Marketing for Marketplaces

“We want to be the Uber for [Insert Industry Name Here]”.

A sentence I hear A LOT.

Marketplace apps that support the gig economy (think Deliveroo, Laundrapp, TaskRabbit and my last full time gig, blow LTD) have exploded in recent years, with an app supporting pretty much every industry out there.

The biggest challenge? Driving marketing to support both ‘sides’ of the marketplace (or in some cases ‘all’ sides of the marketplace).

Marketplaces are a notoriously challenging business to scale, as they operate much like a see-saw. Drive too much supply before you have the demand and you have an unhappy workforce, drive the demand before you have the supply and you have an unhappy customer.

Marketplace apps

No matter what industry you are in, the challenges seem to be pretty universal.

Here are some tips on how marketing can support your marketplace business:

  • What is your ‘supply’ going to use you for?
    Have a sense of what makes your supply tick - what are they going to be joining your marketplace for: Is it more business?

    To be their main source of income?
    To support their base level of turnover?
    To drive utilisation in quiet periods?

    Be realistic with what they will use you for (it probably isn’t to be available at your beck and call), and if you can, try to do some qualitative research first.

  • Plan for how you will retain your supply before you drive demand
    Now you’ve thought about what makes them tick and how they will interact with you, then think about what would motivate them to stay.

    What does your competition - direct and indirect - do to support their supply? What motivates different segments of your supply (will they act the same or differently if there are different ways they will interact with you)?

  • Are you selling to businesses or consumers?
    If your product involves businesses as either the supply side or demand side, who are the decision makers in the business and where will they spend their time to consider an app or technology like yours?

    What will make them stop in their tracks and consider giving you a go? What hurdles will they have to overcome to try you out - and do traditional B2B marketing channels work, or should you consider a cross-discipline approach?

  • Where do your audiences spend their time?
    Consider where your audiences ‘live’, are they early tech adopters or spend their time offline?

    Often it’s easy in tech led businesses to think that everyone spends their time on relatively niche platforms to discover new technology like Product Hunt or Tech Crunch (as fantastic as they are).

    Step into the shoes of your audience. Where do they live? How do they get to work? What Social Media do they interact with? What other apps will they use? How much time do they have to interact with emails and texts and phone calls? This is the best starting point!

  • Test, fail and learn

    A multi-sided marketplace involves many many channels to try and get right. Don’t try them all as you’ll end up trying to do too much poorly.

    Map out the point above and select a small segment or budget to trial and learn, and think about what it is you are trying to learn.

    Is it the message, the channel, the timing, the delivery, the price, the proposition? Work it out, write it down and record what you learn.

    As much as possible get your site and conversion funnel tracked so you can measure what’s happening under the hood and work out where people can ‘fall off’ the funnel, so you can iterate and change.

    It might be that the app or website isn’t clear enough when you get people on site, or the form is too long. There are plenty of conversion optimisation programmes to help (for a fee), but to start with Google Tag Manager is enough to get you started.

  • Call in the professionals.

    Yes this is a little bit of a shameless plug, but something I see a lot, senior management teams get distracted with executing digital campaigns (possibly the most expensive use of your precious time) or an intern to deliver an in depth marketing strategy straight off the bat.

    A little help from an experienced senior marketer will help with clarity, priorities and what can be outsourced. With a huge Freelance workforce available now, you don’t need to pay out for huge full time salaries when your campaigns and business doesn’t need it yet, and if you have a decent network you might be able to call on some advice (at least in the early days) for free.

    Someone who knows what they are doing will deliver more value to your business (and can coach internal teams if needed), to minimise precious budget wasteage!

  • Don’t do just digital
    Once you’ve got started and learned a lot from an early testing approach, you’ll probably have a bit of data on who your customers are and what makes them tick. While you do this, consider offline marketing methods that might encourage them to either stick with you, refer their friends and family or simply discover you for the first time.

    Advertising placements like Car Wraps, Bus Stops, Tube Advertising Print Advertising (in the right publication) and Radio are relatively low cost and drive huge results in a short period of time.

  • Beware of the copycat marketing approach

    What works for one market leader in one industry is not the cookie-cutter solution for all.

    The blogs and whitepapers out there that tell you how a certain business “drove XX growth using this simple method” are great for inspiration, certainly, but marketing your business to your audience isn’t so simple as a Copy + Paste marketing strategy.

Marketplaces require discipline and structure to support growth, often the lines between Ops and Marketing can be blurred but with clear roles and responsibilities the outcome can be fantastic.

Beware however of aligning yourself too closely with the likes of some larger “Unicorn” marketplace apps that have been in the news lately for less than favourable reasons!