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Essence on how it helped BT transform its approach to paid media

Historically, BT focussed on net adds, growing market share and valuing each sale as equal

Essence won the ‘Most Effective Use of Paid Search’ category at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2021. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveal the secrets of this successful project...

The challenge

The internet service provider (ISP) market appeared, at first glance, to be buoyant heading into 2021. While it had been impacted by the rolling lockdowns caused by Covid in 2020 there were clear signs of growing demand for reliable broadband services supporting a future of hybrid working, evidenced by the highest forecasted subscriber volumes (net adds) in over two years.

However, nearly all ISPs saw (and were forecasting) a decline in ARPU over the same period. Additionally, BT was in the middle of rolling out its premium broadband package – fiber to the premises (FTTP) – as part of an astronomical infrastructure project.

Historically, BT focused on net adds, growing market share and valuing each sale as equal. Pushing potential subscribers towards premium offerings was a task performed by the marketing/communication teams. For example, by communicating offers on high value products (FTTP) and expecting to see a proportional increase in sales. But BT cannot solely target messages towards the premium end of the market in this manner as it risks alienating its other customers. BT is in half of UK homes, its customer base is extremely broad across all demographics and social groupings.

We needed to find a means of improving ARPU without drastically changing the communications plan and achieve our objective to capitalize on the opportunity of net adds growth with a meaningful ARPU boost and FTTP uptake, bucking the forecasted trend of declining ARPU.

The strategy

We worked hand-in-hand with BT’s digital onsite specialists to support the design of a new data layer across bt.com e-commerce pages (order journeys) to improve the quantity and quality of data captured for each purchase. This data enrichment process took us from an understanding of the product being sold to truly capturing the final contract value of each sale up to and including upfront fees and even costs incurred by the business.

We designed and ran strict split tests to prove the viability of bidding towards customer ARPU (tROAS bidding) versus the legacy bidding towards conversion volume strategies (tCPA bidding).

It ensured a completely fair test, removing external factors out of our control such as seasonality, demand and competitors.

The activation

Once value was fed back to our bidding platforms (via the newly created data layer), the Essence PPC team leveraged real-time bidding algorithms to ensure a wide array of user contexts were factored into each bid.

Allowing the algorithms to coupling our value data with use context including: device, time of day, demographic, audiences and average order value.

tROAS bid strategies would bid towards higher-value customers who took out more expensive broadband packages to increase ROAS and revenue for the same media cost. Whereas the tCPA bid strategies, which did not take value into account, optimized towards industry standard volume.

The results

The result was a truly transformative business result, which reshaped how BT thinks about the channel and paid media generally.

By feeding value data into our systems, we were able to meet our challenge of driving an increase in profitability and revenue for the business with no increase in media cost.

The success of the test has paved the way to scale the new approach to other digital demand generation channels and unlocking even greater revenue for BT.

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2021. Find out which of The Drum Awards are currently open for entry.

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