Little Grey Cells is joined by furniture disruptor ufurnish.com’s CCO and CMO, Toni Wood. Toni unpacks how having their customers at the heart of their service balanced with the powerful data insights of their own proprietary technology is core to their offer and their marketing approach.
What inspired you to pursue a career that embraces marketing?
Toni> I definitely didn’t start out with a clear plan to be a marketer. I started my career as a Management Graduate for Sainsburys. I quickly moved into category management. It was then that I developed a love of data, how it can be used to understand people’s behaviour and how that in turn can drive business performance. If I look across my career, I would say it’s really been about a love of people, and why we do what we do.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing your marketing team?
Toni> We are an early stage start-up, and our growth has been amazing, so constantly balancing investment choices for today butwith an eye to the future is important.
We are all committed to not getting trapped at the bottom of the funnel and have been actively moving spend into more brand building activities. I must be honest and say I hate using a funnel to try and illustrate user behaviour and applicable marketing channels, but it does help to simply explain what we are doing.
The pace of change is ever increasing. At ufurnish.com we invest time in finding the best forward-thinking talent, and it has paid dividends. I have never used my networks as much as I do in this role and am so grateful for people’s willingness to share and recommend.
Science vs Art: With scientific data-driven marketing at one end of the spectrum and genius creative ideas at the other - which side do you lean towards?
Toni> I do not see them as two ends of a spectrum. For me it is more about finding a balance. Experience helps when you are trying to lead a multi-disciplined team but ultimately it comes back to your user. If you can keep them at the centre of all decisions it can certainly help navigate the specialism silos and get the thinking across a team to be more joined up.
The Metaverse: are you ‘in’, ‘out’ or ‘not sure’? And please tell us why.
Toni> I think this is just like any new emerging media channel. We need to consider: are our users there, are they embracing it - but most importantly - do they want to have a relationship with us there.
Brands should always add value and another channel filled with unwanted advertising will not serve any of us well – brand or user. As an early stage business we are a “Metaverse watcher” at this stage to see how well our customers adopt it. Marketers are often early adopters, and we need to always remember we are rarely our consumer!
How is your approach to marketing affected by times of economic turbulence and increased cost of living?
Toni> Our business, ufurnish.com, is a search and discovery website for the furniture and furnishings market. We bring together over 110 of the UK’s most loved retailers (such as John Lewis, Dunelm and Marks & Spencer) as well as a number of amazing independents (such as Rockett St George and Andrew Martin).
We enable users to find perfect items for their home no matter what their style or budget. Getting great value has become more and more important. We have always led with data so understanding what our users are doing in the current environment, how this may be changing and where we can help is a daily focus.
Luckily, our ‘’data first” approach helps us navigate the challenges as effectively as anyone can at the moment. It also means we can share our data insights with our retail partners helping them make the right choices for their business.
How do you adapt a business and marketing strategy to embrace the latest trends and keep ahead of the competition?
Toni> Our business and marketing strategy are one, alongside our product. Our teams are small and extremely agile. We have one shared vision, strategy, and plan across the business. We talk weekly to the full company on where we are against the plan, what we are learning and how that impacts what we do next.
We are the first business to disrupt the UK’s £27B furniture and furnishings category, so we look externally at businesses who have successfully done what we are doing, in other verticals (like Rightmove, Autotrader and Skyscanner), but always with the acknowledgment that they started at a very different time to us.
What role does your company’s purpose and environmental strategy play within your marketing strategy?
Toni> Our purpose is to make it simple for everyone to create their dream home. In that statement we are clear that the words ‘simple’, ‘everyone’ and’ their dream’ are key and we aim to serve everyone with maximum choice.
Our proprietary technology means our users can use our filters to find their perfect items, create an account to save everything in one place, get practical tips and inspiration and sign up to be the first to know about new retailers, new products or the latest sales (everyone’s favourite).
How important is storytelling when maximising your customers’ engagement with a campaign?
Toni> We are building a brand from the ground up, so being clear on our brand positioning and how we told our story was a focus for us at the very beginning and remains so. We have a clearer marketing plan now, with three years of data, which has helped create the clarity around what we say, where we say it and the actions that we then embark on.
Creative agencies rail against the time and resource spent working on pitches to win accounts: is there a realistic, fair alternative to the pitch process?
Toni> I am a huge believer in long term relationships where the agency team really understands and cares about your brand, consumer and business performance. If you can get this right they become a part of your team in the real sense, not just on a piece of paper!! I have been fortunate to work with two stand out agencies in my last 10 years – one I appointed after a pitch process, Creature of London, and one that I inherited, Krow, who continued to be exemplary. In fact, together we were the winners of a Gold IPA Effectiveness Award.
From a marketing perspective, what’s coming up for your brand or business in 2023?
Toni> 2023 will be another huge year for ufurnish.com as we accelerate further. We have new retailers joining the platform daily, new users discovering us and an ever-growing community of creators. We are also proudly partnering with some amazing brands including Santander, Connells and AirBnB. We will continue to scale the channels we know work whilst testing new ways of reaching even more users and helping them turn their dream home into a reality… simply.