'Get off the paid search drug to build brand': Hipages chief customer officer Stuart Tucker
Former KFC, Optus and Commbank marketer Stuart Tucker has done the unthinkable for a digital pureplay targeting the $70bn market for tradies - he's cut back paid search at Hipages and gone all-in on television to build the brand. The business results are booming ... but there's more to it.
"Like a lot of digital marketplaces, we built our business on paid search and we became very, very dependent on it. But the problem with that is you're not building a brand over time."
It's 9am on Monday morning, the day after the new series of The Block has launched on Nine and Stuart Tucker is happily showing off the data spikes on his phone. Tucker has just made one of his bigger marketing punts, pouring his entire Hipages brand budget into a 13-week sponsorship of The Block. Everything is up: search results have rocketed as have app downloads and job briefs from homeowners looking for a tradie.
"One of the beauties of our business is that we measure everything in real time and I can say we've had an immediate spike in results last night on both sides of our marketplace," says Tucker as we prepare for the Mi3 Audio Edition on this very subject - you can hear it here. "We were swamped with inquiries from tradies wanting to come on our platform and we saw a significant uptick in jobs posted on our platform after 8pm last night, which can only be a result of The Block. Everyone [at Hipages] is jumping all over that this morning, I can tell you."
Kicking the habit
Tucker has seen it all at the big end of marketing from KFC, Optus, Aussie Home Loans and Commonwealth Bank. But his current gig as chief customer officer at online marketplace Hipages holds some lessons and refreshers for the entire marketing community.
Launched 15 years ago, Hipages is one of the older online pureplays in Australia and like many digital-first companies, paid search was its gateway to nearly all the company's growth. The reliance on search was getting dangerous in Tucker's mind.
"We've been around for 15 years and we are the leading platform for people to find a tradie. The problem was no-one had heard of us. Like a lot of digital marketplaces we built our business on paid search essentially - and we became very, very dependent on it," says Tucker.
"The problem with that is you're not building a brand over time. Search is our highest single cost for the business so we had to find a way around that. If you don't have a brand, people just make a one-off click and there's no intent. We believed if we got our brand right, everything else would work harder and we would be less dependent on paid search."
"We needed to essentially get off the drug or reduce our reliance on the drug of paid search."
"It made complete sense to invest in the paid search channel and there's no apologies for it. Search is still a very hard working channel for us - but we needed to essentially get off the drug or reduce our reliance on the drug of paid search."
Tucker started his brand building experiment using TV last year and an econometric modelling study commissioned by ThinkTV and completed by KPMG confirms what Tucker sees in his own numbers - TV is doing a short and long-term job for Hipages on sales and brand building.
"If I was targeting people in their 20s I might not be buying TV. But for our audience, Australian homeowners, it was right in our bullseye," says Tucker. "TV audiences might be down a fraction but it's right in the slot for certain brands. I didn't expect to necessarily get a short-term ROI from TV spend in isolation, so that was a nice surprise and it really proves to us the power of TV. The KPMG work proved it out."
Go long and short or lose
Which gets us to tribal alliances across the marketing chain - advocates for targeting and personalisation typically see brand building as a soft, intangible notion that loses everything to the cut and thrust of anything that can move the needle fast on any metric they can use. Tucker has another view.
"We have to get over this argument about whether it's brand or performance because it's got to be both - and it's got to be the right combination of both," he says. "It frustrates me when I hear people say that 'I'm just a brand marketer' or 'I'm just a performance marketer'. Well, you're probably going to be stuck in that pocket forever and you're probably not going to be a CMO if you're one or the other."
So what's Tucker's view on the budget and resource split between driving short-term results and longer-term brand building efforts, per the work of Peter Field and Les Binet? We're not telling. But you can find out what Tucker is planning on this front and some other real-world marketing insights about the "mid-funnel" role of social media and more in the Mi3 Audio Edition here.
"The marketing industry gets itself all twisted up about whether its short-term performance marketing or long-term brand building. It's not the debate. You have to be in both"
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