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The red revolution


Naomi Simson is reinventing digital marketing along with her business.

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PILLAR: MARKETING If you told Naomi Simson five years ago that today she would be back as a chief marketing officer in her business, she’d have been amused but not surprised. Simson has always been way ahead of the curve, starting her online experience company Red Balloon from home in 2001 when people barely knew what the internet was. Like many successful entrepreneurs, she built the business, found a CEO, moved herself to a board role and stepped away to focus on other activities.

By then she had built a massive profile. She’s on various “lists”, valued at about $60 million. She also has a social footprint that’s the envy of many newspapers, being the seventh most followed woman on LinkedIn globally, with a staggering 2.5 million followers – 34,000 on Twitter and 17,000 on Instagram.

She’s also known as “that red shark” on Network Ten’s Shark Tank, because of a personal branding strategy that includes dressing in vivid red. Then there is a whole community who know her as a passionate advocate for small business owners through her blog, where she shares the highs and lows of entrepreneurial life including the lessons she has learnt.

So why is she back, and not as CEO? Simple, she says. New technology is transforming retail. That means the business needs to keep evolving, and her talents in modern marketing that include brand building, story-telling and social distribution can be reimagined.

Last year, she launched the Big Red Group (BRG) with new business partner David Anderson. In the group is Red Balloon,, a software business to recognise employees, an online retail site called and a business that sells Shark Tank merchandise, her books and thousands of lifestyle gift products. The pair have also created a business to sell services to the Big Red Group and other companies.

“The aim is to have five of the 20 top e-commerce brands in Australia in four to five years,” she says. “It’s David’s strategy. And I am reimagining what we really mean by marketing. I have a to-do list, which I am working through, trialling and searching for technology to solve the bigger problems.”

I am reimagining what we really mean by marketing. I have a to-do list, which I am working through, trialling and searching for technology to solve the bigger problems.

Naomi Simson

She and Anderson are planning a slew of acquisitions to bolt onto their business. With revenue for the group expected to be more than $75 million this year and Simson as enthusiastic as ever, she has no plan to exit. “I will have a plan though. I won’t be doing this when I’m 90.”

Simson believes powerful storytelling and social distribution is still her core strategy. But now in a commoditised world, building trust around the brand is paramount. “It’s more important than ever to move away from the individual transaction and focus on the lifetime value for the customer. Part of that is to have a strong brand story and communicate it. People will be far more likely to do business with you if they know who you are and why you exist.”

She says there has been a big shift in understanding leadership and influence. “Influence is not about trying to convince someone of anything. It’s connecting people emotionally to the problems at hand. That means having an opinion and not being afraid to share it.”

While social media is a great way to build influence and trust, mainstream media has a role. “TV takes you throughout the community. It has a broader reach. You can’t limit yourself to one media platform or another. You certainly can’t launch a product with a Sunday night TV commercial. Those days when half the population watched the Leyland Brothers are long gone.”

Another reason she’s back building a bigger business is as a role model to others. She says she feels a big responsibility to keep growing the business to show women business owners what’s possible. “Why don’t we have more female entrepreneurs? There are just not enough growing big businesses.”

One of Simson’s passions is an AI digital marketing platform called Albert. “This is a tool that attaches to first-party data and creates ads on the fly based on the behaviours of customers and prospects; it then serves the ‘right’ message to the ‘right’ person at the right time. It knows what’s going on Facebook and Google in a way humans can’t and it also gives a true picture of the customer journey.”

Simson liked it so much BRG created a new business, Marketics, to distribute Albert AI exclusively in Australia and New Zealand. “It got rid of the digital marketing agency retainers and reduced the cost of acquiring a customer by 70 per cent. It is so transparent and accountable, I love it.”

Simson gets annoyed when she reads in mainstream media that retail is all gloom and doom. “No one is talking about the growth stories in retailing and yet there are many success stories out there. Retail is forever disrupted – and that gives rise to a lot of opportunity, so let’s get on with it.”

The Press is a publication by PwC Australia, aimed at sharing expertise, capturing insights and working together to solve important problems.

Simson’s to-do list:

More big data and analysis:
We need to get better at looking at the world through the customer’s eyes: I’m asking the question ‘What job did the customer hire this product to do?’ and looking for the data to tell me.

Radio frequency or beacons:
When we do mass media, I want new technologies to tell me who has seen the message to better understand the effectiveness of it. And I’m not just happy with segments like women between 24 and 55. I want it far more targeted.

Omni channel:
How can our customers touch and feel our brand? Think of Boost Juice. People are wandering around shopping centres with those big green cups advertising the brand. We need triggers to remind people that they know who we are and what we stand for.

Personalised customer experience:
How do we make the most of all the data we capture about customer behaviour to nurture and deliver what people want, when they want it?

Aggregators and online marketplaces:
Online customers can be shared, so how do we partner with them?

Social media intimacy as a listening tool:
Social Studio is part of the Salesforce suite that helps us listen. What trends and activities can we be part of as they happen? And not as a push tool, which is a mistake a lot of marketers make. It is a tool to listen, respond and influence.

Digital marketing:
How do we use it not just for search but to develop and distribute really valuable content to build connection to the brand story?

Mobile platforms in-store:
Integration of tablets in stores. Take Habbot – you try on the shoes in the store, buy online and they get shipped to your home.

Augmented and Virtual Reality:
Last Christmas we offered three virtual reality experiences as a Red Balloon customer benefit, so you could really feel the experience. So how can VR play more of a role in the experience?

Easy payment options:
We want to explore digital wallets and fintech payment options to make it seamless without passwords. I hate passwords. Frictionless commerce.

This article first appeared in Edition 6 of The Press
By Amanda Gome, Editor, The Press

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