The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec


Photobox ‘switched off’ its marketing spend to figure out what was working


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

February 26, 2019 | 5 min read

Photobox Group has seen 10 consecutive years of sales growth, made a number acquisitions and moved into a swanky new £20m London HQ. But its flagship brand’s marketing is still in a period of flux as it experiments with new channels and rethinks old strategies.


Photobox's headquarters

The personalised gifting company is housed alongside sister companies Moonpig, Hofmann and PosterXXL. It recently underwent a “hard reset” of its marketing plans, led by head of brand Jo Lavender who joined from Pinterest – where she was brand and marketing lead in the UK – last year.

Her first duty was reappraising what the brand stood for. Though “really good at selling product”, Lavender said the company realised it needed to be “fit to compete” with the best retailers in the ‘thoughtful’ gifting’ sector, like,, and Etsy.

“We’re a product business, a tech business and a retailer,” she said. “We’ve fine-tuned and reassessed what the customer experience is that we need to deliver across the end to end picture; from the creation to purchase, the product quality to the unboxing.”

It’s also overhauled the look of the brand, bringing in a new logo and redesign of the website and app which, although early days, Lavender claimed has resulted in a 44% year-on-year growth in unprompted brand awareness and a 12% year-on-year increase in brand consideration.

The marketing strategy is now front and centre of Lavender’s focus. Swiftly after Lyst's former chief marketing officer Christian Woolfenden arrived as managing director in 2017, he took the decision to “switch off” all of its marketing spend last year to “question” what was working.

“It was a really brave decision that's allowed us to take an incredibly rigorous approach to understanding our marketing channel mix,” says Lavender.

“[We’re] turned off one channel at a time to get a sense of what's working and built it back in channel by channel, at the same time supporting that with the insight and positioning work from the brand.”

Some of the early learnings have, admittedly, been fairly obvious. For example, during peak periods in the gifting calendar like Christmas, investing in TV is vital, she says. Meanwhile, in periods where demand for personalised photo gifts is low, it finds paid social works harder.

“From both sides, brand and performance, we've ripped up what the best marketing channel mix is and are putting it back together piece by piece in a very methodical and considered way," she added.

“We're getting close to what works for us across the funnel. We've still got more channels to experiment with; display and online video is where we've got a lot more work to do.”

The end goal is to have a playbook that its agencies – in this case Who Wot Why for creative and the Specialist Works for media buying – can work against.

This is all the more important as it emerges from a challenging financial year. Despite increasing sales, the “marketing rest” and relocation to its new London headquarters resulting in an 80% fall in operating profits of last year while revenue at the Group dipped from £325m to £315m.

Though Lavender stressed it would not cut spend, it will be looking for efficiencies and will begin buying media programmatically, which usually for an e-commerce company, it hasn’t done in the past.

“We have taken some bold decision and turned off channels and invested ahead in expensive assets to get behind this brand refresh. We are not looking at marketing cuts in the coming year though we are looking at efficiencies. And we're continually reassessing that channel mix. If anything, we'll be increasing investment and the channel mix behind that.”

Lavender said that being given free rein to experiment in this way is helped by the fact that the brand is led by a number of former marketers. Alongside Woolfenden, Photobox has the former global head of growth marketing at its helm as chief executive.

“The leadership team is a mix of marketers and they understand both sides of the marketing coin. We're practicing marketing where it’s appreciated.”


More from Marketing

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +