Simon chats with Nathan Bush, Former Group Digital Manager at Super Retail Group.

Show Notes

Nathan Bush is the former Group Digital Manager for Super Retail Group and now the founder of his own business, 12 High. He talks about his experiences with one of Australia’s major retail groups and his time with BCM advertising agency in Brisbane.


Simon Dell: I’m joined this week by Nathan Bush, who I have known for quite a while and is based here in Brisbane with me. He is currently the founder and strategist of a new business that is actually only two months old called 12HIGH, but I’ve known him through a couple of previous incarnations, which we’re going to talk a little bit about. The first is as the Group Digital Manager of Super Retail Group where he was there for five years.

And prior to that, he was also Head of Interactive Strategy at BCM Partnership. For those of you that don’t know BCM Partnership, they are a full service agency, again, based here in Brisbane, and one of the oldest independent ones I believe.

Is that the case?

Nathan Bush: Yeah, I think so. The founders are still there.

Simon Dell: Oh, cool. Anyway, welcome to the show. How are you this morning?

Nathan Bush: Good. Thank you, mate.

Simon Dell: We’ve just been talking just before we started about your home office because when you go out on your own your in your home office… I bet that’s something you haven’t had to do for a while, is set things up like that.

Nathan Bush: Not for a long time. I’m finding all sorts of things being out on my own from how to manage calendars, to my own IT problems, to all that sort of stuff which you take for granted being in a large organisation, but it’s good. It’s fun. 

Simon Dell: All of a sudden, you have to understand accounts, and Xero, and things like that. And you just go, “Hold on. Where do I charge this to?” And shit like that?

Nathan Bush: I never thought I’d get so excited about setting up automated reconciliations.

Simon Dell: Yeah. It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?

Nathan Bush: It is. But there’s something really fulfilling about it. There’s something really good to go, “I nailed that.”

Simon Dell: Yes. “Look, my mobile phone is going to do it automatically every month to the right account.”

Nathan Bush: I know, it’s amazing.

Simon Dell: And you’re pumping like a win.

Nathan Bush: Win, exactly. Take that off the list. That’s done.

Simon Dell: Okay, first question which we ask everybody: What was the very first job that you did that you actually got paid for? Right back to the start. I’ve had people whose first job was 7 years old.

Nathan Bush: Can I give you two?

Simon Dell: Go for it.

Nathan Bush: Because one’s actually pretty funny. The first one was selling flowers on the roundabout with my brother up from where I lived. I grew up in Tweed Heads. They’re big flowers. They’re big, bushy things. But apparently, they were really good, and we were able to chop them off.

Dad would chop them off for us, put those in a bucket, and we’d sell them for $2 each. We’d usually do it just before Sunday afternoon footie, and then that would give us enough to buy some treats for Sunday afternoon footie.

Simon Dell: Nice.

Nathan Bush: That was always a good moneymaker.

Simon Dell: How old were you then?

Nathan Bush: I would’ve been about 10, I reckon.

Simon Dell: I just want to get this straight. Your father was allowing a 10-year-old to stand on a busy roundabout.

Nathan Bush: It wasn’t too busy. We were in the suburbs. But all the strangers pulling up, opening their doors and giving us money, yeah, sure.

Simon Dell: Probably need to talk to your father about that.

Nathan Bush: We can add that to the list.

Simon Dell: What was the other one then, if that was one?

Nathan Bush: My first proper job was working at Big W. I got the job, I didn’t know what I was applying for, and I just went with it. And they put me in the hardware section.

So, I’m a 15-year-old kid in the hardware section, never built a thing in my life. I wouldn’t know my way around the house. And then they put me onto mixing paint straight away. And paint’s relatively easy when you’re mixing it like that because it’s basically a formula. I was pretty good at math so that was all cool. Do this one and blah-blah.

The problem was that I’m colourblind. People would bring in parts of their house and they’d go, “Can you match this for me?” And I’d go, “Yeah, no. There’s a wall over there with all those tags and different types of colours. If you match, I can make it.”

And then I’d do it. We’d put the colours in, put in the big machine which spins it, all that sort of stuff, get it out, and they go, “Oh, is it the same colour?” And I’m like, “You tell me.”

Simon Dell: So, a colourblind paint-mixing job. That wins. After 26 episodes, that wins so far as the strangest first job out there. How long did it take before they realised that it probably wasn’t a good idea to have you on there?

Nathan Bush: They didn’t. I got extended my duties to being able to look after the greenhouse to make sure all the plants didn’t die. I never gardened a thing in my life.

Simon Dell: I was going to say: Did the plants die?

Nathan Bush: No, they were alright, they were okay. There were a few nervous moments, especially around Mother’s Day when they’d bring in all the flowery ones, which were always a bit harder to keep alive for the week prior.

Simon Dell: That was your experience selling plants on a roundabout, or flowers on a roundabout? If he can do that, he’s clearly qualified to be managing this.

Nathan Bush: I guess my calling.

Simon Dell: Yeah. Well, if the new business doesn’t work, you can get back on the roundabout with your brother.

Nathan Bush: Yeah. He might not be up for it, but I’ll give it a go.

Simon Dell: I’m sure they’ll appreciate that. So, you’re a QUT alumni as well, aren’t you?

Nathan Bush: Yeah, I am.

Simon Dell: What made you pick that advertising and marketing path? Was that something that you decided before you got there, or that’s something that you gradually meandered into as you were there?

Nathan Bush: This is almost turning into a psychiatry session. There’s never a clear line for me. When I finished year 12, I got to the end and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d come from a very traditional household. Dad’s a teacher, mom’s a nurse. 

I got to the end and I was getting good grades. I was a good student. I enjoyed school. I got to the end, did my HSC, with was the New South Wales equivalent. And then I was waiting for results and actually got a phone call from Southern Cross University in Lismore. So, “We’d like to offer you a scholarship.”

I was like, “Oh, great.” And they said, “What do you want to do?” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t know what I can do yet.” And they’re like, “Oh, don’t worry about the grades. You can pick the course.”

And at that, I still hadn’t picked. And I was like, “Well, I’ve got to take the scholarship. It’s too good an opportunity.”

And I had about a week to pick what I wanted to do. So, I had a good look through all the books. And then I went, “Well, I want to do something around sports.” I went down the sport science route. And I went, “But if I’m getting good grades, I should probably do something that’s a bit more academic as well. So I went, “Well, why don’t I couple that with doing law?”

And because at the time at the time, Jerry Maguire was the big thing. I was like, “Maybe this leads me to something along the lines of – combine those two passions, I become the new Jerry Maguire. That’d be fantastic.” It’s amazing what you think when you’re 17, isn’t it? So I went with that. And I did a year and a half with a dual degree of Law and Sport Science.

And then I realised that I didn’t want to do either because I’m not very good at remembering all the minute body parts that you needed to do, and all the muscles, and all that sort of stuff. My memory didn’t work like that. And law was just boring. It’s just so much reading, and it was very dry, and it wasn’t the kind of law that I wanted to do.

Simon Dell: I did three years of law as well, and I got to the end of it and just realised I actually wasn’t any good at it. Everyone else in my year was just head and shoulders above me, and that was like, “Well, that’s three years wasted.” But there’s a lot of reading.

Nathan Bush: It’s a hard one, isn’t it? Because it’s in theory, and I think the reasons for going into it, and you’re probably similar, we’re really good in terms of being able to create change, and all that sort of gear. But it’s the way it’s done, the processes, and it’s just very archaic. And I don’t know if it still is, but it just seemed like you weren’t actually doing anything.

Simon Dell: I heard a great podcast the other week. They were talking about law is the only profession, one of the only professions in the world where the longer it takes you to do something for a client, the more you get paid. The whole legal system and lawyers and all that, they are geared up to take as long as they possibly can to do something for a client. 

Nathan Bush: Not like ad agencies at all.

Simon Dell: There is that as well, yes. Perhaps they hadn’t considered ad agencies at the time.

Nathan Bush: It’s not based on outcome, it’s based on time. It’s a dangerous model.

Simon Dell: Yes. So, you moved into…

Nathan Bush: A year and a half and I went, “No, that’s not for me.” And I went, “What am I going to do?” I don’t even know how, but I want to do marketing. I want to do advertising. I want to do marketing. And that led me to QUT much to my – I wouldn’t say disappointment. But I think my dad was a bit, “What are you giving up this scholarship and law for, to go into marketing?”

Because coming from a family where – you know what a nurse does, you know what a teacher does, you know what a lawyer does. It’s hard to understand what a marketer does or what value they add.

Simon Dell: Was there a moment that you sort of went, “It’s marketing.” Was there a light bulb, or was it a book you read, or something like that that made you decide that that was something you’re interested in?

Nathan Bush: There must’ve been. And I’m trying to piece together the pieces in what my thinking was at the time. And I think it comes down to that customer service mentality. So, starting retail from 15, and I think having that customer-facing, wanting to create better experiences, create better products for customers probably let it.

Especially in the six months between the law and taking up the QUT, I went full time in retail. And so, I think there was something that inspired me there. But I’ve asked myself that a few times. “How did I actually make that decision? I’m just not sure.”

Simon Dell: I just watched you’ve been talking about Lismore, going to university in Lismore. I’ve just also remembered that Peter Ellis, who obviously you would know now, also went to university, at Southern Cross University in Lismore. And although she tells a story, for those of you, go back and listen to her, one of my very first podcasts. If you listen to the story with Peter, LinkedIn says she was there from 2000 to 2003. That’s apparently not the entire truth, but I’ll leave people to go and listen to that one. She just went – I think her opinion was…

She was living in Noosa at the time. Why would you move from Noosa to Lismore? Apologies to anyone who’s in Lismore and listening to this.

Nathan Bush: It’s an interesting one. I had some really great friends. I had great times. I had the meanest toga parties ever. Actually, especially the sports science degree was really good. I can’t fault it. The law degree was a bit lefty. Nothing wrong with that. But it was… “I really enjoyed my time. It was great.”

Simon Dell: A QUT then, it became a fairly obvious route where to go after that?

Nathan Bush: Yeah. I think the big turning point for me was specialising. That was a good thing about QUT es to anyone who’s in Lismore and listen to this. It’s an interesting one. I’d had some really great friends. I have great times. I had the meanest toga parties ever I’ll fun and and the the actually The Specialist Sport Science degree was really good like it. I can’t I can’t fault it. The law degree was a bit Lefty at that spot nothing wrong with that. But it was I really enjoyed my time was great. And I guess at a cutie then it became a fairly obvious route where to go after that. Yeah, so I think the big Turning Point.

For me was specialising. So that was a beautiful thing about QUT course: you’ve got to pick what you major in. And I majored in integrated marketing communications, which was a relatively new thing, I think, at the time. It seemed to be.

Simon Dell: I was going to say, that’s back 2003-2005, wasn’t it? 

Nathan Bush: Yeah.

Simon Dell: That was a fairly new, shiny thing back then.

Nathan Bush: Yeah, and how do we bring everything together? The world was fragmenting and all that sort of gear. And then also,, another elective I got to do was an internship. This was in the final semester. That was probably the best thing I did at university, I reckon. At the time, again, it was that next stage to go, “Well, yes, I’ve done this degree and it’s an overarching pace to get me somewhere in the industry.” But I actually don’t know what partner… It’s not until you go out there and you start talking to agencies that you realise there’s media agencies, there’s creative agencies, there’s digital agencies, all these different types of marketers.

And you go, “Oh, wow. Now, I’ve got another choice to make.” I think at that time, I just didn’t make a choice. I just stuffed a whole bunch of envelopes and sent them to every agencies that I could find in Brisbane.

Simon Dell: So, it’s just send the CV out and see what happens?

Nathan Bush: Exactly. And because it was up to you. It wasn’t QUT didn’t find you your internship. You actually had to find it yourself, which I think is a fantastic system. So, I just did that. I went, “I really want to do this. I really want to make this part of my degree. And I just need to get in.”

And I was really lucky that Trish, OMD, took me on. I think she took on some other graduates from QUT before that, so I had a good understanding of what was involved, and how they’d have to support. And I did 12 weeks at OMD, which was fantastic, just the best experience. And I’ve got friends in the industry that I still catch up with that help mentor me in that time.

Simon Dell: What was your first impression of walking into that agency life, from having gone from university, and working in retail, and selling flowers on the side of the road… Did you remember anything like that, that first kind of day, or the first week where you just go, “What the fuck’s going on here?” That’s kind of how I felt.

Nathan Bush: I just remembered how quiet it was, which is totally different to creative agencies that I went into later, which is just a mess of everything. But it was deadly quiet. And so, I’d go in there, and I just remember being nervous, being on the phone. Because when you’re on the phone, everyone could hear you. And if you had to ask someone a question, everyone heard your question because it was an office of about 10 to 15 people. So, it was a bit intimidating because these people knew their stuff.

They were deep in Excel, spreadsheets, and research programs, and all that sort of stuff that you need to pull together a media schedule. And I just remember being so quiet and going – and feeling intimidated about anytime I needed to ask something or talk to someone. But I shouldn’t have been, but that’s the feeling that I had. And it wasn’t what I expected, I don’t think.

Simon Dell: The other question I wanted to ask you from those earlier years is: And I know you were only there for 10 months, but DP Dialogue. Do they still exist? Are they still out there?

Nathan Bush: No. Skipping forward, DP Dialogue was an extension of DiPasquale. But DP Dialogue was, and I’m pretty sure this is true, was the first social media agency in Australia.

Simon Dell: And that’s probably where I wanted to touch on. Because when you look at the time for that, 2009-2010, that was early days of social media, wasn’t it?

Nathan Bush: Really early.

Simon Dell: It was the wild west of social there. Someone argues it still is, but you know.

Nathan Bush: It was a really fascinating time. So, how I got there is that I was a DiPasquale… So, owned by Gino DiPasquale and his brothers. They were amazing mentors. It got to about 3.5 years into that, I think if my timeline is right. And I was doing a lot on the side. Because this is about a time YouTube started, Facebook was starting, all that sort of stuff. So, I was doing it just at home, just having somebody around going, “What can it do? I’m bringing it back into the office.”

And then Gino said to me, “You really think there’s a future in this?” I said, “Yeah. I do. It’s going to be massive. Social’s going to be huge.” And here he say, “Well, I’m working with this other guy, Matt, and we’re thinking about starting a spinoff agency. Would you want to come over to that?”

I was like, “Yeah, sure, let’s do it.” That was the start of my digital career. Before that, I was booking traditional media for DiPasquale.

Simon Dell: The interesting thing back then… We often say this to other guests. Back in that 2009-2011, you could just stand up and say “Hi, I’m a social media expert.” Not qualifying that whatsoever. If you could start a Facebook account, or you could start a Twitter account, or you could explain to someone what a hashtag once, you’re in. I think it’s Mike, the CEO of VroomVroomVroom. He was the same thing. “I just did about social media, and next thing, I’m advising these companies on their entire social media strategies.” 

Nathan Bush: Yeah, exactly.

Simon Dell: It’s great. And looking again at the list of the people that you work with, that’s not some small names there.

Nathan Bush: No. It was an really interesting time. I think we’re seeing it at the moment, especially with AI, is that a lot of people can do it themselves and teach themselves how to do it. And then actually skills is really valuable to teach other people. But at that time, because you got to remember, back then, no one was paying for Facebook advertising.

Simon Dell: It was all organic?

Nathan Bush: Yeah, exactly. If you posted something, your fans saw it. You just had to get the fans. We had so many people who wanted conversations with us because we did both the strategy and implementation. But we also had a tool called… It was an influencer tool, but it was basically the ability to identify influencers and understand what people are saying about you in social at that time. And at that time, most people didn’t have their Facebook locked down.

Simon Dell: Right, so anybody can see what was on this.

Nathan Bush: Exactly, and you had Twitter and you had the rest. Well, there wasn’t that much of the rest, but it was pretty open in terms of what you could pull in. We had a lot of people wanting to chat, including some of the big banks, big retail clients. But when it came to paying, it became a really hard transaction. Actually, this is all free, we just need to do know how to do it.

Simon Dell: Yeah. We just need someone inside to pay them base rate.

Nathan Bush: That’s it. So, it was really hard at that stage to create the value that people really wanted to retain, that knowledge, and build on it.

Simon Dell: Again, that’s a conversation I’ve had multiple times with people. One of the statements I often make is it’s really hard to charge clients for social media management. Because as you just said, they go, “Oh, we can do that ourself.” It’s hard to explain to them the difference between a professional communicator doing it or your Saturday person in your job or in your business.

Nathan Bush: It’s a real balance, isn’t it? It’s a hard one. I’ve said on both sides of the fence, and I’ve seen it work both ways. Because if you get a professional in, they know generally based on all the other clients they work, what kind of language, what kind of images, what usually resonates. 

Because it’s a totally different way of communicating than it would be on email, or in television, or whatever else it is that you do. But at the same time, no one knows your customers better than you know your customers yourself. So, you’ve been speaking to your own customers, whether it’s on the phone, whether it’s in store or however. And you know what they will respond to. It needs to come together to go, “We’ll bring our customer knowledge and then you bring your channel knowledge.” And then how do we make a process that works, that we can make the most of both? I don’t think there’s a model that totally outsource social or totally insource social. You need a balance.

Simon Dell: From there, you moved to BCM, Head of Interactive Strategy. Explain to everyone what that means. Again, just for everyone’s benefit, we’re talking back in 2010, 2012. Christ, that’s 6 to 8 years ago. Makes me feel old.

Nathan Bush: It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s only 8 years ago but so much has happened since.

Simon Dell: How was that interactive space back then?

Nathan Bush: It was getting more mature. One of the benefits of BCM, and BCM do a fantastic job of this, is they keep their clients happy. So, they’ve got a roster of clients. They trust BCM and they trust the processes, and they’re really good at that. And so, moving from a start-up into a trusted agency that had a great roster of clients, ready to expand into digital, and you had owners there who are investing in digital. So, it wasn’t only myself there. We had some other great really talented people in the space.

And so, there was the investment. There were clients ready to go. It made it a whole lot easier to get some ideas up and running.

Simon Dell: I’ve heard Kevin talk about – he’s one of the owners of BCM partnership – I’ve heard him talk about digital product. I think it was about a year ago. And still absolutely on the cutting edge of everything that’s happening. He knows what’s coming, what to look for, all those kind of things. He was still in that head space back then, in that 2010, 2012?

Nathan Bush: Yeah, definitely. He was leading the charge. Before me, had Anthony Diva there. I’m not sure if you’ve come across him. He’s in Sydney now, one of my really good mates, and just the smartest. He always comes up with ideas that you go, “How did you even think of that?” 

One time, he does all these personal challenges. Little things like, he does a thing called Rocktober. In October, he goes to a gig every night. That’s just one example. But he does all sorts of stuff that he has a huge horizon. I’ve worked with people like that. We had this great way of pushing the envelope, and Kevin, Paul, and Bill back then, was really supportive of it, in driving that.

And especially when you had some clients who had a really successful formula around traditional media, and Kevin and Paul were the ones that were pushing them to try some new digital stuff as well, which was great. It wasn’t even from a revenue perspective because there was a lot more money in traditional. It was knowing what’s coming and getting on the front foot.

Simon Dell: I mean, the list of clients there, Brumby’s, Donut King, QUT, Origin, Sunny Queen Eggs, Son Super, it’s a long list of who’s who in Brisbane-based organisations. What was the highlight for you out of that time in terms of campaigns and clients to work for?

Nathan Bush: The Sunny Queen one is funny, but I think it’s been done to death. For those who don’t know, it was basically a page by an egg, and all it was was egg puns all day long. It was ridiculous. But in the early days of social, but it was in the top five branded Facebook pages for years. That was funny.

The one that I love the most was a campaign or a product we did for Stadiums Queensland. They run most of the Queensland Stadium, so Suncorp Stadium, the one out in the Boondocks here, a couple up north. And they came to us and said, “We want to enable people to enhance their game day experience.”

People who might not go to the footy that often, or might be once a year, or whatever, and they just want to make that experience better. So, we came up with an app which helped people locate their seats, work out public transport, basically just guide them around the stadium and give them alerts on what’s coming up, register their team, all that sort of stuff. I think if memory serves me right, would’ve been about 2010, 2011, which was in the early days of app development. I think the iPhone came out 2008, somewhere around there.

So, it was in the early days of app development, and that was probably the most rewarding because we had such great uplifts straight away. I think we’ve got to 200,000 downloads pretty quickly. And what it did was… Actually, the other day, I bought a ticket for something and they’re still advertising the app. So I was like, “There’s a blast from the past.” It’s great they’re still going.

But it’s the first one that I saw really connecting real-world experiences with in-your-pocket technology, which for me was really cool. And obviously, I’ve got a love of sport as well. It came together in a lovely project, and the client was great. I actually still speak to the guys on the client side there who have moved on to other things, but still good friends, and it was a great project.

Simon Dell: When you look back on what was working then to drive traffic versus perhaps what works now, if you stand up in your own business now as a consultant and telling people what they should be doing, what’s probably the number one thing that stands out for you that still works today, that perhaps also worked back then?

Nathan Bush: Quality, I’d say. But I think the difference is: quality before was judged on how well you could game the system.

Simon Dell: I mean, SEO back then was about gaming the system, wasn’t it?

Nathan Bush: Exactly. Whereas now, it’s about quality for the customer, or the user, the reader, whatever it is. But they have a lot more power to determine if you’re going to be successful. If you’re not doing things that benefit the end customer, then it doesn’t matter how much money is thrown behind it. It’s just not going to work.

Simon Dell: Is there something that you think a lot of small businesses don’t do well? Is it about the channels? A lot of businesses are going, “I’ve got a limited amount of my time. What should I be putting my time into?” Where’s the best focus for them?

Nathan Bush: Exactly. I think there’s no one best focus, doing whatever you need to do for your customers, which is a really boring answer. I know. But I see the amount of small to medium businesses I run into, who talked to people who are really passionate about one field, whether it’s social, whether it’s email marketing, whether it’s search… And they funnel all their efforts into that without looking outside of that, because there’s so many people who just believe in one thing to conquer all.

Whereas I think, if I was to say there was thing that I would encourage small to medium businesses to do, it would be get your customer database right? Because if you can do that, if you know who your customers are and you have control of that, and I think that’s something Super Retail Group do really well, have a fantastic loyalty program with great customer details.

And if you can get that right, you have that one-on-one relationship with your customer so that you can change your channels at anytime just by asking them or by interacting with them. But if you lose that ability to have that direct contact with your customer, and you rely on social channels that might then turn the switch and go, “Actually, no. If you want to access those hundred thousand fans you’ve built up, you’re gonna have to start paying for them.”

Or search and going, “Okay, great. You’ve got this lovely website over five years, but now we’re actually changing the search rules. And if you’re not loading quickly, and if you’re not 100% mobile-responsive, all that work you’ve done is gone.” If you’re relying purely on the strategies, you are at a huge risk.

Simon Dell: If you’re having that conversation to a small business… I completely agree with everything you’ve just said. What I’m trying to get at is: What’s a tangible action point that they could sit there? If they listened to you today and go, “I’ve got to go and do that tomorrow.” What’s a tangible, one or two tangible action points that you think they should take?

Nathan Bush: Firstly, I would say work out where your customer records. It’s really boring, but if you need to contact the customer when you get that. Is that up to scratch? Do you have enough information about your customers?

The second thing I do is talk to your customer, which is literally, and this is part of the audit we do, pick up the phone and speak to five customers. And just go, “Hey, what do you think of those? Have you had a great experience lately? Do you see us advertising? Where do you spend most of your time?” All that sort of gear. And you might need to email them first to go, “Hey, can we have a 10-minute chat?” Most of the time, customers are pretty good with that, if you give them forewarning.

And then I always say, test. You never know what’s going to work, because what works for someone might not work for you, and it’s never been easier to test things. If you’ve got $50,000 to spend, don’t go and put it all into SEM over the next three months and hope it comes off.

Simon Dell: It’s interesting that your first point there about customer records… The amount of people that I’ve spoken to in the last 8, 9 years, and you say to them, “Where’s your list of your customers?” And they look at you blankly and go, “Well, we might have some data in Xero. We might have all the emails that I’ve sent in the last year.” They generally don’t know. In fact, we’re working with a big organisation at the moment that my business partner has gone in there.

Because they have all these disparate collections of customer data over… Somewhere, it’s just a stack of business cards on someone’s desk. And they’re going, “We need everything in one CRM.” And within that CRM, we need all the people compartmentalised into where they heard about us, what channel they’re interested in. This is an organisation with multiple different events and channels. To them, even a big organisation has still got that problem.

I think from what you’re saying there and what I say to people, even if you’re just starting an Excel-fucking-spreadsheet, and on that column one, you’re putting their name; and column two, you’re putting their email address, that’s a start. And then have column three, which is their mobile number; then column four, their post code; and column five… Gradually build that out over time.

Nathan Bush: If you can get to the point where you can dictate what email they’ve read, at what time, and when they’ve been in the store, and what they’ve bought, fantastic. But absolutely, it’s just something. At least then, you’ve got a record that you can export to, your email program, or cross-check with Facebook customer audiences, or whatever it is that you need to do. All of course up to them and all of course legal.

We’re not going down the Cambridge Analytica path here. But yeah, that’s the most basic.

Simon Dell: Absolutely. And you’re never going to get to the dream bit, which page they’ve been on, and all those kind of things. You’ve got to start somewhere. And if that involves an Excel spreadsheet, that involves an Excel spreadsheet.

Nathan Bush: Just to close that part off. I think too, you’ve got to see that list not as an activity, but as an asset. If you think its that old quote around the most valuable customers are the ones you’ve already got. If you think how much it costs you to acquire new customers through your marketing efforts… Actually, we’ve got all these customers. We don’t have them in one spot and we can’t actually remarket to them effectively. If you actually saw getting all of those customers into one spot where you can utilise, that’s a huge asset. And if you actually went… Each of these customers have a lifetime value of $1, $30, $300, whatever it is that you put an assumption on. You can calculate the value of that asset pretty easily.

Simon Dell: Just for everybody listening: If you are in that position, you just have got shit everywhere, got names and email addresses everywhere, one of the things I would utterly recommend is Hubspot. Because everyone sits there and goes, “Oh, Hubspot’s really expensive.” And actually, it is expensive, but they actually have a free version now which you can plug into your email, which creates all this data for you. We’ve been using that. I’ve been using that for the past three, four months, and it’s absolutely fantastic. I haven’t paid a penny for it yet. Obviously, if you want to upgrade, there are costs, but the basic version is free.

That can help you create that contact list. Over time, if you’re emailing a lot of people, all that data appears in Hubspot. It’s there for you to manage, and manipulate, and all those kind of things. And if you choose to use a more expensive version later on, so be it. That to me has been a massive change from what we’ve been doing.

Nathan Bush: It’s a big move. And also, exactly like you said, there’s nothing wrong with using Excel. It’s the greatest business tool that’s ever been invented.

Simon Dell: I tend to go Google Docs, but yeah. Excel’s still fine.

Nathan Bush: It’s phenomenal. Again, you don’t even need… To do that first step of just bringing that information together, you don’t even need a marketer. You can get Jo from accounts who uses Excel all the time to get that to a base-level point that your marketing team can then go do something with if you wanted to. 

Simon Dell: Let’s jump to Super Retail Group. You spend almost six years there. Again, for those of you that don’t know Super Retail Group, they’ve got brands such as Supercheap Auto, Rebel Sports, BCF, Rays Outdoors, etc. How many stores would they have across all those groups Australia-wide?

Nathan Bush: Over 600, 620.

Simon Dell: That’s not small. 

Nathan Bush: No.

Simon Dell: Give us an outline as to your role within the organisation.

Nathan Bush: I was Group Digital Manager. Essentially, how it’s structured at Super Retail Group is there’s three key divisions:

Sports, which is Rebel; Auto, which is Supercheap Australia and New Zealand; And leisure, which is BCF and Rays Outdoors. And then there’s a group division which consists of HR, supply chain, property, IT and digital. I was part of the group function. My role there was three-fold.

It was operations. I had an operational team which consisted of a couple of developers, UX, coordinators, just to basically keep the websites running and optimised. Each of the brand teams did their own individual marketing, and product selection, and merchandising in the west. Our job was basically keep their websites running and optimised. 

Second part of that role was from a strategy and project perspective, helping define or leading the definition of what our omni-channel strategy would be, and then sponsoring key projects as they come up. The last project that I did before I left was re-platforming the websites onto Salesforce, which took 5 years. That’s for another time.

The third part is – and it’s probably the thing I’m most proud of – is establishing a test and learn capability. That stemmed from some digital transformation activity where we said that we need to change the culture of this organisation. And the way to change the culture isn’t by putting ping pong tables or bean bags in. It’s to actually change the way we work. And if we change the way we work, we’ll change attitudes, and we’ll get the outcome that we’re looking for.

We said, “Let’s move to more design think approach.” The best way to tell that is to say, in a traditional business model, you’ll put forward business cases for between $200,000, anywhere up to $20 million. These business cases are generally written by people sitting in a corner, speaking to Gardner, making up numbers on what they think future projections will be, and the business case either gets approved or disapproved based on what those numbers are.

And we’re saying, “Actually, instead of spending months writing business cases, why don’t we carve off a small amount of money that we’re asking for?” And say, whether that be $5,000 or $20,000. And we actually build a prototype that we can test with customers, and that becomes our business case.

Simon Dell: A couple of things out of that: I can’t ignore the elephant in the room about building websites and creating new digital presence. Because clearly, that’s obviously a pain point for you over that time.

Nathan Bush: Yeah, it was the biggest project that I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t say the most rewarding, but I think you’ll have the most benefit for the organisation. I was in there about six months and Kevin McCauley, who was my boss at the time, we identified the one thing that we need to do if we’re really going to be serious, especially around e-commerce, was move off a custom-built platform that was designed purely for Supercheap ages ago onto something that’s more enterprise and fit-for-scale. And so, we made the decision to move forward with that.

Simon Dell: What did you move to, just out of interest?

Nathan Bush: We ended up going to Salesforce Commerce Cloud, which is Demandware. After we signed the contract with Demandware, they got acquired by Salesforce. Which was fine and didn’t impact anything. It was all fine. But it was a five-year journey to get to there.

The reason why it went so long but just it’s three years of trying to get it up into a development stage, and those three years was about that exact pain point of getting into a business case that resonated for so many stakeholders. But also then moving that through RFP stage or a tender stage.

We actually got through a tender stage at one point. And these are big tenders. These are massive things. We have people flying in from all over the world to do it. And it got to the end of the second round of tender, and the funding for our project got pulled. Which, in a large organisation, you just understand it’s part and parcel of it. I had to go to other projects, which were critical at the time, but it doesn’t hurt to… There’s another good year of getting it back onto the strategic agenda.

Simon Dell: How do you deal with that?

Nathan Bush: Beer and swear words.

Simon Dell: Bagging my head against the wall?

Nathan Bush: You’ve just got to realise that it’s not personal. You can’t make it a personal thing. You’ve got to understand that that’s where the business is at. You’ve got to work with the stakeholders to understand the rational behind the decision and then how to get it back onto the agenda.

The key thing for me was trying to keep the team positive so they can get back up to go again. That was probably the hardest part.

Simon Dell: I can imagine from a morale – a lot of team members… And I’ve worked in organisations where you get halfway through the year and someone puts a red line through your budget. Shit happens. That’s part of working in marketing.

But yeah, it’s got to be a challenge to try and keep people motivated. Especially to say to them there’s still a role and there’s still a need for you at this company, even though you’ve got nothing to do or you’ve got much less to do.

Nathan Bush: That’s it. And I think especially when you’re dealing with people who love change, and they want to push for innovation, and you’re going, “Yeah, you know that thing we’re really excited about, that was going to change our world? I need you to go back to the old way of doing, and just try and do the best you can with that.”

It’s a hard message to sell. But I was really lucky I had an amazing team around me. It was important that we were honest and we’re able to say, “This is exactly why it happened.” And to your point, “You’re secure, you’re still valued. This is still on the agenda. You’re still going to be able to do this. It’s just got to wait till the stars align.”

Simon Dell: When you look back on that time, what was your greatest achievement in that organisation?

Nathan Bush: I think the greatest achievement was getting that test and learn capability up and running. It was still in its infancy as I left, and really hopeful for it because we were able to get someone in there full time on it before I left.

Which was always kind of “do the best you can”. And I noticed Lizzie Emery, who is now running that, had change of title again to Head of Innovation and Digital Strategy, which is fantastic. She’s phenomenal.

But to be able to have someone dedicated to that style of working, which is so different to the traditional way businesses make decisions and interact with customers, to me, was the biggest achievement because it was a mindset change. 

It was still in its infancy. We’ve probably done eight prototypes by the time I’d left. And so, it hadn’t gone all through the organisation. It wasn’t the common way of working, but it was making its mark. That to me is more exciting than replacing any system.

Simon Dell: Absolutely. Completely understand that. What I sense from what you’ve gone through is something that a lot of smaller businesses go through, but on a much smaller scale, by sitting there going, “We’re trying to build a new website. We’re trying to build a new digital presence. We want to have a new system”, those kind of things, but it scares the crap out of them.

Because they probably don’t know a lot about what they’re getting or what they should be getting. If you were sitting there again talking to a business owner that’s going, “I want to take my business from here to a much more digital-savvy organisation.” What would you say to them that they need to look for? What are the first steps they need to take so that they can feel comfortable that it’s the right path for them?

Nathan Bush: From a technology point of view?

Simon Dell: I guess so. I think that’s what scares a lot of smaller business owners, is the technology side of things. Is what my web developer telling me right? I’d imagine you’ve seen that happen.

Nathan Bush: We’ve had great partners, again. I’m not the most technical person in the world. I went into Super Retail Group under group marketing. That got disbanded because a lot of the traditional marketing went back into the brand. So, I actually reported to the CEO for a long time till we worked out where to put digital. I ended up going into reporting to the CIO for the last few years.

My role quickly became very technology-focused rather than marketing-focused, which was a great learning curve for me. Not ever where I thought I’d end up, but really grateful for it now that I can balance that marketing and IT skills together.

And for me, navigating through that, I would face exactly the same challenges. But I didn’t try and do it myself, so I brought in people that I trust to help me build those requirements out. And so, we partnered with an organisation called Hitworks. They were fantastic.

We basically said, “This is our vision.” And one of the first things we did was build design principles. For anyone who doesn’t know, design principles are the things that you will not compromise on. “This solution has to have…”

And so, for us, it was things like, “It has to be scalable horizontally and vertically.” As in if we had more brands, it needs to be able to do that. If we double the amount of products, we’ll double the amount of traffic. It needs to be able to handle that. It needs to be mobile-responsive. All those basic things.

But try and get them to 10 principles. And then we brought Hitworks in and helped us build out the requirements. That’s what they do all day, every day. I would never try and do that myself for a project of that scale.

Simon Dell: But he has a great lesson for a small business. You don’t have to do it on the scale that you guys did it, but most businesses, you can sit there and say, “Here’s the 10 things that my digital presence needs to do. These are non-negotiable. And by the end of the project, be that 6 months, 9 months’ time, this is what has to happen.”

Nathan Bush: Exactly, because you’re the business. You know your business better than anyone else. And you know your customers better than anyone else. Even if you ignore the technology, you shouldn’t care whether it’s a Sitecore, a Salesforce, Magenta, or Shopify. It doesn’t matter to you at all, and it should never matter at that stage.

What do you want this thing to achieve? What’s the experience you want for your customers? What’s non-negotiable? What’s negotiable? And what do you just care about? Don’t talk to me that it doesn’t matter.

Simon Dell: Moving onto where you are now with your new business that you’re two months into, aside from the challenges of setting up your home office and the Xero account, what’s been the biggest challenge for you in the past two months?

Nathan Bush: The biggest challenge is trying to turn strategy into a product. Strategy means so many different things to different people. And a lot of people look at strategy and go, “It’s just fluff.” And for me, where I’m coming from, is that we at Super Retail Group especially had so many different consultancies engage with us.

And I got to work with some of the smartest, best people from all over the world, which I’m really grateful for. But often, what I saw is that these strategies had trouble coming to life for one reason or another. So for me, my focus is about: How do we activate strategy? How do we do just enough strategy to pinpoint the main challenges or the main opportunities, but then get started straightaway? What’s our 90-day action plan?

So the main challenge for me is going, “How do I productise that in a way that, Simon, I can come over and show you what we do?” And without me even knowing a lot about your business, here’s a way we can get started straight away.

Because normally, strategy needs me to know a lot about your business before I give you any recommendations. That’s the biggest challenge. 

Simon Dell: One of the advantages you’ve got is that you’ve probably got a big network of people that you’ve known over the time that you can tap into in terms of potentially talking to new customers, new clients. For you, how have you gone out and promoted yourself as a business in the last few months?

Nathan Bush: One of the things that we’ve launched a couple of weeks ago was our 5K audit. That was basically, “How do we get started with people?” We’re talking to all sorts of different people from startups to large government organisations. The range is so big.

I went out and went, “Okay.” Here’s a way to get started. It’s a 5K audit. We come in and we speak to. We understand your problems. We understand some of your key stakeholders. And then we do an external view, and then we come together and we pull together what the main opportunities and gaps are. And then we come up with a 90-day action plan.

The end of that, we can leave or we can stick around people and we’ve got talking to all sorts of different people from startups to large government organisations to you know, what I mean? The range is so big so basically went out I went okay to get started. Here’s a way to your sides of 5K audit we come in and we look at we speak to you.

Understand your problems. We understand some of your key stakeholders and then we do an external View and then we come together. We pull together what main opportunities and gaps are, and then we come up with a 90-day action plan.

At the end of that, we can leave or we can stick around. Up to you, but we have something that we’ve all agreed to the next 90 days, we will do this, this, this, and this to achieve this. That’s usually the starting point.

Simon Dell: How have you taken that to market? Where do you get the eyeballs on that or how do you get the eyeballs on that?

Nathan Bush: It’s interesting, actually. I’ve done it through my one-on-ones. Like you said, I’ve been in Brisbane and been in industry for 15 years. So, getting meetings is no problem. Converting is always the focus. And you’re probably exactly the same boat. 

And then this week, I’ve actually been trialling some LinkedIn advertising and some Google AdWords advertising, mainly because they offered me free credit when I create a new account.

Simon Dell: And back then, you’re going, “$100 free credit? Fuck that.” But now, you’re going, “$100 free credit??” 

Nathan Bush: I’m swimming in it. And that’s been really interesting so far. Because the LinkedIn campaign that I’ve run is purely targeting C-level executives and founders of businesses. And its cost-per-click is around $7-9. It’s crazy. And the amount of inquiries I’ve got doesn’t match that.

Simon Dell: The thing I’ve found with LinkedIn… And I’ve been running LinkedIn campaigns for another client as well. That’s the first thing they said. They’ve just gone, “It’s not turning into inquiries.” And I go, “I accept that.” But I think LinkedIn is one of those areas where I go, they’ve opened the email and they’ve read about you. They have actually at some point clicked on the link and gone through to your website.

The thing I like about LinkedIn versus AdWords is it is so drilled down to job title and job description. You know that the people that are reading that email are your exact target market, even though they might not be responding now, they may respond in 2-5 months’ time. I’m on that fence about LinkedIn advertising. That’s the pro side of it that I look at.

Nathan Bush: And I think the best thing you can do… And you’re doing it with this podcast, is build your own personal profile. And for me, I knew that some day, I’d do my own thing. I didn’t know when, didn’t know how, didn’t know what it would be. But for the last 15 years, I’ve been out there sharing thoughts, speaking at things when relevant, running events like The Digital Social, just to meet as many people as I can and get that trust and get that rapport.

So that when the time comes that I go, “Hey, I’ve got this thing. This is what I can offer. This is a value I can bring.” People are open to listening.

Simon Dell: Last three questions. Some of your favourite brands… What’s your favourite brand, something that you buy all the time, you admire, that you aspire to be? Anything like that.

Nathan Bush: I am loving Aldi at the moment. 

Simon Dell: I’ve had someone else do that and go, “Yeah, not Audi. Aldi.” 

Nathan Bush: I’m a startup. I can’t afford that. I’m driving a Hyundai. I love that they are able to have a customer experience that’s pretty shitty but have so much customer goodwill and enthusiasm. If you said to someone, “I’m going to take you to this supermarket. It’s full of floor flights. It’s just products stacked on a shelf. There’s not much atmosphere. There’s maybe one person on a register, maybe two if you’re lucky. And at the end, they don’t take credit cards. They surcharge you for credit cards.”

And then at the end, you’ve got to quickly grab your stuff as quickly as you can, go over to another station, baggy yourself and get out, and then pay for your own trolley with a coin or a dodgy key ring that you have to keep on you at all times. 

There you go. That’s a horrible experience. But people love them. It’s quality product, reasonable pricing, and I think they’ve got an attitude. You can see it in their brand advertising especially, where they differentiate themselves and they give people an alternative.

Simon Dell: We’ve talked about this in an earlier podcast. The thing I dislike about them is the fact where they tell you there’s some awesome product that’s going to be at an awesome price, and you turn up at Saturday morning at 7:30 when it’s due to open at 8:00, and you’re already the 25th person in the queue, and you don’t get any of those things.

That’s happened to me on two occasions now. It has now put me off the brand completely.

Nathan Bush: That makes sense. I’m not a middle aisle shopper. I avoid the middle aisle. I like their staples, their food and all of that, all of the organics and all that sort of stuff. They offer some good alternatives there, but yeah, no.

But for some reason, everyone knows that’s a thing. Everyone knows that the the catalogue you get in your letterbox, there’s probably a minute chance that you’ll get the best things in there if you turn up. But for some reason, they’ve got all this forgiveness and love for their brand, still. 

Simon Dell: Maybe it’s just me. I know a lot of people are big fans of it. I tell you who else used to do that but then got himself into problems, was Rivers. Rivers used to have that messaging about “Your local store may have loads or may have none.”

And I’ve spoken to people in the ad industry, of people who worked on that account said, “It’s a really cunning psychological approach to advertising.” And I go, “Yeah, but it just pisses people off.” Can you imagine that you go, “I really like this pair of shorts.”

And then you travel however it is to get into Rivers and they haven’t got any, and they’re only $20, and you just go, “I’ve done all this journey just to try and buy $20 pair of shorts. Fuck this. I’m not doing it again.”

Nathan Bush: It only lasts a certain amount of time.

Simon Dell: Yeah, and they flogged it for years. They subsequently got themselves into a lot of financial trouble. 

Nathan Bush: I had an experience the other day with T.J. Lewin. Have you ever seen their business shirts? Great offer. I’ve got targeted, obviously. They targeted me, Facebook advertising, and then they got me on Instagram, and all that sort of gear. It was $40 business shirts down from $160, and I was like, “Oh, that’s good.” I went in store to have a look, they’ve got a store in Brisbane, and it didn’t match the promise at all. They were still full price, nothing like that.

And then I said to them, “What’s the go here? I’m getting all this stuff on Facebook and Instagram.” And they’re like, “Oh yes, if you see that, mention it to us and we can match it for you here as well.”

Simon Dell: Oh, okay.

Nathan Bush: I just don’t think that model… And as much as it is a buzzword, you need to have that omni-channel approach. Otherwise, you’re going to piss people off pretty quickly if you gotta try and work for the offer. For people, they don’t see you as an in-store and an online company. They see it as one brand, and they don’t see an offer that’s special for you that shouldn’t be seen for others.

Simon Dell: Absolutely. Penultimate question: What’s next for you? You’re two months into your new journey. There was something else I saw in your LinkedIn profile that you’ve started on as well. What was that?

Nathan Bush: That was Transformus. That’s still going. I’m no longer a founder of it. I’ve passed that mantle on, but I am a member. I started that with Carolyn Breeze, who heads up Braintree here in Australia, which is a PayPal company.

Basically, we started talking at a conference. We were discussing the concept of shadow boards, which is used by the RBA and a couple of other companies. It’s not hugely used, but it’s about, “How do you bring different viewpoints in and professionals, or even students, to advise boards on decisions that they’re making, but from a change or an innovation viewpoint?”

Obviously, boards, you’ve got hugely experienced people being in business for many years, but how do you bring another viewpoint in that’s more of a forward-thinking, what are the future generations going to be like when you make this decision. Transformus is about, “How do we pull together a group of professionals and offer that service as both a learning opportunity for that group to get exposure to boards, but also for boards to get that free advice from this group of professionals?”

Simon Dell: That sounds interesting.

Nathan Bush: It’s something interesting. I’ve had to stop being a founder since I’ve started up my own thing.

Simon Dell: Final question for you today. Where can people find you? What’s the best way of getting a hold of you, getting in contact with you, if anyone wants to ask you a question or just want to stalk you?

Nathan Bush: I’m around everywhere. Best email address is [email protected]. I’m a regular on LinkedIn, so please connect with me there, message, or on Twitter is probably the best place. Twitter is @nathbush.

Simon Dell: Twitter versus Facebook versus LinkedIn. If you’re in business, where are you putting most of your time?

Nathan Bush: LinkedIn.

Simon Dell: Why not Facebook?

Nathan Bush: It’s a good question. If you’re talking B2B, I think LinkedIn. I think it’s such an easy platform to get attention. It’ll change. It’ll get smarter and harder to be seen. But at the moment, it’s easy. I think when people are on LinkedIn, they’re there in the right head space. Whereas if you’re on Facebook, you’re usually there for friends, family, and funny videos.

I don’t think people are in the right headspace for business on Facebook.

Simon Dell: Good point. Mate, really appreciate your time with us today. Good luck with the new venture. No doubt, you and I will bump into each other somewhere around the traps.

Nathan Bush: Absolutely, mate.

Simon Dell: Thank you very much for your time.

Nathan Bush: Thanks, Simon. Speak soon.

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