How category design is helping the customer chief at hipages find growth

We chat with chief customer officer, Stuart Tucker, about how the online tradie marketplace is building its brand play

Stuart Tucker
Stuart Tucker


The concept of category design has not only given hipages the tools to create its first mass market brand campaign, it’s also crystallising the business strategy for its next rapid phase of growth.

Stuart Tucker joined the Australian online marketplace for buying and selling trades services last October as inaugural chief customer officer, uniting the marketing, sales and services teams. Prior to this, he spent four years with CBA, and boasts of a 30-year career as a marketer for the likes of Optus, KFC and Aussie Home Loans.

While Hipages has certainly experienced significant growth since launching 14 years ago, with 2 million consumers using the platform and a 37 per cent increase in year-on-year revenues to $37 million in FY17, Yet Tucker said it was clear the company lacked a well-articulated point of difference in the market. And it was suffering from below-average brand awareness as a result.

So Tucker and his team got behind the notion of category design, as detailed in the book, Play Bigger, written by the founders of a Silicon Valley advisory firm of the same name.

At its core, category design is about taking rational steps to define the space around a company and its product offering so customers not only understand products better, they demand them. Authors, Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson Christopher Lochhead and Kevin Maney, describe it as the opposite of a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality.

“In modern marketplaces in particular, once you define the consumer problem, and be clear on what category it is you want to be in, you create that program that makes yourself the category king and authority,” Tucker explained. “For example, Uber created a new category – there were taxis, and they were unreliable. The solution was a new category called ride sharing. Another is Airbnb, or even Salesforce, for its ‘no software/ software-as-a-service’ approach.”

In hipages’ case, the insight was the need to improve the relationship between tradies and consumers.

“Let’s face it, the tradie engagement model has been a feat of mutual endurance,” Tucker said. “Tradies are increasingly frustrated about how hard it is to coordinate and communicate with consumers; they’ve gone out to pick up the kids, the specs weren’t clear, they didn’t pay on time, the job wasn’t well defined. On the other side, we know finding a tradie who’s available, who’s working in your local area and who you trust and is qualified, is truly difficult.”

The market size is also huge. Tucker pointed to fresh research by hipages in partnership with Ernst & Young Sweeney and LEK, which showed 70 million trades jobs being completed in Australia per year – an average of seven per house per annum.

“We pay tradies $73 billion a year, not including materials… yet it’s an industry still anchored in old-fashioned ways,” Tucker said. “It’s incredibly fragmented, it’s diverse – you have everything from builders to pest control and everything in between – and it hasn’t really been disrupted. There’s certainly not enough use of digital to improve and become more efficient.

“We are not aware of any Uber or Airbnb equivalent in the tradie sector globally. No one has really cracked it. Yet it’s huge, broken and inefficient, and the frustrations exist on both sides of the marketplace.”

Related: Growth hacking and bridging the marketing/product gap: The Hipages story

Using the research and category design principles, hipages has defined the ‘on-demand tradie economy’, and reoriented its brand purpose and company mission, product roadmap, and marketing and communications around owning this market.

“The greatest marketing activities are those grounded in a consumer problem. The beauty we have with a double-sided marketplace is that the problem is shared, which makes solving it even more powerful,” Tucker said.  

The brand campaign

Hipages releases a whitepaper on the subject this week. But the first external iteration of this new category is the national mass-market campaign launched on 12 August.

Running across digital, print, broadcast and outdoor, ‘Change the way you tradie’ centres around hipages’ app features, such as matching homeowners with qualified tradespeople and assigning reliable quotes, using photos to upload jobs, helping schedule appointments and arranging payment and checking customer ratings and recommendations on tradies. It’s been crafted in partnership with creative agency, VCCP.  Hipages covers more than 240 categories and has 135,000 qualified tradespeople available nationwide, with more than 100,000 jobs per month posted on its site per month.

“‘Change the way you tradie’ is really is a call to arms to change the way you’re thinking… and looks at how we modernise and digitise the industry by empowering people to find tradies using their phone,” Tucker said. “It’s staking a claim that no one else can make and gives us the opportunity to highlight some of our key features.”

It’s a big investment for hipages, and Tucker said getting the brand campaign over the line meant building a strong case for incremental media investment.

“It’s pretty easy with brand research to show where we stack up in terms of awareness, and that showed a gap to where we really should be. We were able to also show where other marketplaces had been spending money to grow their brands and some of the outcomes of that,” he said. “And we proved that if we were going to fuel growth, and become known as the category leader, we had to get ourselves out of the limited media we’d been doing.

“We are very strong in performance media, and our activation capability is first class; our paid search is as good as I’ve seen and we rely on it very heavily. But if we want to remove ourselves from that drug, we need to be building our brand awareness so people come to us a lot more actively and are thinking of us first.”  

The campaign launched during TV show, The Block. The team is also tapping into media provided by News Corporation, which owns 30 per cent of the business, to create a bigger presence than Tucker said you’d normally expect from a brand of this size.

While the tech behind hipages might be new, Tucker said he’s taken quite a traditional approach to the media mix. “We know 75 per cent of Australian households use a tradie every year - it’s not a niche market. It’s also a market slightly older than other brands in digital, yet those  [next-generation companies] are still consuming traditional media,” he said.  

“So on the Sunday we had a DPS in the Sunday Telegraph, followed by The Block, a homepage takeover, outdoor, and some cheeky guerrilla activity.”


These guerrilla tactics included banners on unfinished construction and lightrail sites in Sydney and Melbourne posing the question: ‘Need some help finishing that job’?

Tucker said early results are highly positive. “We’ve seen significant increases around metrics that count the most – such as downloads of our app; plus significant shift in unbranded to branded search – people actively looking for hipages, rather than searching for a plumber in their local area. On the other side of the market we’ve had 2.5 weeks of record sales for new tradies wanting to join the platform,” he said.  

Getting buy-in meant starting at the board level, which thankfully was marketing and media savvy and supported the need to invest in a longer-term brand play. Next up was engaging the senior leadership team in the original creative idea. Tucker said it was then a matter of “just getting on with it”.

What the category work and brand repositioning does is provide an anchor for everything, Tucker continued. “Now we’ve got a clear point of view in the market we can go at, which should make everything else work harder.”  

Another key priority is being agile and responsive to the market and current affairs, and Tucker pointed to hipages commenting on the Prime Minister battles of a few weeks ago as an example.

“If we’re going to be a disruptive brand, and challenge the way people tradie, we need to be jumping in on conversations and real-time events to make that happen,” he said.  

Up next: What it takes to understand your customer, plus the changing role of the CMO/customer leader

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