Feature

Purplebricks CEO on using less ‘commisery’ and more data to boost its brand creds

Armed with lessons from MoneySupermarket and LastMinute.com, Purplebricks chief executive is on a mission to grow the brand's market share by tying it to local communities and investing in first-party data.

At less than six years old, bullish digital insurgent Purplebricks claims to command a 4.7% share of the UK residential estate agent market. Its slice of the online sector recently hit 70% too thanks to its fixed-fee format, coming out on top against its competitors.

As the business embarks on a mission to capture 10% of all home sales nationwide by 2023, however, chief executive Vic Darvey is spearheading a brand overhaul that seeks to drive “more credibility and trust” for the firm.

At the same time, the ex-chief operating officer for LastMinute.com and MoneySuperMarket is leveraging his digital expertise to bake data into the core of the UK-based company’s marketing function.

The ongoing transformation follows a tough 12 months for the business, which has seen it shutter operations in major markets and come under fire over claims it manipulated Trustpilot reviews (reports it strongly refuted).

Darvey’ says his ultimate goal is to “bring more transparency” to the all too often exasperating experience that is buying (or selling) a home. Here, he tells The Drum about his blueprint to safeguard the businesses’ future.

Competing on the 'virtual high street'

Stepping into the seat left vacant by founder and global chief exec Michael Bruce, Darvey has been at the helm at Purplebricks since May 2019.

When the boss took the wheel, the brand’s pre-tax losses accounted to £56m owing to rapid expansion the US and Australia. Darvey led an exit from both regions in the months following his appointment, deciding instead to focus on the UK and Canada, slashing losses to £14.1m as a result.

Though the group’s financials are looking up, even Darvey recognises there is work to be done when it comes to driving more awareness around the services the purple-hued disruptor offers and pushing its more human side in a “category fuelled by social advocacy”.

“We’re seen as a frontrunner in the tech space, but we also need to establish ourselves on the virtual high street and in communities,” he explains.

Purplebricks joined Netflix, Apple and Amazon on the Superbrand index last year, a sure sign it’s gaining relevance as a household name. 40% of its customers now use its app, which allows both buyers and sellers to book viewings, ask questions and make offers directly.

Until this year, the brand’s marketing has been focused on ‘Commisery’, a humourous campaign from Snap LDN urging home sellers to save themselves from the with traditional estate agents.

Though this work has been successful, the brand is still at odds to communicate the fact it’s not a pure digital player. It wants to showcase the fact it’s got 600 self-employed property experts on the ground, who can help it compete with rivals that have a local presence by offering pre, during and post-sale support.

So, to communicate this and move away from price-based marketing it has become the ‘official estate agent’ of Team GB ahead of the Tokyo 2020 games – an initiative being led by chief marketing officer Ed Hughes (a Compare the Market alumni himself).

As well as showing support for the athletes by turning its ‘sold’ boards to special ‘gold’ versions, the brand has also invested in its biggest ever ad campaign to push the partnership. Fronted by Olympic medalists like Laura Kenny and Bianca Walkden, the TV spots feature Alice, a Purplebricks estate agent who tries (and fails) to draw parallels between her job and theirs.

“It’s probably the most important association we’ve had for some time,” says Darvey, though he declines to say how much the brand has invested in the deal.

Using data in 'a completely different way

What he will say, is that the brand isn’t seeing a “huge upweight” in media spend because it has instead doubled the size of its digital marketing team to extract better value from the data it already has.

“We're playing catch up on the first-party data piece, we’ve made loads of progress in the last six months or so,” he adds, saying the business has invested £6m in its digital product and technology arm.

“We’re starting to use data in a completely different way now, and that’s coming through in the way we’re presenting ourselves online but also in the moments that matter in the customer journey,” Darvey asserts, saying it can now better target customers at any stage in the home-buying process (which takes an average of two years).

Purplebricks ’ digital marketing division sits alongside its data science and digital product team; a physical placement which has led to the business changing its processes around data from a “cultural perspective” as well as a strategic one.

The exec believes his business is uniquely positioned to use the information gleaned via its site and its app to create an experience that “can’t be replicated on the high street.” It’s also started toying with voice in the form of an Alexa skill; an investment will also be used to hone the customer experience.

“What we’re moving towards will be more akin to providing the experiences you see in other categories. If you look at the likes of entertainment, Netflix is among those using much deeper personalisation powered by AI, for retail it’s Amazon Recommends.

“This personalisation is prevalent in all other categories and it has fundamentally changed the way people buy and sell goods.

“Estate agents are miles behind. When we started to see generation digital getting onto the housing ladder their expectations are going to be completely different. You can’t send them a conveyancing pack in the post and tell them to fill it in – the whole process is going to be online.”

In five years’ time, the exec envisions a marketplace where Purplebricks will use data from buyers’ credit report to pre-approve mortgage options. It’ll also have the ability to tell sellers how many potential buyers are in the market for a home like theirs, increasing the likelihood of a transaction occurring off-market. Augmented reality will help them view houses too, helping customers decide whether a physical viewing is needed.

Of course, there will be room for brand tie-ups and third-party integration within all this.

“For now we’re focused on our core business of buying and selling homes… but consumer expectations are going to evolve, fuelled by technology like 5G. It will be instantaneous and we have to be at the forefront of that,” Darvey says.

“Our main mission is to help families save money when they move home,” he continues, saying the next step is then to offer them recommendations on broadband and energy suppliers.

“That could even extend to the connected home in five years’ time, to the point where you’re sitting at home one day and there’s a panel with a Purplebricks logo on it, controlling all of your bills. We’re not saying we’re going to do that, but we have the credibility to get there.”

With a history in price comparison, he rightly points out that the piece of data these aggregators are missing is the move-in date of new homeowners.

“We’re in the unique position of knowing that, so then we can start having relevant conversations with customers about bills and so on.”

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