Earlier this month, I took part in a panel discussion at the Sharing Economy Global Summit at Lloyd’s in London. The title of the session was “Platform Advertising, Some Risks Just Have to be Taken”, and I was kindly invited along to share our learnings from launching and growing HeadBox over the last 5 years.
It was interesting to be a part of this discussion, as HeadBox isn’t simply a peer-to-peer marketplace, as we now have SaaS (software-as-a-service) products for both the supply and demand sides of our business. Our marketing efforts are a hybrid of your typical peer-to-peer marketplace strategies, product marketing and content marketing. We are also a B2B platform, which means that we don’t necessarily have the same trust considerations that consumers would have with sharing their assets via an online marketplace.
That said, we were an interesting case study to take part in the session and I broke down my advice into three main areas which I believe to be applicable to all peer-to-peer marketplaces.
Some of these recommendations we implemented from the very start of our journey at HeadBox and others we deployed later on as the business began to mature. I hope that whether you are launching a platform business or looking to build on your existing strategy, that you find these points useful.
Strike the balance between supply and demand
When building out the supply for your business, establishing the optimum amount you need is extremely important, whether you are launching your marketplace for the first time or expanding into new geographies. Each time we have launched our platform in a new city we’ve invested a lot of time in understanding the local market to ensure that the variety of supply inventory (Host venues in our case) matches the demand in that new terrority.
Turning on the right type of demand at the right time is critical and relies heavily on establishing the correct level and variety of supply. In hindsight, I believe we could have started driving our demand earlier on when launching London in late 2015, however, the learnings we gained from this delay were invaluable.
We learnt about the differences between the needs of an individual consumer booking a 30th Birthday party, the needs of a large corporate booking a conference and a smaller SME booking an off-site. The data and insight we gained in the first few months of building our demand allowed us to structure our product roadmap based on the needs of our most valuable customers.
Once you have activated the supply and demand, whether this is for the first time or as you expand into another geography, it’s important that you understand how you match the two in the way which is specific and appropriate to your business. This “match-making” can be nuanced and certain combinations of supply and demand may interact differently. As a marketing team, it’s important that you listen to your customers and analyse the data you have, so that you can make informed decisions about driving the type of demand which will have the biggest impact.
Finally, focus on building communities within these two customer sets. At HeadBox we have HeadBox Connect for our corporate clients (Demand), our thought-leadership programme aimed at bringing the outside world into the events industry; bringing people together from different sectors to share their learnings, experience and advice. We also run our Host Academy (Supply), aimed at giving our Host venues some impactful, tailored training on some of the techniques and processes we follow at HeadBox. Bringing your customers together in person from the outset is incredibly valuable and something that all platform businesses should consider to enhance their digital product with human-interaction.
Test your marketing channels and kill them. (If you need to)
This second point is fairly simple to follow and is a process we practise regularly at HeadBox. Be open to testing (and revisiting over time) all the marketing channels available to you. Make sure you carve out small amounts of budgets specifically to test.
This doesn’t have to be specifically for different channels but could also be applied to creative and or messaging. In doing so, you are constantly refreshing, analysing and hopefully improving your outputs!
Test It: Run your tests across channels/campaigns quickly and analyse the data.
Measure It: Define success criteria and hold your tests accountable to that.
Kill It: Don’t be afraid to kill a channel/campaign/creative if it’s not working for you. The quicker you do this, the quicker you focus on something that works.
When testing traffic channels, it’s important to think about long-term sustainability. In the early days of HeadBox, we invested in PPC, which quickly increased our brand awareness and website traffic but drove little ROI.
As we had our success criteria confirmed, we were able to make the decision to kill PPC once our organic traffic had built up due to our work on SEO, this is now our best performing, most effective and most sustainable traffic channel.
Be Customer Obsessed
This point can be easily broken down into three main areas which we follow every day at HeadBox. “Be Customer Obsessed” is in fact, one of our company-wide objectives, and each team has put key results in place to measure our performance against it.
Find the data
Spend time understanding where your available data sits, define what is important to measure and then invest time analysing it. In the early days of HeadBox, this data sat with my marketing team as it was important that we had a complete overview of our performance. The data doesn’t have to be perfect, but start small and build from there.
Segment your customers
Once you have the data, and you understand what is important to measure and set targets for, you can then segment your customers. My advice would be to do this as quickly as you can. At HeadBox, the whole commercial team works from value pyramids which visualises the value we are delivering to our customers and in-turn the value they can drive for us.
Align your teams
The HeadBox team is now split into Supply and Demand and we have fortnightly “all-hands” where cross-discipline teams come together (Product, Sales, Marketing, Client Services) who all work on the Demand or Supply side of the company. There are endless benefits to this but most importantly the cohesion between teams increases efficiency and ultimately their performance against targets.
Refine your reporting
I believe that the work with data is never “done”. Over the years, we have always been striving for the single source of truth with our data. Our data is now the single most important element of our business with the advancements we are making with Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. (The first datasets our Tech team used were from old Excel spreadsheets that the business used in its very early stages!).
As we have grown we have invested in tools that have allowed us to integrate across marketing, product and sales. Once we had joined up the dots across the teams, the access to accurate data empowered us to make high velocity, high-quality decisions rooted in data and numbers.
My closing piece of advice to the audience at Sharing Economy Global Summit was never stop thinking about the customers behind the numbers. The sharing economy is fundamentally about encouraging people to share their assets, in real life with real people so while the data, remaining agile and your team structure can be critical, spending time considering the people using your platform and understand their problems so that you can deliver valuable solutions.
Not doing that, is the biggest risk you can take as a peer-to-peer marketer.
This session was delivered with Paul Mellor, MD of advertising agency Mellor and Smith and Elle Tucker, founder of Gang Hut, a marketing agency for peer-to-peer marketplaces at the Sharing Economy Global Summit in London.