Gumtree head of marketing Hamish Stone talks classified advertising, app strategy and awards
We're only just over a week into 2013 and already Gumtree has appointed a new lead creative agency in Fold7 this year. 2012 was a watershed year for listings website Gumtree in the UK, as it aimed to grow its active users within the English regions, with high engagement already recorded in London and Scotland. The site now has a presence across 48 UK cities, connecting with 13.7 million people who come to the site in order to buy, sell or swap items such as goods and services, property, cars, and even jobs in their area. According to Comscore, the site receives 34.5 million visits each month, 8.1 million of which are unique users. With a current total of 1.57 million adverts being hosted on the UK version of the website, Gumtree is bringing online classified advertising into the mainstream. Speaking to Hamish Stone, head of marketing for Gumtree, who has joined the judging panel of The Drum Marketing Awards, it’s clear that last year was an important one for the business model, which looked to take advantage of mobile and tablet growth as it aimed to reach users across as many online enabled platforms as possible. “We’re coming off the back of an exciting year of expansion” declares Stone, who adds that the site added two million regular users during 2012. “We want to be a brand that is relevant to the whole of the UK. We are trading successfully in London, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Midlands, the North West – all of the large regions of the UK – and we are well on the way to doing that.” As to changes that have been made, Stone explains that back-end platforms have seen alterations made in order to improve the site’s user experience, which will allow the company to add more updates in the future. “We’re trying to gauge expectations for what users have for Gumtree and ensure that the user experience runs across all the relevant platforms so that people have the choice of coming to us through whichever device they like, and reflecting that in our communications as well.” The end of last year also saw Gumtree release its first Android app, which would work across smartphones and tablets, joining the iOS app that was released in the early months of 2012. That iOS app has also just been updated, allowing users to post adverts to the site for the first time through their smartphones, a feature that will be added to a forthcoming upgrade of the Android app to bring that parity with its Apple counterpart. “Our plans for this year are around making sure that we’re across all devices with the same functionality as you have on the desktop experience, as well as other things that you can’t do on a desktop,” Stone says of plans for this year. “With the iOS app we’ve had over two million downloads now and we in total get just under 20 per cent of our total traffic – driving that is incremental traffic, so we have started to give our users the right experience by responding by offering Gumtree through more platforms.” One of the key commercial routes for the brand is to run advertising through its site, something that Stone admits is still at an experimental stage when it comes to the recent addition of the apps. “We’re currently testing the advertising that we have on the site to see what type of impact it has on user experience… we’re still working in that space, but that’s a challenge that a number of brands are facing when it comes to the monetisation of mobile traffic. We have a large advertising component and a much smaller screen in which to place advertising on.” Discussing the strategy to grow users outside of mainly the largest populated areas of the UK, Stone explains how marketing changes in order to do this, with digital and email marketing featuring ‘a CRM-led focus’ being used in high adoption areas such as London, Northern Ireland and Scotland. “We’re still driving awareness in some of the second tier cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester where we’re using above-the-line channels to drive awareness of what Gumtree offers users. We used TV last year to help drive penetration within those markets and we’ve been testing radio in some markets as well and backing that all up with digital presence through paid search and advertising. As well as that we’re also capturing information on those who use Gumtree,” he reveals. Asked his thoughts on whether the hard hit newspaper publishing sector has taken any strides forward in reclaiming the classified advertising sector, Stone is not convinced, saying that he has seen no developments to indicate that they are. “We’re not seeing too many big players as newspaper outlets, however a number of them have investment within in some very large classified players. In the automotive sector, driving.co.uk launched last year, but we haven’t really seen too many of them go beyond investment and that was probably the biggest launch we have seen. They are still holding onto the industry that they have and haven’t really made many strides and they need to be more bold in that area.” Discussing his role as a judge at this year’s The Drum Marketing Awards, Stone says that he is looking for campaigns that made a difference to the company that they were promoting, be it altering the customer’s perception of the business or an impact of the bottom line figures. “That’s what I believe is the true sign of a great campaign or great strategy is to link back to the effect that it’s having on the business overall,” he concludes.