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CMO50 2022 #26-50: Oonagh Flanagan

  • Name Oonagh Flanagan
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Funlab
  • Commenced role July 2021
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 30 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Hospitality and entertainment
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Someone once gave Oonagh Flanagan, chief marketing officer of Funlab, career advice - which she has firmly ignored.

    “Someone encouraged me to find a category I liked and stick with it. I’ve firmly ignored the advice and gained experience across a number of different categories. I think this is something which has served me well as a marketer and been invaluable to the businesses I’ve worked for,” she explains.

    “From financial services and telco, from casino to proptech, and now out-of-home entertainment, I’ve enjoyed a hugely varied career and learned a lot along the way. I’ve always been sceptical about businesses or leaders who insist on specific category experience versus marketing know-how and experience. The most competent marketers I’ve worked with have had a more varied experience.”

    Innovative marketing

    During the pandemic, Funlab completed a detailed market segmentation study, partnering with Retail Oasi, to better understand the profile of its guests. 

    “We identified two major distinct target segments: 'Socially connected' and 'family fun'. At the same time, we exposed and mined Funlab’s online transaction data for the first time unearthing insights around guest visitation rates and lifetime value, which exposed an over-reliance on first-time guests versus repeat visitors/loyalty,” Flanagan says.

    “We wanted to ensure, post pandemic, we were prepared to both attract and retain audiences from these key segments as they started to venture outside the home and reconnect with family and friends after almost two years of lockdown.”

    The insights birthed the idea of the Fun Pass – a way to encourage repeat visitation, decrease time between visits, and grow lifetime value. Fun Pass is a rolling subscription, rich in monthly activity inclusions, across four core brands: Holey Moley, Strike, Archie Brothers and B. Lucky and Sons, offering affordable value and choice to guests at a time of growing inflation, stagnant wages, and general financial uncertainty. 

    “We conducted hypothesis testing and pricing sensitivity research, partnering with Nature Research. Then, we undertook discovery and validation testing with Merkle to create a proof of concept which launched in Victoria in April 2022.

    “The results delivered against each of the three core objectives. After three months, Fun Pass subscribers had exceeded the visits benchmark and, most importantly, had exceeded the three-year average lifetime value of our guests, with an increase of 72 per cent. 

    “Beyond this, the feedback proved we had hit the mark with our target segments. Fun Pass has been a ray of sunshine in a dire forecast of inflation. School holidays normally see activity costs rise, so it’s great the kids don’t have to endure more disappointment and it’s great to spend some time together as a family, too.”

    Business smarts

    As its first CMO, Flanagan says marketing has been elevated to the executive level at Funlab for the first time in its 21 year history. With a combined tenure of 82 years, and an average tenure of 13 years, and deep experience across retail, hospitality and entertainment, the executive team’s skills have been augmented with strategic marketing, digital and technology expertise, plus invaluable best-practice insights on structure, process and planning learned from her 20 years of experience in digital start-ups and enterprise.

    “My broad industry and international experience has enabled me to influence what happens across the business on multiple levels, including introducing a digital-first mindset across the organisation, leading to an end-to-end review of Funlab’s guest-facing technology stack and capability, resulting in executive and board-level support for a multi-million dollar accelerated digital transformation program designed to support Funlab’s current and future growth, the organisation’s largest single investment," she says.

    "This also includes educating staff on the importance of businesses data analysis and data-focused decision making, leading to successful investment in digital transformation and architecture; expanding the marketing function to include a new data and analytics operations to enable in data-driven decision making as a way to contribute to the knowledge and success of different Funlab teams, and establishing the practice of consumer research in the organisation as a core part of strategic planning and decision making, alongside data and analytics, with a formal program of qualitative and quantitative studies.

    “I also facilitated executive-level annual strategic process planning and instituted a quarterly planning process for business-wide capability and resource allocation, plus longer-term communication, media buying and marketing planning,” she says.

    “Marketing at Funlab is no longer a department focused on brand and campaigns, its impact and its focus on using data and technology for the benefit of our guests and our people has permeated the entire organisation.”

    Customer-led value

    The proportion of online sales at Funlab grew from 30-60 per cent of total revenue overnight as a result of the pandemic. This change in behaviour was positive for the business, and inspired it to take a magnifying glass to its online presence to identify how and where it could boost online sales further.

    “We found our original experience was plagued with friction, preventing many potential guests from making a successful booking, and also wasting precious visits to our sites. We partnered with global digital agency, Merkle, and invested significantly to redesign and rebuild our online sales funnel. Using qualitative and quantitative customer data, we were able to optimise our customer experience, based on what people actually needed, wanted and requested.

    “This attention to detail resulted in overall conversion rates which were 30 per cent higher than expected from the campaign.

    “Across our other brands, we saw an average order value between 15 - 30 per cent higher than before. This translated to an additional 38 per cent more revenue than our initial business case predictions!” 

    The new booking platforms are expected to deliver a significant uplift in top line revenue and EBITDA across FY23 nationally, across all eight Funlab brands, based on the results of the first three months.

    “The success of this program has led to support for further investment in digital transformation. This ambitious program of work in partnership with Merkle, Salesforce and Sitecore will deliver a ‘single view of guest’ and significantly uplift Funlab’s digital experience capability. It’s also the platform through which Funlab will seamlessly offer guests access to its nine-strong brand portfolio.”

    Data-driven maturity

    A key goal of Flanagan’s first year with Funlab was to establish a centre of excellence in data, analytics and insights to benefit the entire organisation and its guests.

    The first step was to build a data team filled with talented data engineers and data scientists. These roles were new to Funlab, so gaining support to build this team was a great success. The team is about to complete, for the first time, the mammoth task of developing Funlab’s data warehouse, she explains. 

    “Exposing and engineering the data from our major systems first, then overlaying this data with contemporary business intelligence software has enabled a new wave of reporting which is already transforming the business.

    “To complement the uplift in Funlab’s data capability, I wanted to upweight the voice of the guest through the establishment of a formal guest insights program. I enlisted the help of experienced research agency partners, Nature, whom I’ve entrusted with qualitative and quantitative programs across many industries for a number of years.

    “Working closely with the Funlab Marketing Team and guest-facing business functions, we identified a series of research projects to be undertaken.”

    Since November 2021, Funlab has measured the health of its brands for the first time, informing the FY23 marketing strategy, budget and channel mix. It’s completed a quantitative pricing sensitivity study on a subscription proposition (Fun Pass), and been able to significantly improve and streamline the functions offering across each of its brands in advance of its peak period, Christmas.

    Commercial and growth acumen

    One of the most significant commercial advantages the marketing function is delivering is through the improvements in paid search performance. 

    “Soon after my appointment, we served notice to the incumbent performance agency and replaced them with a trusted, proven boutique agency to work with our performance team,” Flanagan says.

    “Within 12 weeks, after a full account restructure across all brands, the return on advertising spend (ROAS) had increased threefold. Twelve months on, ROAS has increased by 260 per cent, leading to a 474 per cent increase in revenues from the channel, versus FY21. 

    “Similarly, the commercial impact of the digital transformation projects completed in FY22 (booking flow and Fun Pass) generated a deep sense of trust in the marketing function and helped gain support to invest further in digital transformation across FY23.”

    Leadership impact

    One of Flanagan’s first focuses was to understand how to better structure the marketing team to align to Funlab’s ambitious growth strategy. A review of the team through the lens of the strategy, coupled with an assessment of the skills, passions and career goals of the team, led her to move away from the incumbent brand-centric team structure to a structure built around areas of specialism. The team has flourished with roles aligned to their strengths.

    “We’ve further strengthened the capability of the senior leadership team by supporting investment in training and development. Specifically, each of the senior team has been through the Mini MBA by Mark Ritson with a further cohort about to commence the course in September. To ensure our sustainable growth, we’re also investing in the right training for the junior members of our team, with area-specific training and development opportunities available depending on an individual’s goals.

    “In tandem with the structural changes and learning and development, we’ve focused on establishing efficient ways of working. We’ve simplified team processes, clarified team hand-offs and established a detailed RACI model. This has reduced the duplication of work and improved the relationships and level of collaboration across the specialist functions.

    “Lastly, to build a sense of accountability, for the first time we’ve worked through clear goals and KPIs at the team, functional and individual level which ladder up to Funlab’s ambitious business strategy. Coupled with the newly established marketing-led annual and quarterly business planning processes, this is contributing to an environment where marketing is better understood, is engaging more positively and successfully across the organisation and creating a genuinely collaborative working environment for all. This is all contributing to Funlab’s long-term vision of building our reputation as a great place to work.

    “Bravery for me is about demonstrating confidence and this takes many forms. Stepping into a leadership role and taking on the responsibility for a team is brave. Applying for a promotion or a sideways move to extend your experience and expertise is brave. Volunteering to represent the team or the organisation in a meeting or at a conference is brave. Signing up to targets and KPIs and taking on the accountability of delivering against them is brave. 

    “I encourage my team to push forward and be confident in their abilities, but I also encourage them to build confidence through planning, preparation and by leveraging data, insights and collaboration to remove barriers and the influence of chance from brave situations. Being planned and prepared reduces the fear factor and ultimately leads to braver decision making.”

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