Toni Wood is the CMO of furniture comparison website, Ufurnish.com. We caught up with Toni to find out what it was like to launch a new website and brand during a pandemic, and how Covid-19 has changed her daily working life.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
As the CMO of ufurnish.com, my role is really varied. I can spend my day working with our distributed team on anything from the strategy for the brand and the business, identifying partners in adjacent categories where we can offer a mutually benefit relationship, the detail and reporting of our paid owned and earned marketing activity, working with our developers on our UX and our data needs – for today, and the future – whilst coaching and recruiting an agile and driven team. Oh, and working closely with Dee and Ray, our co founders, as we head toward a Series A raise. So pretty varied and full on – I love it.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
We are a business that has been launched during the pandemic. On the back of a significant seed round we have launched a new website, a new brand and grown our team from our two co-founders to a team of 14, across three counties and with five nationalities. We are what I have recently learned is a ‘distributed working model’ – so we start from a different place. This is our norm and our opportunity is to build a business and team differently – leveraging technology to stay connected and deliver our business ambition. As a leadership team, we spend considerable time looking at tools to do this as well as discussing how you create a culture when you don’t physically work alongside each other every day. So far so good – our team’s feedback is strong and it also helps us define the type of people who will thrive in our company and minimise recruitment risks for us and candidates.
Personally I try and schedule my day to make sure I get away from my desk… not always successfully. Running with my dog in the morning is my version of mindfulness, and I try and shut my laptop and the office door in the evening to ‘come home’. I am not sure my husband would tell you I am that good at it but I do have good intent. I also volunteer at a local MS Care Home which inspires and humbles me, and reminds me to be grateful for everything I have in my life despite the current circumstances.
What changes are you making to help your brand connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
As our brand is relatively unknown at the moment, we are focused on the problem we solve for consumers everyday – whatever they need for their home in terms of furniture or furnishings – we aim to inspire them, give them choice and make it simple, no matter what their style or budget. Home is no longer somewhere we leave in the morning and return to at night, it has become our sanctuary. We have focused on PR, social media and influencers to build brand awareness, but predominantly our investment is in direct response.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
We recently ran a survey to better understand our users’ needs and how they are investing in their homes. We saw the move to create home offices or at least some form of home office space, we saw a lot of investment in gardens and creating spaces where people can come together in comfort, safely. We have also seen lots of smaller items being purchased as people look to refresh rooms with items such as new bedding or towels… I guess the home equivalent of the ‘lipstick effect’ as coined by Leonard Lauder in 2001, that we see in financial downturns
Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?
There are so many. As someone who started in food retail I have been really impressed by the food retailers’ response but importantly their collaboration to do what is right for the customer. I have also been inspired by the charity sector who have seen a lot of their donations fall, and their creativity in reconnecting with us to remind us how critical our support is.
I have been disappointed by brands that have taken blatant advantage of customers during a really terrible time and tried to force fit their ‘purpose’ into the current crisis.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
Same as ever, which is to focus on your customer; what do they need right now and why is your brand relevant? We all strive to create brands our consumers can trust, and never has this been more important. A lot of sentiment indicators are showing fear, distrust and even anger and it’s become even more important for brands to be connected to the customers they serve – showing empathy and responding appropriately. Data also shows we are overwhelmed with the number of messages we are receiving and the contradictory nature of some of them, meaning simplicity in communications is as important as ever.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
We currently have a blend and we are refining them as we get clearer on our operating principles and processes. Google Meet is our main team meeting tool but we use Slack to manage communication and jump on impromptu calls – trying to replicate the coffee machine catch up and remove the inbox overload. We are evaluating other marketing tools to help us with workflow and asset management.
We have recently added Miro to our toolbox which delights me – I am always within arms reach of post its and sharpies as I like to illustrate thinking as it helps me engage others to get to an even better answer, so being able to create this sort of creative environment digitally with our teams is perfect. We also have a martech stack that evolves regularly in line with our needs as a rapidly growing business. I have used the DAB group to fast track my learning on tools and its proved invaluable.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your brand?
As a recently launched business we are focused on customer acquisition and driving brand awareness. We are working across paid, owned and earned channels, reviewing our data in real time to optimise the plan. Also we are already planning for our Series A round, and as such we are defining the teams and skills we need immediately and for the mid-term, as well as modelling the investment required to scale the business at speed.