always had a way with people. I interacted naturally with most people. In my early days, my dad used to be the Director of Systems Engineering for IBM, so he’d introduced me to all sorts of key sales executives, and I do all sorts of personality tests for the sales roles as I was coming up as a young person. And I never actually did particularly well as a sales person, but I was able to sell, which seems like a hugely odd thing to be able to do without being ranked as a proper salesperson.
I think the reality is that I was able to communicate with people, and I guess that kind of led into the communications role and then expanded out from there. The combination of being relatively logical and analytical, combined with the fact that marketing is kind of a communications spirit. That’s why we do that.
Simon Dell: It’s funny, because I would probably say to you, 50% of the people I speak to on this podcast have got to where they’ve got to because they feel that they have a — not necessarily a talent, but maybe an in-built ability to sell. And whether that’s selling themselves or selling a product, a lot of people have sort of gone, that’s a really important part from a career perspective, to be able to sell something.
Mike Doyle: Yes. I think being able to distil an idea. And one of the things, I suppose, is a few of my team have coined my superpower as being able to listen and hear what people are saying, which I think a lot of people think they’re listening, but they’re not actually paying attention. And I’ve listened to quite a few of your podcasts and a few others as well, and I think there’s been a few times where people have said that, even in the spirit of the Dalai Lama, of all people, most of the time, what people are doing is forming an idea or a response to something as soon as you open your mouth as opposed to sitting back, and relaxing, and understanding what it is the person’s trying to communicate.
Communication is more than just words. Strangely, as we sit here, connected digitally but not physically, I can’t see your body language. I can’t see if you’re paying attention, but you get a sense of that kind of stuff when you’re in front of someone. I think that’s one of the interesting dimensions to marketing these days, is that physical disconnection is really meaning that you need to work a lot harder in marketing to get back to what people do at their core, which is read all of the signals in order for them to understand if they’re doing a good job or not. I guess the modern art of marketing is to be able to bridge what we used to do face-to-face to what we do now and make that natural.
Simon Dell: It’s interesting you talk about that communication, but obviously, one of the things that you’ve done a lot of, and I would imagine still in your role, you still do at least oversee this if not do it, but that’s copywriting. Do you still do a lot of copywriting in your role?
Mike Doyle: I don’t a lot. It’s interesting, because this organization doesn’t necessarily think that copywriting is a specific thing. It’s not necessarily divvied up in the way that you would think. And that’s been the case for most of the places I’ve worked. There’s a bunch of marketing people that are able to write basic copy. And then if it gets down to crunch time, we need to wordsmith something that inevitably comes to me and my background in it. But I think the words are…
I think it depends on the audience you’re speaking to as well, because I think you can be a little bit more direct if the objective is sales, and I think you can be a little bit more illustrative with your language if it’s not. And I think there’s a moment for all those things. My talent tends to be in more pros than it is kind of headline copy, but I think horses for courses. I do a little bit of that still, but I like to coach as opposed to do.
Simon Dell: Yeah, that’s probably where I was going with this. Because one of the struggles that I would have talking to a small business, a medium-sized business, is explaining to them why it’s so important that copy on websites, and copy on brochures, and all those kind of things, is done well. I’m just interested in your insight as to what you would say in front of somebody to explain to them the importance of getting that done properly.
Mike Doyle: It’s interesting, because it kind of depends on, again, what you think properly is. Because there’s two schools of thought. One, you’re writing copy for the bots. So, you’re writing SEO copy that caters for the things that are going to crawl your website to allow you to rank, or writing copy into your Amazon ads so that Amazon pops you up the top. And then there’s a whole brand piece that comes through.
I don’t know that there’s a natural way of bridging those two things, but I think the interesting new dimension to all this is voice search. I think that as natural communication kind of comes into what is a fairly blunt instrument — obviously, specific search terms will garner you results. But as the likes of Alexa and all that kind of stuff start to become more of a reality, especially here in Australia, I think brands are going to have to take note of how they write copy and how that’s interpreted by things.
But also, what the voices of the brand… Because that’s actually going to be a thing. You’re going to have to have a voice, and that’s an actual voice as opposed to written on the page. So, it’s an interesting cross section of all those schools of thought where you need to go from the years gone by where madmen style advertising agencies would put taglines to things, and you’d have a persona in the room to the kind of adolescent phase of the Google searching where you end up with copy that’s written specifically to be crawled, and then you’re kind of moving into the new era where maybe those two things need to be blended together.
So, it’s an exciting time. I think it’s taking some of the things that I took as sacrosanct when I was coming up. They were super important when I was coming up in the early days of marketing and blending that with the technology. So, it’s pretty amazing.
Simon Dell: I want to go down that rabbit hole because it’s, funnily enough, two to three days ago, we actually posted a blog about voice search, voice SEO. Because it’s obviously something that people are talking a lot about. Just looking at it from your specific marketplace, the youth, the fashion marketplace, do you think it’s going to have a lot of impact? What sort of impact do you think it will have in your marketplace?
And I say that as someone that’s still pretty much on the fence with whether we’re going to actually start asking an Alexa and Siri about, “Where’s the best place to buy a pair of trainers?” and all those kind of things.
Mike Doyle: It’s going to be a huge component of some vertical reality. If you were to look at grocery or most of the spaces that Amazon plays well in, those are kind of replanning style orders. “Order me batteries.” I don’t really care what kind of batteries I get as long as they’re the right size, and loosely performing the way that I would expect. Now, there’s another layer to that when you come into fashion, where it’s…
If I’m ordering the same pair of shoes that I’ve always ordered, so I’m a runner and I like Pair A, and I run through them… And on my run, I can say, “Geez, these things are really falling apart. Hey, Alexa, order me another pair of the trainers that I love.” And they come. That’s great. And there’s a convenience factor, and you give up a bit of control over your pricing and a whole bunch of other things for the convenience.
And I think there’s a lot of people that would happily give over a lot of control for that convenience. But I think there’s an aspect, and it’s kind of a hybrid for fashion, where depending on which side of this fence we fall, whether we fall on the side of the ultimate online showroom where everything is delivered to your home, you try it on, you put it back in the box, and you send it back if you don’t want it… That model has never really taken off, and there’s been a lot of startups that have pumped a lot of money into sending heaves of stuff to people that just have fallen over because the infrastructure is so expensive to facilitate. It doesn’t work as a model.
I think there’s no doubt that there’s going to be an aspect of this where fashion, specifically, is going to find a home. I think it will be in the basics, and I think that there’s going to be a certain aspect of maybe social shopping where you’re able to combine things where you say, “I see Kim Kardashian wearing that blue pair of shorts, and I want it. I don’t want to spend the time finding out what it is. I just want it my size and I’ll try it.” But I think that that’s a novelty. So, I’m not sure that fashion’s not going to see that come along. But I think that people will search for things that adjacent.
So, I might want to find a store, or I might want to find what hours we’re open, or I might want to find out more about the brand, or what we sell. In those kind of conversations that are either Google searches now or awkward phone calls or staff interactions in store could be harnessed and moved into a different space. I think that there’s a place for it in all businesses. Whether it becomes the next VR, 360 Camera of 2020, I’m not sure. I think it’d be silly not to take it seriously. You don’t want to be the one guy saying, “This is going to be silly.” And in two years, looking back at what could’ve been. There’s no harm in dialling some of that stuff early.
Simon Dell: I can see a space where you’re asking Siri or you’re asking Alexa, “What time is the City Beach open till in Indooroopilly?” Although, as I always point out to people, Siri and Alexa have no comprehension of the word Indooroopilly. That’s one of the things I still try to get my head around, the complexity of place names. It’s just a big struggle for these systems at the moment.
Mike Doyle: But I think the context in which you’re searching is missing from the current iteration of all of these searches. If we’re able to preface a search with context, and that’s something that people do naturally… You know when you’re speaking to a toddler, because I’ve got two little people. Sometimes, that context is lacking. When you speak to them, you say, “Hey, what on Earth are you talking about? Because you started midstream of consciousness here.” Okay, well, what are we talking about? You’re the Alexa of that conversation. You’re lacking that context, so you can kind of jump in with some irrelevant stuff, and they’re kids, so they don’t really care.
But I think the search world is the same way. I think there’s going to be a point at which either there’s inferred context. So, I am observing you as a searcher and I know that you’ve been looking for something. And so, I’m able to extrapolate that you’re looking for a location on Indooroopilly as address. I think they’re making amazing advances. I don’t see that that’s going to be a huge problem. I think there’ll be a conversation to be had with something that feels more natural, and then from that, you’ll end up with some contextual searches. It’s pretty much there from a typing perspective, so I think it won’t be very long for it to be relevant on voice. I think it all feels a bit clunky at the moment, but I don’t see that as something that’s too hard to overcome.
Simon Dell: I was going to say, there’s a long conversation we could go on here about artificial intelligence and all those kind of things.
Mike Doyle: It’s an exciting space.
Simon Dell: We might save that for another day, because I’ve got quite a few questions about City Beach. That’s where you’ve been for the last over three years. My first question is how the brand stays fresh. It is quite a long legacy brand. When did you say it was founded?
Mike Doyle: ’85.
Simon Dell: How many years?
Mike Doyle: 34 years.
Simon Dell: That’s a long legacy, well-established brand. We’re not in startup territory there. How does it stay fresh? What has it done over the past few years to stay fresh in the marketplace and keep appealing to a very evolving demographic that itself is undergoing radical transformation?
Mike Doyle: I think the key to that is that the DNA of the brand has always been that we need to be current. That was the vision from day one. The organization itself started in 1985, and I think the reality was that a lot of the products that got stocked in those early days were because there was a demand for it. If we go back to our conversation earlier where it’s all about communication, it’s all about listening, I think that the two guys that started City Beach, who are still very active in the business and really are driving it in a lot of ways with all of the products we stock, they listened. I think that spirit of listening has continued to this day.
They were probably early adopters of the idea that there is a way of personalizing most things. I sat with one of the two owners who back in the day was in charge of all marketing. We had this book on the counter, the black book. We opened it up whenever a customer came in, you write their name, phone number, and you’d make some notes about what they liked and what they bought. Whenever a product came in that made sense for them, we’d call them up and say, “Hey, Steve, there’s this really great billabong T-shirt that came in. You bought the black one last time. Would you be interested in the blue one?”
You’d see him walking past down the street, and wave at him and say, “Hey, we’ve got this new pair of jeans.” And we’d invite him to parties and all that kind of stuff. And some people would show up and some people wouldn’t, but we grew this loyal fanbase from this book. I think that spirit has remained. I think that we’ve gone through some times where we were probably relying on our legacy a bit more than we should’ve, but I think now post-GFC, which is crazy to think that that was as long ago as it was, things are a little harder. That was 11 years ago.
So, things have gotten tough because people are savvy, and the internet’s here, and there’s a whole bunch of stuff. But I think if you look back and say, “What was true then, it is true now” and why have we remained where we are and still a growing business, it’s because the DNA of those guys still remain. We listen. And sometimes, we listen better than other times, and we make mistakes, and everybody does. But we listen to what the market is demanding and we’re not shy about moving into it. So, one of the interesting things that we’ve moved into is, we’ve stopped stalking a lot of Surf Hardware. We realized that the market just wasn’t interested in us as a retailer selling some of that stuff where there’s specialists that did it better. But they were very interested in a lot of the brands that we sold.
But then, as the brands started to morph, you see that a lot of the skate brands, the core skate brands, have morphed into what we would call street brands. So, you see Tyler The Creator going up and accepting an award at the MTV Awards. He has a Supreme hat on. Now, I don’t know a lot about Tyler, and probably a lot of people don’t, but I know that Supreme is a skate brand. I don’t know how close to skate he is, but it was kind of a pivotal point for a lot of brands where that kind of doesn’t matter anymore. It’s whatever the consumer has made of it.
And so, we’ve followed the trends as a fast fashion retailer should. I think that has lent itself to us being fresh. We just have continued in the spirit where we have a giant AI-driven, smart book that tells you about the things that you’ve looked at, and the things that are coming in might be relevant, and we’re trying our best to stay on top of that technology so that we can kind of embody that same spirit in modern communication.
Simon Dell: There was something I just wanted to go back to there when you say about you listen to the marketplace. I think this is something that all brands should be doing and all brands do, some better than others. When you say you listen to the marketplace, what does that really mean? Are you going out and having conversations with your target market? How do you get those learnings and understandings about what’s happening in that demographic?
Mike Doyle: We have the benefit of stocking a lot of brands that happen to be very bold. We have in excess of 300 different brands. Each one of them has their parts of the business that are their staples, and they generally branch out into new territory. We probably have one of the bigger SKU counts, or we have one of the widest product ranges for those not in fashion retail of most online retailers in Australia and arguably in a lot of places, which is obviously quite cumbersome. But it also reveals a lot in terms of data.
We had the luxury of being able to stock some of the things that maybe sit on the outside of your normal product range. And then if it works, we’re able to have conversations with those brands to indicate that they have and continue to stock. I think we’re a very conversion-focused organization. Because of that, we’re able to pinpoint quite quickly what’s working and what’s not from a product range perspective, and it’s not too hard to extrapolate out if the purple graphic T is working, then we should also stock the black, the green, and the red one.
So, we’re data-driven in that regard. We benefit greatly from a bunch of brands that we stock that are happy to be bold, and we’re able to leverage that and observe. We’re not having a lot of formal conversations with our customers, but they speak with their wallets and we’re happy to listen.
Simon Dell: I’ve said to some clients that I should actually sit down and speak one-to-one with clients. Obviously, you guys have got a lot of data in there. I guess that leads me to that next question, is, “How big a role is data playing to you guys within the organization?”
Mike Doyle: Since I started, it’s become more and more a feature of everyday conversation. There’s always been your dashboard reporting, but we’ve evolved that quite a bit as we’ve implemented newer, more modern systems that reveal that data in a more consumable way. I think the lynchpin for us, certainly, probably sprayed all over the internet for advocating for the Emarsys platform. I’m certainly not shy about talking about that as a success for us, and I think that was a catalyst for us, transforming the conversations internally about what the customer is doing from a communications perspective.
We’ve always been data-driven from the product perspective. The two owners are in our back of house system every day observing what’s moving, what stores, and what products they should be buying, what products they should be pricing differently. We’ve got an incredible group of people that are dealing with the product. And in over the last four years or so that I’ve been on, we’ve tried to reach that same standard from a communications perspective and a customer data perspective. The journey is not over, and I don’t think that anyone would claim that they’re perfect. But we’ve come a long way in terms of understanding who our customers are and then trying to cater for them from a cadence perspective and from a content perspective.
To wrap back to your question, we are a very data-driven organization, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to hide behind percentages in some data. And oftentimes, it’s the information that you’re not collecting or that’s not revealed that’s more telling than the things that you have right in front of you. It’s been a journey, and I think I’m very logical and analytical. I enjoy those conversations. And now that we’ve got data flowing through in a more natural way, it’s easier for me as a less technical person than most to be able to understand what’s actually going on and ask those questions without days and days of strolling through pivot tables to find some answers.
It’s an exciting time, and I think the benefit of AI is that if you layer on smart intelligent services on top of data and the data’s clean, then you should start to see some cross-sections. The smarter the AI becomes, or the longer the algorithm is allowed to run, the more interesting cross-sections of data you’ll find. I’m excited about the next 12 to 18 months in terms of where those products are going, what data we’ll be able to mine, or what kind of things will be nominated to us by computers to say, “Hey, looks like you’ve dropped 3% on this sell through of this kind of product or the velocity on this other thing has dropped. Is there something else going on?” That’ll ask the questions, and maybe we’ll find some interesting answers.
Simon Dell: What sort of numbers do you look at? You obviously have access to a lot of data, but as a retail business or as a head of marketing, what kind of numbers do you sit there and check all the time?
Mike Doyle: There’s the obvious ones, and if you’re not looking at your daily revenue, you’re probably pretty crazy. We’re obviously looking at top line revenues for gross and net, and then we’re always keeping an eye on our returns. It’s a bit of an ongoing, fun topic to understand what the consumers are doing in terms of, “Are they ordering a lot of stuff online, trying it on and sending it back? How is that dynamic working for us?”
It’s an interesting one to keep an eye on. Obviously, items per sale, average order value, and there’s a whole bunch of other data around the communication stacks of: How many emails are we sending? What kind of unsubscribe rates are we getting? Click through rates? All that kind of stuff.
We’re not looking at anything particularly special there. Our shift in technology has revealed some rather obvious metrics to measure that were typically hard to find. So, average order value is easy, but then your lifetime value sometimes is a bit muddy. Those kind of things are interesting, because they push some value back into the conversations that happen early on. And oftentimes, the attribution is really last click stuff as opposed to looking at: How are we acquiring customers, and which customers from which channels are more valuable than others? All that kind of stuff.
Those are the kind of conversations that we’re having probably not every day, but certainly on an ad hoc basis that are delivering a lot of value back into the organization.
Simon Dell: Whilst we’re on that subject then, the nerdy marketing bit, the technology that you guys are using. What are some of the platforms that you use for emails? What’s the website built in? I mean, we did with a lot of e-commerce retailers. There’s small e-commerce retailers, there’s big e-commerce retailers out there. I’m just interested to see. Obviously, you guys are a big organization and obviously have a robust online presence, but what sort of technology drives everything that you do in the backend?
Mike Doyle: As I’ve mentioned earlier, Emarsys has really become part of our holistic communications stack. They’re not particularly big in APAC yet. They’re significant in Europe and trying to break into the US market. They’ve put some heavy investments in there as far as I understand. So, we’ve moved off of Salesforce into Emarsys. My team is an incredible team, so they put a lot of effort into making sure that worked really well, and the transition from platform to platform went smoothly, but it’s not without its hiccups. The integration went amazingly well. As a result of that, we’re in a really privileged position to be one of their key clients within the APAC region and invited to weigh in on some stuff that they’re doing.
We’re heavily involved with Emarsys as a communications stack. We send our emails and SMS via them. They also house a lot of our key customer data, because we just don’t really have any other systems to provide that information to us. It’s been an exciting journey to work with them on a life for life swap out. What we’ve done is continue to work with them on a whole bunch of other things that they’re releasing into the market. We’ll soon have a customer data platform deployed within. It’s like a CRM on steroids with AI running on top.
We’re working with them on a whole bunch of other things that they’re looking to deploy into the market around retail. I can’t go into too much detail because I don’t know how much they’re actually sharing with the rest of the market, but there’s a whole bunch of other tools that they’re going to be deploying. We’re working behind the scenes to help them refine that. I think APAC and Australia specifically is a bit of a different beast, and we have to work a little harder here than I think our North American brethren do because the population size is so much smaller. You just can’t get away with being lazy.
To your question, Emarsys is servicing us on a whole bunch of different dimensions from a communications perspective. Our current website is built on WebSphere. That’s an IBM product which is at end of life from what I understand. IBM sold that off to a new party, and so, we’re going to be transitioning off of the platform. Again, we haven’t formalized that conversation yet with our nominated future vendor, but maybe in a future podcast, I’ll be able to talk deep and meaningful about our new website and all of the fun things that we’re going to do there.
Simon Dell: You’ve obviously seen a lot of backend platforms. What systems have you used that you would admire?
Mike Doyle: Rather than a system specifically, I think the ethos behind them has changed. You’re not getting a CD in the mail anymore, popping it into your computer, and loading up your new website. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. I think SaaS is the future, and I’ve worked in that space briefly. But I think that the reality of the way all technology is moving, it’s kind of what I like to consider the democratization of all this kind of stuff. The reality is that up until now, we’ve had large teams with huge infrastructure to support.
We’re moving to the iPhone model, where the iOS in the background is updating behind the scenes and it really shouldn’t affect any of your apps. And you don’t really need to think about it anymore. I fully embrace that model, where we don’t have four or five people worrying about the servers, and the CDN, and all this other kind of stuff. That’s the functional component of this conversation.
And quite frankly, it’s best left to a few people that will do the best, and making sure that that’s all functioning. And also, the economies of scale you get from having a thousand big clients on a stack that you can move around means that they can get it for cheaper and maintain it more effectively.
I think everything’s moving to that model, and anyone holding onto the dream that they’ll sell you a piece of software, and in five years’ time, you might come back and buy another CD is probably fairly delusional at this point. I don’t think there’s too many people like that left. I think web platforms are going that way. You’ll end up with a nice, nimble platform that allows you to layer a whole bunch of customizations on top.
Simon Dell: How important is email as a communication tool for you to your demographic? Again, bear in mind, we’re talking a younger demographic. And people often don’t necessarily associate that younger demographic with opening emails. How important is that platform, emails? And the second question is, what other platforms work for you to communicate with those end users?
Mike Doyle: The most effective communication tools are generally the ones you don’t have to pay a lot for, because they are relatively easy to map. I think obviously, conversion tools really are — our stores and our online platform, there’s a whole bunch of layers that go into properly converting people in store, staff, and product, and all that kind of stuff. Online, there’s a whole bunch of steps they need to walk through to lure them in. Is email relevant to our audience? It is. It’s an effective platform if you don’t abuse it. We have been known to abuse it in the past. We’re reformed. We apologized. We went to the meetings.
Simon Dell: Emailers Anonymous, yes.
Mike Doyle: Yes, Batch and Blast Anonymous, exactly, right.
Simon Dell: We’ve all been there. We’ve all done it.
Mike Doyle: It’s too tempting, yeah.
Simon Dell: “Surely, they won’t mind five emails in one day? Let’s just send them and see what happens.”
Mike Doyle: Yeah, and there’s some few people that don’t. Unfortunately, that kind of validates the whole argument. But I think reality is that, used effectively, email is still highly relevant. I think there’s an awful lot of things that we’re doing in terms of the personalization of those communications that mean that it’s still relevant. It’s a super cost-effective way of communicating. So, acquiring a customer, and getting their details, and then putting in on, to forming up some view of what they’d like to buy, and sending that to them still works quite well.
I think in terms of layering on top of that, obviously, the old adage of ‘show them the ad three times and they’ll convert’ just doesn’t apply anymore with the way that modern people travel through life. You sort of need to be on all channels and communicating based on the preferences of the individual. Again, working with Emarsys, we’ve deployed a whole bunch of different programs into our platform that allow us to drive retention and conversion strategies based on one-to-one communication.
Regardless of where you pop up, if we can identify you, we can serve you with something relevant. With great power comes great responsibility. So, it’s a matter of making sure that we’re not getting too carried away. But we’re able to serve comms across email, SMS, into your social feeds, while you’re searching. And then ideally, in the future, we’re able to identify more of the people that are walking into the store and being able to customize the communications that they’re receiving in store as well. So, we’ve already digitized our signage in store, and that’s all linked back through a company called mendoi who Telstra took a liking to and dumped a bunch of cash into. They’re fairly well-funded for the next little while.
And so, we’ve deployed about 400 large-format digital screens that are all linked into a network and powered by head office. We’re able to schedule and communicate through those quite effectively. I can see a possible future, which is probably not too distant, where we’d be able to identify people as they come through and possibly cater for what they’re searching for using the in-store signage as well.
The younger generation, I think that everyone’s the same, and it’s probably a bit of a controversial way of approaching it. But people are people. So, young people, old people, they just want to have natural communication. I think the channel that they pop up in the most is the one that they probably prefer to hear from you in if it’s appropriate.
I’m kind of reluctant to abuse SMS because I think that, for a lot of people, it’s kind of like your private communication channel. You hand your mobile phone out to your friends. You don’t necessarily hand it over to a brand to advertise to you. So, email is nice because it’s discreet and it doesn’t typically interrupt your… You’ve decided to opt into communications from that channel. But also, you’ve further opted in mentally into checking your email. Whereas an SMS can interrupt what you’re doing, for dinner, and all of a sudden, you get an SMS from a brand saying that their mattresses are 50% off.
It’s like, “Well, great. I’m eating dinner now. Not appropriate.” So, I think there’s a lot of layers. We use a whole bunch of different things. Probably surprisingly, social media is probably not as effective as most people would assume for a youth fashion retailer. I think a lot of the success that people speak about in social is coming from pure online retailers that leverage a lot of celebrity and a lot of influencer marketing to power their brand.
Strangely enough, I think that the physical stores that we have are probably our best communication asset, because they’re in your face. There’s product in there. You can go and touch and feel. We’ve got staff that are young, and engaged, and excited about being there and happy to chat. I think all those things layered together mean that we’ve got a pretty powerful tool that a lot of people don’t, and I think social is great, and it plays a part in a broader conversation with those guys, but it’s probably not the be all and end all.
Simon Dell: You’re closing on half a million followers on Instagram. There’s stuff that you’ve got on Instagram as obviously fairly predictable in terms of brand shots, and models, and all those kind of things. Just as a complete side, the little comments that you’re putting on Instagram are actually quite funny. Who is writing those? Is that an internal thing, or is that an agency thing?
Mike Doyle: We’ve got a team of three up in the social team that are finger on the pulse of whatever’s going on. So, they culp together a whole bunch of different things and pop them up there. And if they work, they continue down that journey with our audience. We have some quotes and a whole bunch of that kind of stuff, and then the more obvious product shots with models and what not.
Simon Dell: I’m going to get onto my final question, because otherwise, we’re going to be here all day. You’re exposed in your business to a lot of brands, and you have been exposed to a lot of brands. Outside of the ones that you see every day, what are some of the brands that you admire yourself, that you think are kicking goals or doing a fantastic job?
Mike Doyle: I think someone like Supreme which I mentioned earlier is a brand that has done something that a lot of people just can’t figure out, and I think it’s an interesting journey to look at and understand. From my perspective, it’s kind of this anomaly that it’s held up in a lot of conferences, and the guys related to the brand are pretty shy about really speaking to anybody about what they’re doing, which I think adds to the mystery of it all. I think that, to me, is exciting.
I’ve had the privilege of chatting with a few guys from Jim Shark, which isn’t a huge brand in Australia for a lot of people, but it’s enormous, it’s hundreds of millions of pounds a year of leisure and athletic wear going out of their doors. They’re a pure play that have done some interesting things with physical locations and just continue to impress. It’s a young guy that basically started in the UK. He’s got pictures of him driving to the post office with his first set of orders and how excited is he to this enormous company. So, I think those kind of success stories are fun to observe.
And then more outside of fashion, I can’t help but watch the Tesla spectacle unfold in front of me. That’s super interesting and an interesting story to follow, because it’s this sort of megalomaniac guy that’s kind of… The story writes itself. And the only other thing that’s interesting to me, and it’s kind of probably a little bit controversial, is that as a Canadian, I’ve seen the rise of legalization of marijuana in Canada. It’s a whole industry now, and it’s a very, very lucrative now. What you’d say about the lifestyle is secondary to the fact that from a marketing, and communications, and retail perspective, it’s just amazing.
The revenue generated from that kind of stuff has eclipsed. The tax revenue from it for a lot of local governments is addictive. I think that’s a really interesting space. There’s a company called Lift & Co that is kind of a content hub for that industry, and I’ve taken note of those guys. I think there’s a lot of interesting things that are going to come from that space that are going to impact a lot of other organizations as they start to roll out. It’s not something that’s really, from an industry perspective, detracting from something else. Maybe Coca-Cola’s going to argue they’re not drinking their product anymore because they’re all off smoke and weed, but I kind of argue that actually, the people that you probably expect to possibly suffer from this might gain the most.
It’s an interesting addition to a lot of markets, and I don’t know if it’s going to be a feature of the domestic market here in Australia. But from afar, it’s interesting to watch because it’s a complementary thing for a lot of organizations. It’s an obscene amount of money, what they’re talking about. So, it’s a curious thing. Curiosity in a different way to Tesla, but ironically, those stories have intersected at least once, which is a funny anecdote as well. That’s interesting for me, just understanding what’s going on.
I’m personally into fitness and all that kind of stuff. I think the wearable technology is an interesting thing. It intersects in a lot of ways with AI in personal information, and security, and all sorts of other things. So, I think there’s a whole bunch of dimensions around AI, and whether someone’s going to develop something that is a personal AI that protects your information? As the advent of wearables, sharing all of this personal information, gets into the hands of computers, and those computers start to try and figure you out, are you going to have some layer that protects you from all of that? All of those big questions keeps me up and excited.
Simon Dell: In terms of where you learned from, books, people, websites, how do you keep yourself educated about business marketing, those kind of things? Where do you digest information from?
Mike Doyle: The one and only Paper Planes Podcast.
Simon Dell: That’s terrible. People can tell you’re lying that far off.
Mike Doyle: But strangely enough, it’s not too far from the truth. I live on the Gold Coast and commute up to Brisbane every day. So, it’s about an hour and a half in the car each way. And so, a lot of people would say I’m crazy, but it’s actually a really valuable opportunity for me to do some self-development. So, I listen to endless podcasts. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, so I certainly have not been shy in smashing my Audible account with all sorts of crazy titles.
There’s a few authors that I’ve always turned to. So, Malcolm Gladwell, a fellow Canadian is one that I will read everything he publishes. There’s a whole bunch of different amazing authors that have published a bunch of stuff, and admittedly, some things, you might take one or two ideas from, kind of move on. The concept of not shying away from interacting with things that you may not be comfortable with, or diving into a territory that isn’t what I consider a safe space is interesting. I certainly haven’t been shy with the old audiobooks, so that’s where I spend most of my time.
Simon Dell: I said this a couple of podcasts ago about audiobooks and about how audiobooks allow me to actually read things that I would never normally have picked up and actually read, if that makes sense. Because often, they’re quite challenging. And I’m reading… I forgot what I’m reading on Audible, and I do the same, I smash the Audible account as well. I’m reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell. To be honest with you, I would have never picked that book up, ever. It’s a heavy book. It’s an intellectual book, which I am not intellectual. I love audiobooks. They’re something I’ve discovered in the last couple of years.
Mike Doyle: To your point, there’s a bunch of books that would look intimidating on a shelf. Interestingly enough, one of the search tactics I’ve got, because I’ve got so much time in the car, is that I sort them by longest to shortest. If I’ve got a three-hour daily commute and I buy an audiobook for $14, and I get through it in a day, I don’t see the value. And so, it’s a really messed up way of picking things to listen to.
But if there’s two or three books that I’m looking at, and one is six hours long, and the other one is 26 hours long, I might pick the 26 hour one first because they go into a lot of territory that the 6-hour one can’t. But I can always end at 6 hours and say, “This isn’t really interesting.” The advent of audiobooks in the podcasting revolution, which you are a part of, plays into that whole voice search thing, strangely enough.
There’s an aspect of convenience that comes to having your hands free, and your eyes free, and your mind engaged because you’re able to do whatever you’re doing without a lot of extra input. So, if you’re driving, or you’re doing some sort of menial task where you’re able to perform something by rote, and you’re able to listen with your ears and expand your brain, why wouldn’t you do that?
I think the voice search is a weird dimension to that, where you’re able to outsource some of that to a device much like you’re able to engage your brain in the completely other end of the spectrum while you’re doing something with your hands that may not be as demanding on your presence, or your mental presence, anyway.
Simon Dell: When you drive home today, what are you listening to?
Mike Doyle: Today, I’ve been listening to Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, two ex-Navy SEALs. That’s just because they’re kind of in a bunch of different spaces, but this is their book and it’s some sort of bestseller, very exciting. I didn’t pick that one necessarily because it was particularly long, but I was recommended it a few times because I kind of feel like a lot of my management style fits into that Extreme Ownership.
I’m the first to apologize and take the bullet for the team, and then try and make sure that that mistake is never made again, or, “How can we learn from this and how do I listen actively for what’s going on?” And trying to have some situational awareness, triage, and all those fun things. That’s a super engaging book. It’s probably going to end before I feel satisfied with the topics, so I’ll have to find something else. But yeah, that’s the one that’s interesting. Kept me engaged for a little while.
Simon Dell: There was one that I was going to recommend to you that I now can’t find, The Culture Code. I don’t know whether you’ve read that one, Daniel Coyle. It’s the secrets of highly successful groups. So, anyone out there, I’d absolutely recommend that one. If you’re building or running a team, he looks at successful teams around the world. And he talks about the Navy SEALs, the New Zealand All Blacks, how those great teams are built and run.
Mike Doyle: For sure, and it sounds perfect, yeah. There’s a few by Malcolm Gladwell that sound a little bit different in terms of not being team-specific. The Outliers is an interesting one where Malcolm Gladwell unpicks this idea that people have natural and inherent talents, goes through a whole bunch of different things on that. It’s just super, super interesting. If I can recommended one back to you, that would be it.
Simon Dell: Thank you. I think I’ve read Outliers, but I probably would’ve read it…
Mike Doyle: You’d be in a minority if you haven’t.
Simon Dell: I think it was one of those ones where I’ve read five to seven years ago. It’s probably worth sitting down and reading it again because I think it’s one of those books that you do need to…
Mike Doyle: For sure, listening to it and nothing else. He’s the narrator of it. He’s just super entertaining.
Simon Dell: Thank you very much. I was going to say, we could probably do another 45 minutes here on book reviews, and then another 45 minutes on AI, but we’ll save all that for another time. Thank you for your time on the show today. Last question I have for you: If anybody wants to get a hold of you, what’s the best way of reaching out, saying hello?
Mike Doyle: I am a recurring LinkedIn addict. I’m on there and I’m happy to accept as many — I’ve coined myself as a LinkedIn influencer at this point because I just happily accept anybody. I’m all over LinkedIn, and that’s probably from a professional perspective the easiest way of tracking me down. I’m not sure how you’d find me, but I’ve got a lovely black and white photo on there which was taken at some sort of conference. Hit me up on LinkedIn. I’m happy to have a chat. If you’ve got some super good ideas, shoot them through, or a book recommendation would probably be better, yeah.
Simon Dell: Hopefully, you might get 100 book recommendations now.
Mike Doyle: Exactly. Well, I’ve got lots of hours to burn off in the car.
Simon Dell: I’ll email you some later. I’ve got a couple of others as well.
Mike Doyle: Please do.
Simon Dell: Mate, thank you very much for your time today. It’s been great. It’s been some fantastic insights into what you’re doing, so I really appreciate your time.
Mike Doyle: And I appreciate what you’re doing here. I think all of the podcasts that I’ve listened to to date have explored interesting territory, and you’ve spoken with some really engaging people. I’ve certainly learned a whole bunch of stuff from what you’ve been able to pull together, and it’s not an easy task. Kudos to you for pulling this together, and keep it up.
Simon Dell: Awesome. Really appreciate that. Thank you again, mate.
Mike Doyle: Not at all.