Investors are bullish on Angi Homeservices. The firm has delivered 17.80% earnings per share growth and 35.70% revenue growth over the past five years, according to Auburn Digest. A big driver of that growth: a marketing strategy that repositioned former adversaries — HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Handy, which compete for customers who are looking for contractors they can trust with home improvement projects — giving them a new, common competitor to unite against.
As the chief marketing officer for AngiHomeservices, Allison Lowrie led the repositioning behind much of its growth. How the company approaches marketing has evolved significantly since conjoining the brands within Angi Homeservices, and Lowrie’s role has evolved and doubled in scope along with it.
The journey from customer acquisition to branding
When Lowrie joined the company nine years ago, it was known as ServiceMagic — a B2B lead-gen company for home service companies. Lowrie’s focus at the time was transactional performance marketing. About a year and a half into her tenure, the company decided to undertake “an extremely ambitious rebrand,” she says. That's when the HomeAdvisor brand came to be.
The rebrand occurred in 2012. The strategic rationale, Lowrie says, was that despite being one of the few profitable businesses in online home services, it was a B2B lead-gen brand sitting in the midst of the $400bn home services category. One in 10 homeowners go online today to find and hire a service professional, she notes. “We knew that we had a real shot at becoming the indisputable category leader, but to do that we needed to have a consumer-facing brand.”
So, ServiceMagic rebranded to HomeAdvisor and simultaneously launched a massive TV campaign. It was the first time the company had been on TV. “It was scary, but that TV spend has grown from the single-digit millions of dollars that first year to now over $100m in total TV spend,” Lowrie says. “We've been able to do that and scale it efficiently and effectively over the past seven years.”
Lowrie thinks of her time at Angi Homeservices, what she calls an unprecedentedly longtenure, asbeing a journey through three different companies. ServiceMagic was phase one. The rebrand launched phase two. “It was a time of accelerating growth. We simultaneously launched a new brand new, a new logo, and a new business model and we started to spend significantly on marketing — the least of which was the television campaign. That was an extremely exciting time,” she says.
About two years ago, HomeAdvisor merged with its biggest competitor, Angie's List. “That was phase three, and an opportunity to start thinking about multiple brands, taking a portfolio approach to brand management and marketing,” Lowrie adds. “It was an interesting situation to go one day from thinking about Angie's List as our fiercest competitor and the brand we wanted to take down to then thinking about how we make this grow, and how we position both of our brands for maximum growth.”
Since then HomeAdvisor changed the parent company name to Angi Homeservices andacquired other brands and companies, including Handy. “It's become a really interesting change in how we think about branding and marketing in general — especially when you compare it to nine years ago, when we didn't want to think about brand at all. We didn't want to call it marketing. We just wanted to call it customer acquisition,” Lowrie says.
Testing the way to brand growth
Lowrie points out that Angi Homeservices isn’ta company that would just carve out a portion of its marketing budget to go build a brand. “The way we did it was methodically testing our way into marketing channels that had a bigger impact on long-term brand building,” she said, adding that “it's never been our go-to to say we'll just go spend money on brand and have no expectation for return. We manage every single penny of our marketing spend to a high level of performance.”
In making the shift to being more brand-focused, Lowrie and her team put significant rigor and discipline around how they tested their way into new channels. “That's something we continue to do today, even while we're marketing our brand at scale,” she says.
The marketing team uses everything from A/B testing to holdout testing to matched-market testing. For example, they user longer range matched-market testing for new TV budgets or tactics and test new creative through a combination of focus groups, surveys and in-market testing, “You name it, we do it. We have to apply the right test methodology to whatever the problem is that we're trying to solve. We are a very, very rigorous test-and-learn culture. We make decisions with data, and the best way to do that is to test,” Lowrie says.
Rethinking the competition
In the early days, HomeAdvisor focused squarely on competing and winning within the online segment of the home services category. “We ultimately put so much pressure on Angie's List that we were able to acquire them. But as we were coming out of that merger, we started to realize that the much bigger prize — and the key to winning in home services — was shifting consumer behavior away from word of mouth to an online service,” Lowrie says.
So, instead of trying to steal share from each other, as they had pre-merger, she says, “we've shifted the positioning of our HomeAdvisor brand more squarely against word of mouth. We've had a whole marketing campaign that focuses on why asking HomeAdvisor for help is much better than asking your neighbor for help, for example.
“For Angie's List, we talk about how it's great to ask your neighbors for a recommendation, but once they give you a recommendation, make sure you check it out on Angie's List. Angie's List is the ultimate compliment to word of mouth, where, rather than asking one neighbor for one opinion, why not ask an entire neighborhood? It's the concept of word of mouth at scale.”
As Lowrie and her team think about media and marketing channels, they look to identify where these home services–related conversations are happening online; for instance, on Facebook or Nextdoor. “We are looking for organic ways to insert HomeAdvisor and Angie's List into the conversations that are already happening,” she says.
This is online engagement is especially important given that the demographic of new homeowners is changing. “We're starting to see millennials become the largest segment of new homeowners,” Lowrie says. “This is an extremely digitally savvy generation who have expectations that are typically mobile first around how to engage with brands. There's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't be able to find a plumber or an electrician or a handyman through an app.”
That’s led Angi Homeservices to make much larger investments in driving mobile activity, particularly through its apps — not just because Lowrie and her team think that that's the way consumers prefer to engage, but also because when they can convert someone to download one of their apps, they see much higher value from those consumers in the long-term.
Double the brands, double the work
When HomeAdvisor acquired Angie’s List, Lowrie and her team’s responsibilities, and workload, doubled virtually overnight. Lowrie took up running at 5:30 a.m. to give herself time to think and get her day set up in her head. She gave her staff the support they needed, as well. “I made sure that we had the right talent on the right teams. In some cases that meant taking a risk and making changes to our existing teams to put talented up-and-comers in bigger roles, which as I see it, has worked out beautifully,” she says.
“But it also meant augmenting our team with outsiders who are experts…. Based on the growth of Denver and the growth of our company, we’ve been able to attract some really talented people to come work for us.”
Six areas report into Lowrie:
- offline media – the team buying and planning and analyzing television and radio spend
- digital marketing – the team focused on search, display, content, and the like
- email and CRM – the team focused on engaging the company’s best customers
- brand marketing – the team focused on brand strategy and creative production
- creative – the team of visual designers and content producers that are designing everything from the websites to elements of the brands’ marketing
- business development – the team that looks for new partnerships and ways to acquire new customers for HomeAdvisor and Angie's List
“Beyond that, we work with a variety of agencies that don't technically report to me, but are managed by my team,” she says.
Those teams have contributed greatly to the business. “Marketing has been a primary growth driver,” Lowrie says. “We don't view marketing as a necessary evil here. Everyone from the product and technology teams to the finance teams is looking for ways to spend more on marketing because we know it’s critical to our growth.”
And growth is job one.
So, to ensure that growth continues over the long term, Lowrie and her team will double down on chAnging the dynamics of how consumers engage with their online services, she says. They’ll continue to focus on shifting behavior from word of mouth to HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List and Handy. They’ll continue to diversify their marketing portfolio to reach new consumers —whether through identifying net new channels or getting more from established ones such as television advertising. “Beyond that, it's how do we get our existing customers to come back and use us more and more frequently,” she says.
“The average homeowner does six to eight projects a year. And we don't get all of those right now. But our goal is to get all of those projects, and then provide an experience and a product that makes it so easy to get home services that we actually move that six to eight projects to somewhere closer to 10 to 12.”
Lofty goals to build on — but with her experience in both branding and performance marketing, a talented team, and organization-wide support for marketing, Lowrie has the tools to do it.