Small Business

Marketing Strategy · Bonnie and Neil

Ask any small business owner the one thing they struggle with most, and the answer, more often than not, is marketing. Even the word itself can send some small business owners into a spin, conjuring up ideas of ‘selling out’, attending dubious networking events, #selfies and over-the-top promotion.

But whether you love it or hate it, marketing plays a huge role in business success. For this month’s small business column, Fiona Killackey speaks with Bonnie Ashley, textile designer, artist, screen printer, and co-founder of homewares studio Bonnie and Neil to discover how her business has managed to do effective marketing, their way.

Fiona Killackey

‘As the creative behind the brand we just knew the product we wanted to create, we road tested it with family and friends and thought we’d give it a go!’ says Bonnie. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The Bonnie and Neil team, left to right: Luke Manglesdor (production), Neil Downie (co-founder), Lee Farrell (customer engagement), Matt Sanders (production), Bonnie Ashley (co-founder) and Meaghan Houareau (customer engagement/operations). Absent: Amy Martin (GM) and Steph Buckle. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Meaghan Houareau, who handles customer engagement/operations, with Bonnie Ashley. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Luke Manglesdor works in production. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The brand’s new Resort Collection home furnishings atop vinyl rugs. Styling – Heather Nette King. Photo –Eve Wilson.

Matt Sanders also works in production. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Fiona Killackey
22nd of September 2017

Milan Kundera famously suggested, ‘Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation’. Either you’re busy creating an innovative product or service, or you’re talking about it. The issue is that somewhere along the line we have forgotten that marketing is simply about connecting with people, in a way and via a medium they find entertaining, educational or inspiring. It’s not about forcing people to buy from you, but attracting them to the qualities that make your business unique.

For Bonnie Ashley, who, together with her husband Neil Downie, created the textiles studio Bonnie and Neil in 2010, understanding whom she wanted the business to attract was the first step in successful marketing. ‘When we first started the business, we didn’t really have a defined marketing strategy in mind. As the creatives behind the brand we just knew the product we wanted to create, we road tested it with family and friends and thought we’d give it a go!’ The main aim, says Bonnie, was to ‘get our product in front of stylists and magazines editors – we wanted to get our product in print’.

Flash forward seven years and Bonnie and Neil has become a favourite for editors, design enthusiasts and boutique owners across the globe. So great is the demand for their products, that Bonnie and Neil are stocked in the world’s leading textiles and home stores, such as Liberty (UK), La Bon Marche (France) and Anthropologie (US). Yet, despite all the acclaim, Bonnie says marketing the business was a series of small experiments, working with minimal budgets and calling on their own creative networks to help spread the word.

‘Our first foray into marketing was attending our first Life In Style trade show in Melbourne. We created flyers for the event ourselves and did our own product photo shoots,’ says Bonnie. Marketing wasn’t an area she or Neil knew much about and she admits, ‘we had a love-hate relationship with advertising. Knowing it was something we would eventually need to explore, but not having the background to understand how best use it was a bit daunting.’

To ease their initial uncertainty with marketing, Bonnie and Neil sought advice from their own networks before hiring staff. ‘We sought advice from friends, especially those who work in creative industries and other small businesses we have met through trade shows and other events’. In 2014 the duo took on a marketing consultant who is now their full-time General Manager. ‘We were also part of PWC’s Small Business Program where we worked closely with their consulting team on a business plan and marketing strategies to support our business growth.’

Today, collaborations are a key focus for the brand, with Bonnie and Neil counting Qantas, T2 and Anthropologie as partners in 2017 alone. ‘Over the years we’ve worked on a few collaborative products but this area has really grown for us over the past 12 months,’ says Bonnie. ‘Working on the collaborations has been rewarding, says Bonnie, ‘but has also given us the opportunity to reach new audiences who might not always know about our brand’.

Given their success, what’s next for this creative business? ‘It’s hard to believe it’s Spring again!’ says Bonnie, ‘2017 has been a busy year for us so far, in between the usual trade shows, collection releases and travel, we have purchased, renovated and moved into our new studio in Reservoir, worked on some amazing collaborations and now we’re working on the 2017 Spring Racing carnival, as well as opening up a new showroom within the studio space later this year.’

Shop Bonnie and Neil online or find your nearest stockist (for Australia) here, and (for International) here


1. Strategy vs Tactics

Too often, people have a series of tactics in place of a marketing strategy. Tactics should result from a clearly defined marketing strategy that aligns to one of your key business goals. For example, if your key business goal was to increase overall revenue by X %, your marketing strategy may include getting more stockists, increasing online sales and/or collaborating with a well-known artist on a product. Your tactics would be things like getting a stall at a trade fair (more stockists), conducting an audit of the best ecommerce platforms for your industry (increasing online sales) or getting your brand featured in a publication your ideal collaborator reads (product collaboration). Start with your key goals and strategies and then figure out which tactics will help you get there. When a marketing opportunity arises, ask yourself, ‘Does this help us achieve our key goals?’ before simply accepting it.

2. Plan It Out

Fail to plan and you plan to fail – or at least not quite know what worked and what didn’t when it comes to the end of the year/month/week. At it’s most basic, your marketing schedule or calendar should span 3, 6 or 12 months (ideally, the latter) and include your marketing activity (broken down into weeks), key milestones (aligned to your business goals), industry events and key dates, public and staff holidays and metrics for measuring success. Your activity may include online (website, social, email, digital advertising, blog), stockist (trade fairs, meet ups, birthdays of key stockists), production (key dates for samples, manufacturer meetings, print materials) and content creation (shoots, video editing, podcasts). By mapping out what you have on, you can see the bottlenecks and gaps and move things accordingly.

3. Holistic Marketing

Marketing efforts shouldn’t solely focus on the brand-customer relationship. If you’re lucky enough to have staff, you also have in-house brand ambassadors who share information about their work at social events, with family and friends and even on social media. Consider how you’re marketing to your staff. Do you have welcome packs for new employees (#ilovemyjob) or have regular team bonding sessions that keep people engaged and eager to sing your praises? If you sell products are you regularly marketing to your stockists? (This may be via email, PDFs or videos that show more about the people behind the brand or in-person intimate events that allow them to see the product, ask you questions and get to know others in the industry.)

4. Analyse and Improve

There’s no point doing any of this if you don’t have a way to measure success. While not everything will have a clear return-on-investment (ROI), most things – especially digital activity – can be measured using Google Analytics or similar analytics systems. By analysing which levers help/hinder your key business goals, you’re better able to plan for the future. If you need a head start, check out these seven Google Analytics dashboards for small business owners.

5. Power of the People

One of the best ways to market your business is to let others do it for you. Whether it’s micro-influencers, collaborators, bloggers, brand ambassadors or other #likemindedpeople, the power of the people has never been greater. Up to 90% of buyers will research online prior to purchasing from you and you want to ensure they are A) able to find you online outside of your own channels and B) able to trust recommendations they see. Check out sites like Scrunch and Collabosaurus for ways to connect with people who can genuinely help market your business.


Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and the founder of My Daily Business Coach, providing information and education for starting and growing a creative small business. Fiona has joined forces with Natasha Morgan of Oak & Monkey Puzzle to present an all-day marketing strategy workshop this October in Daylesford. For info visit Oak & Monkey Puzzle.  

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