Matthew Miller
May 31, 2017

How PropertyGuru is bringing science to brand advertising

Working with PHD, the online real-estate giant is building an evidence-based method for optimising its investments in brand-building.

Bjorn Sprengers
Bjorn Sprengers

In early May, PropertyGuru Group appointed PHD as its media agency of record in Southeast Asia following a four-way pitch. A big part of the choice, according to PropertyGuru Group CMO Bjorn Sprengers: PHD was willing to go all-in on a new approach to making brand-building investments based on evidence instead of “hope”.

A joint announcement by the two companies went relatively unnoticed, but what the partners are working on warrants a closer look because it seeks to address “principles baked into the industry that are structurally not allowing CMOs to meet their objectives”, Sprengers told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Those issues will be familiar to many marketers. Ideally a CMO would like to have ‘always-on’ brand visibility, but that’s not usually possible because of limited budgets. So companies run brand advertising in spurts, which means they’re alternately overexposing and then underexposing the brand to the potential universe of customers.

That cyclical nature makes it difficult if not impossible to know what channels impact brand awareness most strongly, because measurement also happens in intervals. In turn, this means media-agency partners don’t have the correct incentives, because there’s really no way to tie their compensation to actual performance. Finally, for most companies, performance marketing and brand marketing are separate budgets, and denizens of the C-suite tend to look upon the former as clearly demonstrating ROI, while they view the latter with suspicion.

PropertyGuru and PHD call their effort to address all this “a bespoke econometric BEAM (Brand Equity Attribution Model)”. In plainer language, the partners have set out to:

  1. Measure brand equity on a constant basis.
  2. Plan and execute media-plan experiments designed to move the brand-equity needle.
  3. Based on those results, use quantitative techniques to prove “causalities in spend” and perfect the most effective media mix.

The brand-awareness metric of choice is BQI (branded query index), which is simply a measurement of how often “PropertyGuru” appears as a keyword, relative to its competitors, in searches that contain any of the brand names (or permutations thereof). Higher BQI means more people are searching for the group's sites by name, which indicates higher brand awareness.

“The BEAM statistical model takes data on the lagging KPI of BQI and correlates this to leading KPIs such as channel reach, ad stocks and competitive spends,” Sprengers said. “By so doing, we can build a regression model that becomes better and better at 'advising' how much we should invest per channel and what combination of channels is most effective.” This leads to higher ROI on the marketing spend and the ability to fine-tune brand investments per market.

PropertyGuru's marketing model (left) and sample of regression modeling (right)

Ultimately the more people that are aware of the brand, the more people get pulled into PropertyGuru’s robust, programmatic-driven performance-marketing funnel, which includes targeting and retargeting those who have taken some action, such as visiting a PropertyGuru site or a competing site. In the average month, PropertyGuru sees 17 million property seekers through its many portals and handles more than 700,000 sales enquiries.   

“The direct focus of BEAM is to drive brand equity or 'up-funnel’ performance,” Sprengers said. “It does so by helping us define what media channels and combinations thereof are the proven drivers of BQI. In addition to that, BEAM creates audience pools that the online marketing team leverages for 'down-funnel’ retargeting. In that way, we are effectively creating a new traffic channel for the online team, and we are connecting branding and performance budgets.”

PropertyGuru has one full-time person working on BEAM alongside a team at PHD. The first experiments are happening now, and Sprengers expects real results from the statistical modeling in September, after which the partners will continue to tweak and optimise the model. 

An example of the company's brand marketing creative.

PHD has ‘skin in the game’, as its compensation is tied to performance. WanGyn Ang, MD of PHD Singapore, said that said the PHD team members, who also work with other clients, are enjoying the unusual and deterministic nature of the work. While PHD won’t be able to use BEAM per se with other clients, the experience is adding to the team’s knowledge.

Sprengers said his past dealings with other agencies have not been gratifying because he most often found himself talking to client-engagement people. “I wanted a much higher-velocity conversation, like I can have with my in-house performance marketing team,” he said. “Many agencies may see the idea of such a model, but are not able to align their ways of working with that concept.”

In fact, the CMO made access to the agency’s analytics resources a requirement of the pitch. “We wanted to meet them and hear from them directly how we could make this new model work, and if our assumptions on that were valid,” he said.

Ideally, Sprengers added, the creative content of ads would also become a variable in BEAM experiments. “Ideally I would have a creative agency join the equation, and we would optimise that as well,” he said. “But I'm taking it step by step.”

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