Driving early demand- How we did it
Updated: Jun 5
Understanding who your customers are and how they interact with your platform is the only way to drive demand and increase the ROI on your ad spend. Without a clear understanding of these two, you are setting your company up for failure. At CarHopper, we followed a 3-step plan to unlock demand.
Reaching out to our users
To understand who our customers really were, we first reached out to them and initiated a friendly conversation:
If a customer wrote back, we would immediately follow up and ask to jump on a 15 minute call to interview them in exchange of a discount code for their next rental. We usually asked them the following questions:
How did you first come across CarHopper? Was it on Google, Social Media, word-of-mouth, or some other way?
When did you first come across CarHopper? How many days ahead of your actual booking and reservation start date was it?
What were the other companies that you considered using?
What were the factors that were most important to you before deciding which platform to use? In other words, what set us apart? Was it reviews from other users? Rates? Branding? Ease-of-use?
How long did the booking process take you? Did you book right away, or did you have to take your time to talk to other people to make a final decision? Tell me more about the decision-making process?
Did you contact our support team before booking? If so, why? What could have been made clearer online to accelerate your decision-making?
Once you paid for your booking, did you have any fears? If so, what were they?
How was the pick-up process? What could be improved?
How was the support you received during your reservation? What could be improved?
How was the drop-off process? What could be improved?
We generally tried breaking the interviews into 3 parts which consisted of:
Tracking visitor & customer behavior
Although Google Analytics and Mixpanel were implemented from the get-go, we didn’t get to analyze the data until we had enough legitimate (people actually interested in renting a car- not including traffic from friends and family) visitors. The ability to properly track our users’ behavior on the platform allowed us to find bottlenecks and improve onsite conversions. For example, we realized very early on that asking site visitors to sign-up before allowing them to proceed to checkout was one of the reasons we weren’t initially getting as many bookings we were hoping. Once we removed the sign-up box we noticed an uptick in bookings.
We also analyzed the data of our paying customers. We were able to determine:
Payment method of preference (debit vs. credit)
Time between date signed up and date a booking was made
Time between the date a booking was made and the reservation start date
Once we were done interviewing our customers and analyzing our audience data (visitors and customers), we realized that most reservation start dates coincided with holidays or weekends. This made us realize that contrary to our initial assumption that we were a transportation & mobility company, we were actually a travel & leisure company. This changed our entire marketing strategy.
Understanding the customer journey
Our reservations reports indicated that the average time between an online booking and a reservation start date was 19 days. Additionally, our tracking reports indicated that the average time between a signup (or subscription to our mailing list, whichever came first) and an online booking was 7 days; bringing the average customer journey on CarHopper to 26 days. But what about before CarHopper? Surely, our customers started envisioning what their upcoming trip would look like before coming across CarHopper?
We used a framework designed by Google which defined the different stages of travel based on search queries for destinations and things to do. We discovered 4 key stages of travel:
1- Dreaming: When people start to think about their vacation and where they should go (e.g. “where to travel this summer”)
2- Planning: Focus shifts to searching for flights & destinations (e.g. “road trip ideas when in Florida” or “rent a convertible in Miami”)
3- Booking: Tactical queries tied to accommodations, transportation, and activities in a specific destination.
4- Kick-off: Going on the trip
As per Google Search in 2017, “dreaming” spiked towards the end of the year, decreased in mid-Q1 and into Q2, then queries rebounded as the summer travel window approached in late May.
As per Google Search in 2017, “planning” spiked in February and March (following the “dreaming” spike in December and January). The greatest volume of planning queries occurred between May and August:
Finding the patterns
Once we understood who our primary audience (visitors and customers) was and what their journey was like, we were able to target them more effectively:
Most of our users were travelers, not local commuters --> Conclusion: Changed messaging & excluded locals in ads
Most of our users were males, and our female customers were predominantly booking a fun car to surprise their husbands --> Conclusion: Targeted mostly males
Most of our customers were Generation Xers --> Conclusion: Learned shopping habits (e.g. driven by information such as reviews, articles etc.)
Most of our customers were paying for their bookings with their American Express --> Conclusion: Learned Amex cardholders’ profile (income, occupation, net worth etc.)
- Dreaming: December, January, and late May
- Planning: Planning window from initial search to accommodation booking is 4-12 weeks
- Booking: 26 days prior to kick-off
- Kick-off: Day of reservation start
By analyzing the search volume of keyword categories in tandem with our first party data, we were able to understand who our primary customers were and what their entire journey (both onsite and offsite) looked like. This allowed us to shape our product better to match our customers’ needs, find opportunity windows throughout the year to reach them with relevant messaging, and come up with an efficient marketing strategy to drive early demand.