CMO profile: Marketing and branding the next two-sided marketplace disruptor

The marketing leader of Australian listed peer-to-peer company, Camplify, details how he's using marketing and brand smarts to crystallise the path to growth

Alastair McCausland
Alastair McCausland

It was the combination of founder passion, startup mentality, fast-growing and disruptive business model and ASX-listed backing that enticed Alastair McCausland to become the chief marketing officer of Camplify.

The experienced marketing leader splits his career into two distinct chapters: Working for big brands and publicly listed corporates who understand the discipline and practices of how brands run; then founder-run startups that have hit a natural point in their trajectory where they need strategic marketing nous.

“I’m passionate about founders who want to grow and create something new. It’s a new story and about creating a new legacy, not just going through the motions of the next product iteration every year,” McCausland tells CMO.

That’s exactly what he landed on with Camplify. The business was founded in Newcastle by Justin Hales with the idea of making camping holidays possible for everyone. To do this, it established a peer-to-peer marketplace, allowing those who own campervans, caravans, RVs and motorhomes to list their vehicles online in order to enable consumers wanting a holiday to hire them.  

Camplify has grown to encompass 6400 vehicles across Australia, the UK, Spain and New Zealand and listed on the ASX in June 2021 with an IPO of $11.5 million, more than four times its pre-IPO capital subscribe rate. Since then, share value has increased three-fold, leading Camplify to reach 17th place on the AFR Fast 100 for 2021. Camplify more than doubled year-on-year revenue in FY21, achieving a 128 per cent increase in total bookings, and grew GTV by 170 per cent to chalk up $32.9 million.

“Camplify in a lot of ways is a simple marketplace: We connect people with RVs, motorhomes and caravans to people wanting to go on a holiday,” McCausland says. “A lot of vans are just sitting idle on the streets. We’re connecting available capability with a need. That excited me as that’s what marketing is about: Connecting the consumer insight with product that’s available.”

The growing numbers of people buying a van or RV spend an average of 40 nights a year using them. That means the vehicle is idle for 11 months of the year.

“There are a lot of benefits to the owner from our marketplace – not paying storage, money to help with their next holiday, or to grow a second income. Plus many owners get that joy from seeing other people having those holiday experiences,” McCausland says.  

“I also love that it’s a strong Australian success story. Founded in Newcastle, Camplify has scaled globally and become a listed company. We have a global business connecting two sides of the marketplace that’s helping people create new memories.”

The first 90 days

McCausland joined Camplify in October 2021 and promptly set about implementing a more structured marketing approach in his first 90 days. He started with the people.

“The goal is to build a high-performance team that can drive incremental growth ahead of the market. So I spent time on understanding who the people were plus challenges in their way, then taking those off the table and setting them up for success,” he explains.  

“The second focus came down to prioritisation. Everyone was so busy doing so many different things. We needed to create a simple matrix of impact versus pay off and effort required. It’s about prioritising things that would make a big difference, looking at what we were going to upweight and most importantly, what we need to scale.”

From there, the lens shifted to establishing clear processes. “As a global business, we need to be very decentralised,” McCausland says.

“We needed to quickly establish some well-built ways of working, utilising tech platforms to ensure we had good briefs that were providing the right context and helping us deliver campaigns and project in time. It was also making sure from a calendar perspective there was a clear line of sight as to where we are going. Smaller business tend to struggle with the discipline of longer-term planning.

“The fun now is developing plans that will build awareness and drive growth. Once people feel happy and comfortable, it’s about encouraging that big thinking.”

While Camplify is an ASX-listed entity, McCausland says it’s still very much operating as a startup.

“We want to be unconstrained about the big ideas, then bring people into those ideas execute them well,” he adds. “Having built big brands, I bring to our founder the clarity and understanding of what the brand needs to stand for. From a positioning and architecture perspective and can help make those things tighter. We have had a strong performance marketing plan and a lot of success, we just need to replicate it and consistently do it.”

This balance of structure and big thinking is typical of the juggling act for McCausland at Camplify. As he puts it, the general theme of his approach has been taking anecdotal work and codifying it so it works across the full platform and geographies.

What he’s revelling in is the passion and energy of having a founder-CEO, with the support of good investor backing to fuel growth.

“As a management team and board, our focus is on driving that growth. The market has seen value and invested, so from a CMO perspective, I’m focused on making sure everyone isn’t constrained in their thinking, and don’t start thinking it’s a great idea but we can’t afford it, or it’s a great idea but we’d never do it,” McCausland says. “We have to think about how we are going to utilise the support we have to deliver on that growth.”  

Customer matrix

As a double-sided marketplace, Camplify has two distinct customer cohorts to contend with. Focus on customer segmentation to date has largely been on the owner side of the marketplace. And it’s clear firsthand owner stories are a key element in the marketing mix. But while some of those are proving very successful, McCausland is careful not to become myopic in the view that what resonates with one owner will resonate with another.

“The segmentation work we’re doing is about developing different personas so we get the right messaging to the right owner in the right channels at the right time, versus one message across everything and hoping it works,” he says. “It’s the same for hirers. What works for a young couple who want a weekend away is very different to how we need to talk to a family who have longer travel plans. That’s the planning and prioritisation we need in our thinking.

“Bringing that to life means ensuring we have omnichannel approach. There are so many great ways to reach these different owners and hirers, not just doing broad brush strokes. Often, it’s harder work but it’s the work that can deliver more amazing results.”   

Retro van on CamplifyCredit: Camplify
Retro van on Camplify

To get there, personas are being repositioned from personality to needs state. “We know our customers well so again, it’s linking through needs states of why you list a van,” McCausland says.

“Once we have that lens, we can say for this owner, what’s important to them is X, Y and Z. For example, a ‘utiliser’ coming into the market might use their caravan a couple of times per year. What resonates is different to the next cohort looking to grow a new income stream. This is about giving us a good playbook to say these are their hopes and dreams, concerns and how we show messaging that links to value from their perspective.”

Nevertheless, from awareness to final conversion, McCausland is looking to optimise to get more value out of everything his team does. “That’s about the PR idea that’s going to get us the earned media, through to what material we develop so once someone has been to the website and knows more about us, ultimately gets them excited and want to list their van,” he says.

“From an owner’s perspective, we realise it’s a big decision for a lot of people, so having multiple touchpoints along that journey is important. It's not as simple as putting a display ad there saying list your van and make $10,000. That might work for some people, but with others they need to go on the journey explaining how it works, giving them tips so they understand and feel comfortable.”  

Taking a strong data-led approach with hirers is equally critical. Camplify is tapping Web traffic, booking requests and wider transactional data to better quantify personas.

“That gives us a robust approach so it’s not just anecdotal. Sometimes gut feel is right, but in markets where we’re not as strong, it’s making sure we find the commonalities in needs states and being data led,” McCausland says.

Brand building

Then there’s brand building. Having worked for Fonterra, Carlton and United Breweries, Cadbury’s and Schweppes Australia, McCausland knows the value of a consistent and compelling brand idea that can talk to both sides of Camplify’s marketplace.

“Several big sharing platforms are doing this well and celebrating either side. It’s telling the story Camplify connects owners with holiday makers,” he says. “And it’s ensuring we are building awareness far more aggressively. So it doesn’t matter which side you’re in, you realise we are a brand that can help you either make some money, better utilise your van, or go on holiday.

“It's about doing longer-term work to build saliency of the brand. But in each of our markets, there are enough people with motorhomes and RVs who haven’t heard of us yet, that telling them about us and how it works for them is really relevant. So many people are buying these, we need to make sure Camplify is in their minds even before they purchase an RV or caravan.”

A wider array of macrotrends are informing this brand narrative and marketing nuance. One of the most exciting for Camplify is the resurgence in domestic travel. A growing sense and desire for freedom and adventure further plays to its strengths.

“We’re providing the hirer with a more Covid safe holiday, where you can get out into the fresh air. We also know there is a growing sense of focusing on family and making those memories,” McCausland continues. “There’s also a sense of deeper discovery and going into locations that are not your normal locations for a summer holiday. The van enables you to do that without having to book accommodation or organise at every point. It’s finding locations that inspire you, families getting away from screens.”

Credit: Camplify

Finally, the last trend Camplify is tapping into is the work from anywhere principle. “As hybrid and flexible working continues, we have examples of people who have hired a motorhome, worked during the day, then in the afternoon are sitting on a beach, moving from location to location,” McCausland says. “So repositioning work-and-life balance is another area we’re focusing on.”  

Helping Camplify on this path are third-party partnerships, which McCausland sees as a constant source of opportunity to broaden “the right sort of reach”.  He’s worked with the team to map out a wishlist of suppliers and partners that can help.

One existing example is with Zorali, which makes clothing for the outdoors. Camplify joined forces with the company on the concept of the ‘Earth Office’ and working without walls. “That’s helping them talk to their audience about working off the grid, while positioning Camplify as the enabler to make that happen,” McCausland says.  

Similarly, Camplify is working with Hipcamp, which provides an information source for finding off the grid holiday locations. It also worked with Supercars in Bathurst during the great race in 2021.

“I love partnerships, and we will definitely pursue more that build that reach and engagement for us,” McCausland says.

Local versus international

Through all of this, McCausland is keeping an eye on another balancing act: That of local versus international marketing responsibility.

“I have seen how badly this can be done, from showing the wrong people and locations to connect. There’s a consistent beef around the lazy work that can seem easy but backfires and doesn’t deliver,” he comments.  

“We have a consistent strategy in that we want people more broadly to experience the world around them. But the way I look at it is each market is at different levels of maturity. This could be where they sit around peer-to-peer marketplace, and also establishment of our brand.

“For example, the UK is very established in terms of how P2P works, but there isn’t a lot of brand awareness as we haven’t operated there for that long. What we’ll never do is take an idea that works in Australia and force fit it to the UK.”

Instead, McCausland is looking to what work Camplify did locally in its first 12-18 months in order to replicate that strategy. A key element was targeting van owners by geography and postcode to build out the offering.

“This [local versus international balance] also links back to marketing strategy and structure. The way we built is very decentralised, but globally we have centres of excellence across brand, comms, partnerships, social, performance marketing, planning and activation. That is spread across Australia, then we have locally based people who can be eyes and ears on the ground, collecting insights and working back with the global teams to specify the work needed,” he says.  

“It's about finding efficiency and effective around doing that, rather than have a global strategy and a team in the UK pursuing their own plans.”

Ultimately, what McCausland is looking to achieve externally is to bring Camplify’s personality to life.

“We want to have campaigns that make people feel something so they sit up and notice us,” he says. “We have the core brand idea of who and what we do, so it’s working to bring that to life in a way that makes people smile. Instinctively, this is an area people want to have fun in. I want that to translate to great campaigns and scale.”

Check out a few more of CMO's in-depth profiles of Australian marketing leaders:

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