How Zoopla’s CMO is building a brand from the inside out

While Zoopla has just launched a new brand campaign, its CMO says advertising is “just the cherry on the icing on the cake” as it looks to overhaul its proposition to boost engagement.

zooplaZoopla is hoping to change how customers use its site as it looks to drive up engagement and traffic, and therefore preference, in the competitive housing market.

The site is currently best known for providing house valuations, which is what the majority of users visit the site for. But the brand has bigger ambitions in helping people at whatever stage of their housing journey – whether they are renting, a first time-buyer, upsizing or downsizing.

“Lots of people come to Zoopla to get valuations; that is the DNA of Zoopla,” Zoopla’s CMO Gary Bramall tells Marketing Week.

“One of the challenges we’ve had is people have come to us to validate things but haven’t transacted on us. Ultimately, what we want users to do is come to Zoopla, know we have the full inventory of housing stock, the best tools and help them on their journey to make a home. That is our ambition.”

Zoopla shifts focus from awareness to consideration

That ambition has necessitated a change in approach for the brand, which now wants to build a greater level of purpose. Previously, it communicated its proposition through a campaign that featured hermits crabs moving house. But Bramall believes that didn’t reflect the breadth of what Zoopla offers.

“We are not selling chocolate bars, we are doing something that is really important in people’s lives,” he explains. “The value of that moment was probably being lost a bit with the crabs execution. It undersold the importance of this moment. Lots of brands and businesses would give their right arm to have such an important life stage [as the focus of their brand].”

The new positioning, ‘We know what a home is really worth’, plays on Zoopla’s heritage in valuations, but also aims to tap into the emotional side of house hunting. The first two ads, created by Lucky Generals, focus on first-time buyers and a couple that have bought a fixer-upper.

It was time to coincide with one of three big jumps in traffic that Zoopla experiences across the year – the first in January, the second around Easter and a third at the start of summer (focused around rentals).

The campaign idea came as a result of research Zoopla conducted across six UK cities with strategic proposition agency called Zag. The research showed a clear link between the emotional and rational aspects of buying a house and the notion of worth.

“The double play on worth is that we know the value but we also know the insight,” says Bramall. “Great marketing is usually super simple and this notion of worth sounds obvious. But that’s the genesis that all our activity will be based around.”

However, Bramall sees the advertising as just one part. “The cherry on the icing on the cake,” as he puts it. While it is an “important cherry”, particularly in driving traffic to the site and therefore leads to estate agents, there is more going on at Zoopla.

“We need to change behaviours,” he admits. “We aren’t going to change them for very long by just re-skinning things. It needs to be really at the heart of the proposition.”

Bringing together marketing and product

Changing the proposition requires big investment, which Zoopla is getting from its owner Silver Lake Partners, which bought the company for £2.2bn in 2018. It is hiring at a huge rate – every week there are around 25 new starters – including in marketing.

That means Bramall now has a team of around 50, while Zoopla has more than 500 staff and is looking to hire at least 100 more – mostly in product and engineering.

Bramall has made some key appointments, including a new head of content and a team of data journalists as it looks to connect its data and insight. It continues to produce content such as the rental index and cities index that have been a fixture for a number of years, but is also looking to produce content in other areas.

We are not going to change someone’s behaviour through a poster, it’s going to be around our content strategy.

Gary Bramall, Zoopla

This includes its ‘Zooploma’, a guide for first-time buyers to give them support and advice on getting on the property ladder, as well as recommending suitable properties. Since its launch on Boxing Day last year, 176,000 people have signed up to the initiative, which includes 30 emails sent over 10 weeks.

Such is the success that Zoopla plans to create further guides – next up is one for the rental market. It offers a commercial opportunity – Zoopla can recommend properties and allow brands to advertise relevant products such as mortgage calculators – but also an engagement opportunity.

“Working in collaboration with product teams [is the sweet spot for me and Silver Lake],” says Bramall. “We want to understand how we can improve the customer journey, the performance of the site and start to blur the boundaries between marketing and product experience.

“Think of the Nike Fuel Band when it came out – was that a product or a marketing tool? The Zooploma was launched in partnership with the product organisation. We are thinking from a customer-first viewpoint, rather than product does this, marketing does this and the customer falls through the cracks.”

Boosting brand preference

The content push is part of a long-term play from Zoopla to boost preference so that when people come to buy a house they think of the brand. Less than 10% of the UK population is actively in the property market at any time, but Zoopla wants to engage anyone who might be interested in housing.

“Where we want to change behaviour, we categorise that as how we can improve preference,” says Bramall.

“We believe preference is moved through looking at how we educate and engage our users through the lifecycle. We are not going to change someone’s behaviour through a poster, it’s going to be around our content strategy, reports, Zooploma.”

READ MORE: ‘Failure is a nightmare without reflection’: Zoopla’s CMO on learning from mistakes

The strategy already appears to be working. Total sessions on the site were up 19% last year, while monthly site visits rose to 58 million. It also added 2,250 more estate agent branches to its site, while applicant leads (people contacting estate agents about properties) increased by 18%, all while its cost per acquisition decreased.

That has led to a 25% increase in Zoopla’s marketing budget this year as the company looks to accelerate its strategy.

“This is really at the heart of the Silver Lake investment, which is that marketing is not just around marketing for marketing’s sake. It’s how do we make the boat go faster, thinking about the problems we are solving for,” says Bramall.

“If we do a great job, Zoopla should be a catalyst for the property market.”

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