James Kydd is Marketing Director at Purplebricks.com, which describes itself as ‘the world’s first 24/7 estate agent’. Before that he was Head of Brand and Marketing at Virgin Media where he helped launch V Festival and Virgin Cola. He tells us about Purplebricks’ approach to digital marketing and why online businesses must retain the human touch
Q: Purplebricks adopts a disruptive approach to estate agency. What role does digital play in your overall marketing strategy?
We’re a hybrid estate agency, offering the full service of a traditional estate agency with the added benefit of a unique software platform that makes life a lot simpler and the whole process more transparent. Digital is very important to us – ours is the first model that truly embraces digital technology for sellers and landlords. We also use traditional media (TV is core to our marketing strategy) as a means of driving natural search. We’re only four months old, so are still experimenting with which digital channels work best.
Q: Purplebricks operates 24/7 and a lot of traffic comes to the site outside conventional working hours. Does that pose any specific challenges?
The site and the software platform have been very robust to date with no major issues. If people do have questions or want help, then we also have a brilliant call centre in Southend that operates 24/7, so there are no real issues from an operational point of view. Getting people used to the idea that they can do things at any time day or night is a challenge but one that we’re rapidly winning. People do think it’s too good to be true.
Q: What specific steps have you taken to get users engaged with the site and the service?
We’re very active on social media, and not just from Purplebricks’ head office. Each of the ‘Local Property Experts’ (our version of estate agents but without the branded cars or an office on the high street) have their own Twitter accounts and post local content in the form of blogs which appear on Google+. We also use Twitter and Trustpilot as customer service tools, so it’s fair to say that we see social media tools as a vital part of our marketing strategy. Michael Bruce, our CEO, also writes a regular blog for the Huffington Post.
Q: How important is mobile to you, and how do you approach your mobile offering?
About half our traffic comes from mobile/tablets, so we’re living proof of the dual screening phenomenon. We design our website specifically for mobile and the level of engagement shown by mobile users shows that this has been a very worthwhile investment. Mobile will only increase in importance for us.
Q: What’s the biggest digital challenge the company has faced so far?
The biggest has probably been working out whether our conversion rate is good or not. We based our forecasts on intelligence from PHD, our media agency, but the reality is that no one has ever done anything like Purplebricks before, so it was very difficult to forecast. We have now introduced a programme of A/B tests on specific content on the site, so we’re confident that we’re optimising it bit by bit. We did a vast amount of testing before we went live, but what we’ve learnt since being in market has helped us develop the customer offering much more quickly.
Q: Do you have any advice for others seeking to take traditional high street businesses or services online?
The really clever thing about Purplebricks is the recognition that people want the reassurance of human beings when it comes to selling or letting what is – for most people – their biggest asset.
This has made the online platform less scary for people. Online agencies that have eradicated human beings have so far met with much less success. The beauty of an online business is not that it’s online, it’s that it enhances the customer experience. If it doesn’t, then don’t bother. And every business needs marketing. The fact that Facebook reached critical mass without any overt marketing is the exception to the rule rather than the norm.