Mike Austin

Please describe your job: What do you do?

I’m the CEO and co-founder of Fresh Relevance, the real-time personalisation and optimisation platform. As CEO, my job is very varied. Most of my time is spent working with people in the business and on the board, thinking about strategy and customer needs, and forward planning.

Our company helps digital marketers to drive revenue and customer loyalty by enabling them to create the best customer experience for each individual. Within the business, I have eight department heads reporting to me and spend a lot of time encouraging learning and improvement; both for individuals and for the business. I come from a development background and still manage to spend a little time coding, too, which I really enjoy.

How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?

In March and April, everything was thrown up in the air and I spent most of my time helping impacted customers, looking after staff, and doing repeated rounds of financial re-planning to ensure that the business was on a solid footing in the crisis. May and June were more settled, and we started to look ahead and make medium term plans. We’re now working on longer term growth plans to take advantage of the huge shift to ecommerce, which is one of our key sectors.

Along with the many negatives of the pandemic, there’s been some positives too. I feel that not having to travel has made my use of time much more efficient. Perhaps counter-intuitively, because of our huge focus on communication, I now spend more time talking to my team than before Covid, which is a great result.

What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?

The Google suite (Google Docs, Google Drive etc.) is key for us, and the way it enables group working and simultaneous editing is great. I spend about four hours a day on video calls, so I’m pretty familiar with all the meeting tools out there. Slack is also heavily used in the company and helps to keep everyone aligned with real-time information.

Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?

I’m hugely impressed with smaller retailers who have got an ecommerce operation off the ground, from scratch, in just a few weeks. I’m also impressed with companies who’ve pivoted their business model to go direct-to-consumer very quickly.

I think the supermarkets, particularly Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have done a phenomenal job of scaling up their delivery services in a short space of time. All of these are major transformations, which in normal times would have taken months or years, yet they have been achieved in a matter of weeks.

What changes are you making to help your company connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?

We’ve increased our account management team and are doing more outreach to clients. We’ve always been big users of phone and video calls to connect with clients, so not much has changed there.

We did a lot of in-person events before Covid-19 and have now switched a lot of those to virtual events and webinars. These have been receiving a lot of interest given that we’re all spending more time online, and are also an indication that marketers are looking for advice and guidance in how they can navigate the current environment.

We were very aware of the potential for staff to become isolated, so we immediately increased the frequency of all forms of communication within the company. We’re now doing weekly one-to-ones and town halls as well as daily stand-ups and team meetings to keep everyone informed and up to date on projects and developments. Several staff have even said that they feel more connected now than they did while in the office!

What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?

We operate with clients in several sectors that have seen very different impacts as a result of the pandemic. Travel and hospitality were very badly affected but are beginning to recover now. Ecommerce has seen a once-in-a-generation boom, which is very exciting. Many of our clients have seen transformational growth over a spectacularly short period of time.

Throughout the crisis we’ve been tracking and analysing sector performance week-on-week. The data really tells the story of how varied and extreme the impact has been across sectors.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

Invest time and attention in your existing customers more than ever. Spend energy and money on retaining them and turning them into long-term loyal customers. It’s always cheaper and better to invest in your existing customers than to spend a lot of money on acquiring new customers. Where you do spend your precious cash on acquisition, make sure your website is converting optimally and that you capture contact details for new customers as early as possible.

What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your company?

Our customers are still understandably more cautious about the future. The pandemic and the after-effects look set to continue for at least a year, but people will adapt and come to live with it in time.

We’re very busy at the moment working with the rapidly growing eCommerce sector whilst also helping our clients who are in more heavily impacted sectors. It’s an exciting time to be involved in ecommerce, and we’re planning for significant expansion and major investment in product development over the next year.