It all started when Lauren Oakes moved from a small town in New Zealand to New York; wide-eyed and seeking a fast-paced role in advertising, inspired by shows like Mad Men and Suits. Whilst there, Oakes worked in digital analytics across campaigns with brands such as Don Julio and General Electric.
Since moving to Melbourne 5 years ago, Lauren Oakes has invested her time into Megaphone Marketing, a full-service digital agency. At the age of 26, she became the CEO helping turn Megaphone into a multi 7-figure digital marketing agency. This has enabled her to help scale start-ups to 10’s of millions of dollars, as well as helping over 1000 businesses see success on the way. Lauren Oakes’ focus has been the development of team culture, expertise, and growth in the business and in her staff, now sitting around 30 in size. Megaphone is also considered one of the fastest-growing businesses Deloitte.
Over the last 12 months, Megaphone has seen a 100% growth in revenue and staff. 2020 represented similar ambitions, but with the reality of COVID-19, Lauren Oakes and her team have had to get creative to chase growth opportunities. They are using this time to help who they can in the community and sharing their knowledge on how best to get through as they can see the struggles a number of industries are facing. Lauren Oakes and her team have given us the opportunity to interview Lauren Oakes about how she and her team are getting through the COVID-19 and what we can learn from this.
What has changed in the current situation and how are you responding?
The forced self-isolation has provoked rapid changes in consumer behaviour. The most obvious result of this is the increase in online content and consumption as a result of the increased time spent at home. There has been a dramatic increase in social media usage which means there are more opportunities to reach a targeted audience.
Some industries have seen rapid growth over this time. In particular, businesses that sell food, cleaning products, at-home fitness products, and work from home products have seen immediate spikes in sales. Ecommerce businesses have seen steady increases in sales and services that can offer their expertise online have had steady results. We have seen a shift in consumer behavior and the type of ads running on Facebook, over a 20% reduction in imagery showing human interaction, leaning into the current contact restrictions. Across the board, we have seen CPMs reduced by up to 50% and market saturation appears to be reduced.
As a company, we are providing extra support to any of our clients who have been affected by coronavirus and in particular, those who now need to prioritise online marketing with the closure of retail. We do have extra time with some clients having forced closures so we are investing this time directly back into our clients.
What is the common mistake you have seen over this time?
Panic. This doesn’t help anything.
The unknown is scary, but we are all in the same boat. The best way to approach this is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand what they are thinking at this time. How can you support them?
The one thing we know is this is not forever, it is not a complete shift in way of life. There just needs to be a structured plan in place to get through the next few months by making smart choices and innovating.
What can businesses do to survive in your opinion?
In my opinion, there are three options for businesses to take over this time, depending on the position they are in.
This is only a valid option if you can not function as a business through government forced closures. Businesses such as gyms and spas will fall under this category. In this situation, there are a number of ways to build your business in the background as we see the closures out, so when you re-open, you make the most of it. What can you do now so that you can scale back up faster when this is over? For example:
- Develop your content strategy
- Write your business plan for post-COVID
- Outreach to blogs for features
- Look for collaborations
- Build some video content
- Work on your SEO
- Develop your skills with extra training
All businesses that can operate online need to be innovating. A strategy that worked pre COVID, will not have the same effect now. You need to adapt your strategy and continue to operate as a business, or do nothing and be overtaken by businesses that have.
This means continuing to spend similar amounts across social but on a revised strategy. If sales have slowed, try engaging your audience further, growing your email database and growing your assets further. Keep testing until you find the winning formula. A number of fashion businesses will fall into this category.
I recommend this for businesses who are relatively not impacted by coronavirus or are in a financially stable position over the next 3 months. Take advantage of the reduced CPM’s and scale your business. This is going to be the cheapest time to build an audience, and if you can be aggressive over this time, it’s likely you will continue to drive return. This means increasing your spending while still innovating. We have personally seen success in the electronics space utilizing this strategy.
How do you help businesses to survive these times?
Some businesses will inherently have advantages due to the space they are in, others will need to be more nuanced in their messaging. Regardless of where your business sits in that paradigm, in the face of a crisis, it is absolutely necessary to be sensitive and empathetic.
We have adjusted all of our copy to be sensitive to the current environment, depending on your business it also might be 100% necessary to address the elephant in the room. COVID-19 is on the minds of all of us, it’s okay to touch on the subject just don’t exploit the situation! Some businesses will sell products that are easy to recognise why they are needed – for those that sell products that aren’t as obvious – being empathetic, real and genuinely trying to help people is essential.
Internally we are providing business advice on how you can get through Coronavirus, advising clients when to scale up or scale down, pivoting the strategy to audience growth if sales are reducing, ensuring to be one step ahead through this period. We are assessing economies internationally in places like Singapore who have been further along in the life cycle of COVID-19. Through our clients that run ads in this area, we have yet to see any perceived lockdown hangover as it relates to Facebook ad Performance.
What tips can you give to small businesses during COVID-19 money wise?
If you have been affected, do your research into the stimulus packages and government benefits in place. Australia is putting businesses going through hardship in a solid position through this time.
Can you do anything to support your customers?
- Adjust your shipping and returns policy as people switch to shopping exclusively online
- Include a banner on the top of your website addressing that you are still active
- Be sensitive in the language you use on social media
- Offer vouchers to existing customers expiring within 30 days
- Create content to entertain or provide value to your audience
How are you as a digital marketing company working through COVID-19?
We are fortunate that we work with a large number of e-commerce brands that are still able to exist through the challenges of COVID-19.
As a business we are set up to work remotely with our business predicated on digital, so the main impact has been the social side at work. We have scheduled team meetings every morning, often work with each other on hangouts and get together for team lunches and Friday night drinks.
Staff also have access to meditation programs and we are continuing our monthly yoga classes, virtually as we look to emphasise the importance of focusing on all staff’s mental health during this isolating time. Our people and development manager are also offering her support for those struggling. Now is the time to implement a mental health program if you don’t have one.
Are clients still looking for digital advertising during COVID-19?
Yes, fortunately. Businesses are actively looking for digital to drive the growth that may have been lost through this change. The businesses are less varied in what they offer and typically fall under 3-4 industries, however, we are still seeing a number of leads flow through each day. With most retail closing, their options are to adapt their strategy or lose their market share.
What actions can a CEO take now during the COVID-19?
Being a great leader through this time is vital. You need to have your team on the side now more than ever. Approaching the situation calmly and honestly while still making the seriousness of the economic impacts clear.
Be transparent with your employees and customers. We are all going through the same thing. At Megaphone we have weekly meetings to update the entire company on the effects we have seen on coronavirus, what revenue we have lost or gained and the impact this will have on the company. We already feel left in the dark about what is going to happen next, the least we can do is to provide honesty and transparency through this time is vital.
Make sure you are aware of your company’s position and the next steps as there will be questions. Give as much reassurance as possible without promising something you can’t. Take the time to listen to your team and understand the different challenges employees may face with the changes. Support isn’t as simple as being present anymore so I have started hosting virtual games on Friday afternoons so we can continue to have meaningful connections. Last Friday we were on Google hangouts from 4.30 pm-11.30 pm – so I think it’s safe to say the team connection has not been lost yet! Get creative! There is a fantastic business offering virtual painting classes for work places, they ship out the supplies and run the painting class online! This is a perfect example of adapting to the environment.
What do you see currently is happening with digital marketing businesses?
I have been really impressed to see the digital marketing industry look to support through this time. Realistically, we all have a number of clients pause their marketing over this time, so it’s great to be able to put that extra time to good use. We are all in this together.
A number of the software we utilise have provided discounts in support, so it is great to see the community supporting one another and doing what they can to see this through.
How do you think COVID-19 will change the digital landscape long term?
With more time at home being mandatory, more people have had to shift to online shopping. After experiencing this as an option it will likely mean that this behavior continues at a higher rate than prior to the pandemic. With the forced shift to online that a number of businesses have also now made, more business will be done online. This will see a reduction in retail which was already on the decline, as users begin to prefer the convenience of online shopping.
We are celebrating low CPM’s today, however, when we have a stream of new businesses testing online, combined with the return of service-based businesses in force closure, we will likely see a spike in advertising costs in the aftermath of Coronavirus.
New platforms will emerge with TikTok seeing an 18% week on week growth rate through March in the midst of the pandemic. This has pushed more users to try TikTok and will, therefore, increase the demand for advertising on the platform. TikTok has seen a 34% increase in revenue in March.
With more time at home, we will see new businesses being built which will lead the e-commerce space to evolve online with more competition entering. From a digital marketing perspective, the future looks positive with these scenarios resulting in demand for more skilled digital marketers.