“When you look at self-storage companies, most of them are still using old business models,” Gottfried says. “Think of the oldest-school, least-innovative marketing imaginable, and that’s what the self-storage industry is doing.”
When an entire industry is behind the times, it’s hard for the few innovative companies in that space to get recognized for being different.
But MyPorter’s model was different. And the challenge was to make sure people knew it.
Taking the “self” out of “self-storage”
MyPorter offers an on-demand, full-service approach to self-storage. First customers enter their needs into an intuitive online interface; then MyPorter employees arrive at your location, pack your belongings, and put them in storage. When you need something back, they deliver it to your home.
“Think of it as the ‘Uberization’ of self-storage,” Gottfried says of the company, which is modeled to be customer-focused and responsive to how modern consumers use technology. “But from a marketing and growth standpoint, they didn’t know how to let people know they exist.”
The self-storage marketplace is crowded, and most people consider it a commodity. MyPorter needed to stand out and tell its story.
“For part of our competitive analysis, we looked at other companies that worked in the ‘Uberized’ service categories — companies that offered all-in-one services — to see how people were discovering them,” Gottfried says. “One of the keys to our approach was to create multiple competitive segments and to analyze how they attracted customers.”
This analysis turned up an opportunity. Eastmont Group identified college kids as a big market segment for MyPorter. “They move at least once a year, and after school they tend to stay in a transitional phase as they start careers,” Gottfried says. “They’re also a younger user base that appreciates a tech-savvy company.”
With this 1st key customer base identified, the next step was to reach them.
Divide and conquer
Eastmont Group knew that email could play a critical role in engaging and converting college students and new graduates. But first they had to build a list.
To do so, they went directly to apartment buildings and college campuses. “By partnering with the physical housing entities, and showing them that we had something of real value for their residents, we had their support in making contact with students,” Gottfried says. Those contacts, along with a public relations and brand announcement campaign, allowed them to develop their initial list.
As awareness of MyPorter’s services grew, traffic to the website did, too.
“That’s when the puzzle becomes identifying where people are in the buying process so that you can target them with what they actually need,” Gottfried says. Using Mailchimp, Eastmont Group divided users into 3 distinct categories based on online activity.
First there were the users who visited the site and did nothing. These were the window shoppers that needed a storage solution but hadn’t decided on a company. The emails they received were more generally informative, making the case for MyPorter’s services.
The 2nd group had made selections online, such as picking out storage units and bins, but not completed a transaction. For these users, it was time to up the incentive with emails advertising special discounts and coupons.
And finally, the 3rd group of users were those who had made a purchase. For these customers, the challenge was to create content that would nurture an ongoing relationship.
“Automate when you can.”
As a relatively new company, MyPorter kept plenty busy just handling day-to-day operations. Little time was left for the sometimes tedious work of marketing — which is why automation became a key component of the plan.
“Automation really allowed them to focus on other aspect of the business, while trusting that customers weren’t slipping through the cracks,” Gottfried says. “That’s why our philosophy is to automate when you can. If a user behavior can trigger a targeted email, that gives you the ability to stay in touch with your audience without having to email each person individually.”
In the case of the 3 user categories, the emails they received were triggered using Mailchimp’s automation tools.
Of course, automation must be handled with care — otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming spam. To make sure that didn’t happen, Gottfried and his team performed extensive testing in the position of the customer.
“We put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, basically to the point of role-playing,” Gottfried says. “We signed up online, inventoried stuff to be picked up, and went through the process as many ways as we could think of to find anything that would make a customer unhappy.”
“You have to take a hard, unbiased look at everything you’re doing and allow yourself to make fair and honest assessments. If something’s not working, you don’t take it personally. You make it better.”
Growing the funnel
The result of Eastmont Group’s research and testing was a relevant, engaging campaign that introduced a young generation to a new approach to self-storage. And by segmenting that audience early on, Eastmont Group was able to grow each group throughout the campaign.
“By having our strategy in place at the beginning, we could look at how we interacted with customers to find ways to widen the funnel at each level,” Gottfried says. In practice, that meant working closely with MyPorter to ensure everyone was on the same page — and that customer-facing messages aligned with the company’s services and operations.
“The regular testing ensured we knew what the customer was experiencing and how it connected back to everything else,” Gottfried says.
In the end, it helped MyPorter reach a new audience and boost its site interactions.
“A lot of times with email marketing, you get very focused on messaging that says, ‘Buy now! Buy now!’ But this was a very different kind of campaign,” Gottfried says. “The mission here was to introduce the brand and its services and to create steady engagement with our audience. We were able to do that very successfully.”
3 tips for better competitive analysis
Some of Eastmont Group’s best insights came from clever competitive analysis. Here are 3 tips you can put into practice the next time you’re looking over the competition’s shoulder.
1. Study the dinosaurs. “We studied competitors using old business models because we wanted to understand how their customers found them,” Gottfried says. “Are those models ideal? No, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working.” If you want to beat a company that insists on buying newspaper ads, you’d better understand why those ads work for their audience.
2. Look sideways. MyPorter’s full-service approach is fairly unique in the marketplace, which made a proper competitive analysis difficult. So instead of sticking to self-storage, Gottfried looked elsewhere. “There are other businesses using similar models for other industries.” This led to the breakthrough that helped Eastmont Group identify a new audience.
3. Compare apples and oranges (and persimmons and strawberries). When performing a competitive analysis, it’s OK to study a market that doesn’t quite resemble your own. “When we did our analysis, we looked at a lot of companies that did something similar but were based in very dense areas,” Gottfried says. “The markets weren’t identical, but we could still learn from what companies were doing in cities like New York or Chicago.” Just know what the variables are, and how they could affect your marketing decisions.
Illustrations by Sarah Neuburger.