Posted: Tue 2nd May 2017
Serial entrepreneur Andy Pearce knows a thing or two about growing a business having exited Inkfish Call Centres for Â£12m and helped grow phone conferencing business Powwownow to a Â£14m turnover operation before it was sold for Â£37.5m.
His latest venture is Thortful which connects independent creatives with consumers looking for greeting cards online. The company has embraced social media and carries out in depth monitoring of customer buying habits to deliver content that is timely and relevant.
Ahead of speaking at the Go and Grow Online Summit in London on 26 May, Pearce explains the marketing strategy behind his latest company.
The Go and Grow Online Summit is the must-attend digital event of the year with tips on building your digital strategy and topics including social media, working in the cloud, SEO and e-commerce. Book your ticket here.
How did you come up with the idea for Thortful and turn that idea into an actual business?
I was frustrated by the current online card offerings, consisting mainly of highly personalised cards, and otherwise poor content along with the fact that still only about 5% of a Â£1.6bn market is cards purchased online. I felt this market was ready for some disruption.
What start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
The key challenges with building a marketplace is you need to acquire content before you can bring customers to our site. Building the content that we believed would allow customers enough choice was the first challenge and that took us about nine months and is continuing to this day.
The the challenge was growing a customer base with a low margin product. We worked hard to build viral growth into the user experience and get people to talk about our service.
The other key challenge is to try to increase the basket value of each order
We also thought that we could build the business using just social media and spent six months realising that was not the case. In hindsight you cannot build and sell through social media without a substantial following on your relevant channels.
How do you ensure an effective user experience on your website and what's your advice to other online entrepreneurs?
One of the issues we first spotted with the current online offerings was the time it took to find, personalise and send a card; taking upwards of 15 minutes on average.
Our key objectives when building the site was to make it as easy to navigate to the right card as quickly as possible and then check out. This is something we are continuing to work on improving but is also challenging when you are trying to increase basket value and upset add on on the way.
Out current time on site to checkout is four mins 30 seconds.
What digital marketing lessons that you learnt with your previous businesses have you applied to Thortful?
Once we'd got over the social media blip in our early days, we set out to build the business using per-per-click (PPC).
I've always found that testing your adverts with long tail keywords gives you loads of bearings before roughing loads of money into Adwords. When we launched in June 2016 our Adwords cost per conversion was Â£26 it is now running at below Â£6
We tested banner advertising but as yet we've not made that successful
How do you use social media to engage with customers and designers?
Facebook is the social media platform we've used to build our business. It's where customers go to see what there friends and family are doing and therefore is ideal for a card company.
Over the last six months we've seen our Facebook following grow by 600% to 23,000.
We use Facebook to target all customers that have visited our website, retarget based on what they have previously brought and even basket retargeting has worked here for us.
Facebook is also great for us as we have cards for many different occasions and interests. We can highly target interest groups within our demographic to increase conversions.
It's also perfect for app downloads delivering us a download as less than Â£1.60 per download.
Instagram is something we have only just started pushing. We see this as a brand engagement tool rather than a sales tool as yet something we cannot make cost effective.
Forget Twitter. For our business the stream runs too quickly and the audience targeting is not accurate enough.
What do you think are the main challenges in building a strong visual brand online?
There's no silver bullet to building a brand online.
The challenge is how you connect with your customers emotionally on that first transaction. They've seen an advert on Google and want to buy a card, but at what stage is there a true connection to Thortful?
We've all done it; bought something and not realised who we've brought from. Yes they've got a great card. but have they connected to the brand throughout the purchasing process?
What are your plans for the future of Thortful?
To be the go to place to buy greeting cards online firstly in the UK and then the US and Australia.
We have to change the customer's perception of buying cards online from what they currently see as a highly personalised poor offering from Moonpig and Funky Pigeon.
It's a massive market and buying cards online will become the normal. We hope that with having a constantly changing card base and unique content that retailers don't have will stand us out from the crowd.
We already have the largest online database of cards in the UK and only see that growing.
The Go and Grow Online Summit is the must-attend digital event of the year with top tips on how to build your digital strategy on topics including social media, working in the cloud, SEO and e-commerce. Find out more here and buy a ticket below.