Why hipages continues to invest in mainstream media

Customer chief of tradies marketplace, Stuart Tucker, reflects on three years of brand building, finding the right media mix and modern marketing conundrums

A 50/50 split between brand and performance marketing spend isn’t something that seemed conceivable at hipages three years ago. But that’s exactly what has occurred at the ASX-listed tradie marketplace thanks to the impact of its mainstream media investments on consumer awareness and consideration.

Hipages chief customer officer, Stuart Tucker, recently caught up with CMO to reflect on the role of brand building during his tenure, from the first steps taken in August 2018 and the big, bold bet to invest the entire discretionary budget on a 13-week major sponsorship of TV reality renovation program, The Block, to his current marketing mix.

Having experienced a stellar first year from its sponsorship of The Block, hipages’ second year of platinum-level sponsorship saw aided brand awareness among homeowners again increase by 10 per cent between April to November 2020 to 56 per cent. This contrasts with 27 per cent in July 2018. Unaided awareness also lifted 9 per cent and now sits at 31 per cent.

Today, a job is posted on the hipages marketplace every 20 seconds, and 138,000 jobs were posted in March this year alone. The company has since signed on for a third year of The Block sponsorship.

“I can’t say it strongly enough: It’s the most extraordinary media sponsorship I’ve seen in 30 years in marketing,” Tucker told CMO. “It proves these program sponsorships and integrations, even in an environment where linear TV audiences are generally declining, still have a role to play with the right placement, right audience and solution.

“We’ve seen our brand health improving, and in turn, that’s changed a lot of dynamics in the business.”

Stuart TuckerCredit: hipages
Stuart Tucker

Notably, hipages has brought down the percentage of jobs acquired through paid channels from 46 per cent in 2018 to 21 per cent in the first half of FY2021.  

“That is substantial – we have moved money out of performance media into brand building media, which has a halo effect, builds our awareness in the tradie space and sees more consumers downloading the app,” Tucker said.

What’s more, jobs from organic search experienced an approximate 55 per cent year-on-year growth in FY2020 and 103 per cent growth in Q4 FY2020. Increasing relevance of unpaid channels has seen total marketing spend per job significantly reduce.

“What we also saw in Q3 was 64 per cent of our jobs came from repeat customers, so we have created a flywheel effect,” Tucker continued. “When customers come in and have a good experience, they post again and use you as a preferred choice. That’s what any digital marketplace wants – you want users to push aside the old ways of finding tradies and come and use you again and again.”

The home reno boom

Two factors have been in hipages’ favour at a macro level. The COVID-19 global pandemic and lockdown drove consumers to find digital solutions for traditional problems. Apart from temporary softening as Australia went into lockdown in March and April 2020, there’s been a turbocharge to home improvements across the country over the last year.

From May 2020, hipages started seeing a focus on outdoor jobs, then larger maintenance jobs such as painting, plumbing and electrical work. “Once people got more comfortable, and saw interest rates remained low, they started tackling bigger projects, and we saw a spike in building, drafting, extensions and decks,” Tucker said. “It’s now in full swing and we’re a beneficiary of that.

“But if we didn’t build our brand in the 18 months prior to that, we wouldn’t have been able to capitalise on what was happening in the external market. You reap the seeds you sow – we sowed the seeds and prepared ourselves. And we’ve benefitted from it.”  

Another outcome from the brand work has been growth in commercial and strategic partnership requests. An example is hipages’ deal with the NSW Department of Education for school infrastructure work.

Then there’s the internal benefits of investing in brand. “Sometimes we underestimate the impact of brand building efforts on internal marketing,” Tucker said, noting hipages sales staff are referencing TV sponsorships and media activities in pitches and engagement.  

“We just did an integration with Better Homes and Gardens on Channel 7, and our entire team can feel us going to the next level and what we describe as becoming a brand authority in the category,” he said.

Having listed on the ASX in November, Tucker said the marketing and communications picture has gained further cohesion. “We have paid and owned media, corporate communications and investor relations coming together in a very coordinated effort to drive paid, owned and earned,” he added.

“Our primary competition is still the traditional ways of finding the tradie, and we feel like there is still masses of room to move. There are about 70 million jobs per year done with tradies, and the percentage done through digital platforms like Hipages is still small. We’ll do 1.5 million jobs this financial year.

“The digital competition is minimal, so we’re still trying to address those traditional ways of finding a tradie – it’s all upside.”  

B2B emphasis

Having built brand strongly on the consumer side of its marketplace, Tucker said a key focus for 2021 is doubling down on tradie acquisition and the B2B side.

“Tradies have been slow to adopt digital technology - you still see the tradie with the notebook in the car scratching out a quote,” Tucker said. “But that evolution is moving quickly now and we’re seeing adoption accelerating.”

The other aspect of hipages’ B2B effort is recognition tradies are hard to reach as one audience. Tucker quoted 257,000 trade businesses in Australia, representing people with different consumption patterns and a wide age spread of 25-75-year-olds. To help in its quest to reach these audiences and fine-tune its media mix, hipages appointed boutique media agency, Avenue C, last year.

“Even when we’re buying media for the consumer side, we’re profiling programs and media that indexes the highest with tradie audiences,” Tucker explained. “Then we try and find additional media to top that up. At the moment we’re on radio in the ‘tradie times’ – from 5-7am, traffic report sponsorship, and from 3.30pm – 5pm. There is still a lot of wastage in that but we’re trying to target as best we can.

“We have been tinkering with advertising on Spotify… it’s also a content play and we get good results in social. But it requires a lot of experimentation.”

Lessons in brand building

Holding Tucker and his team in good stead is learnings from the consumer side. “In some respects, we’re following the same blueprint on the tradie side as we used on consumer,” he said.

“We invested in mainstream media to raise awareness; we build up our bench strength in organic; we use data to profile existing customers and drive repeats. Our tradie approach is similar, albeit with a different media mix. We have to get organic working hard, run experiments in performance and then use our data to drive decisions.

“The best [B2B] customers are the ones referred by other tradies. You can create a flywheel by making tradies successful, so they then tell their mates and build advocacy and acquisition.”

Through all of this, Tucker emphasised the importance of looking at the media mix in its entirely. “You can put yourself in a tailspin by trying to isolate specific results from specific media,” he commented.

“In digital, you can track specific activity, but we know it’s part of the journey a customer takes, particularly with high consideration product. This is the conundrum for the modern marketer – you have to have all channels firing at all times. The entry points can be in the dozens.”  

While acknowledging this can create waste, Tucker said media channels need to be seen as part of a larger ecosystem. “And it does start with brand being nascent – if no one has heard of you, they’re not going to click on your organic post or come to you for content,” he said.  

“On the other hand, without good creative, you’re not going to be able to engage them in the first place. It’s a complicated web of targeting, creative, experimentation and brand.”  

Success for Tucker is therefore reflected by a balanced scorecard of short and long-term metrics.

“Short term, we do need to keep driving jobs on the platform, bring more tradies in, drive those repeats, then we need to drive tradie engagement. That’s probably where our focus solely used to be,” he said.

“Now we’re looking at that balanced scorecard of brand health metrics across both awareness and consideration and across both sides of the marketplace. It’s a much more multi-dimensional view of the world, which lends itself to thinking beyond the next week or quarter.”  

As to ongoing sponsorship of The Block, Tucker noted an onus on Channel 9 to keep reinventing the program to build awareness and said the two companies are collaborating on ways to continue to drive brand integration.

And hipages intends to keep investing in brand building overall. “We’re sitting at about close to a 50/50 split between performance and brand and we expect to maintain that as it’s a healthy mix for us,” Tucker added.

Read more: CMO50 2020 #26-50: Stuart Tucker

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

Stuart Tucker leaves Commonwealth Bank and joins hipages

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