Growth in the regional classified market

Author: Claudia Nessler, Head of Classified Portals at Russmedia Digital, Austria

At this year’s ICMA Spring Conference 2016, I had the opportunity to give a brief presentation about current challenges in Russmedia’s Austrian classified business, and our ideas for growth that go along with that. For those who couldn’t make it there, I am happy to share here some of the main thoughts.

Classified portals might basically work more or less the same, no matter where they operate, but regional markets indeed are unique in some aspects. In Vorarlberg – the small province in the most western part of Austria – Russmedia benefits from the fact that the market is rather small and it’s easy to get in touch with the audience. On the other hand, regional businesses, which are competing with national or even international players, sometimes have a hard time when the big ones pull out their marketing plans.

The Austrian classified business of Russmedia Digital is more or less tied to Vorarlberg, and it is also the home-market of Russmedia, where the company’s history started more than 100 years ago with a local book-printing plant (for more information on the company, check russmedia.com). Geographical and cultural aspects of this region provided the company with a very innovation-friendly climate, which was definitely supportive in growing the No. 1 regional job portal (ländlejob.at), the No. 1 regional realestate portal (ländleimmo.at) and the No. 1 regional general classified portal (ländleanzeiger.at). Those portals are market leading in terms of number of ads, revenue and reach, as far as comparable.

Now, what about competition? Indeed, pressure is coming from national players, as well as Facebook, Linkedin etc. No need to mention that those players have slightly more market power, since they are national/international/global, have other dimensions of marketing spend and since they are targeting the whole market, can use TV campaigns etc. to expand their reach, which is not really an efficient option for a regional-only player. On the other hand, one of the biggest advantages of the regional market is the level of personal contact with clients and customers, which is much more intense. And it’s much more fun than sending commercials on TV. Competing with much bigger players, Russmedia has managed to defend its home market successfully, and is still growing.

So is there anything, we do different than others companies? Well, there is no secret key to success I can share with you, but I can provide at least some insights in a few areas.

Technology, design and structure: In terms of technology, Russmedia relies on inhouse development. Synergies arise from the fact that identical platforms are used in Austria, Hungary and Romania and also for third-party clients.
Platforms are built with the latest technologies, UX is improved continuously and major redesigns take place every 2-3 years. Although design is not a killer argument (think about Craigslist), especially for vertical platforms there’s no way of having a worse user experience than your major competitor has. Owning the technology also provides more flexibility and faster changes.
In terms of structure, print and web teams are 100% separated. Product-teams are usually kept very small and project management happens across platforms, which enables small and efficient structures and therefore allows for cost optimization.

Relationship management – creating stages for clients: Meeting clients should not always be related to selling something to them. Like anyone else, clients love being honored, celebrated and to win prizes. Creating stages for clients is already kind of a tradition at Russmedia. Smaller activities like honoring the real estate-agent of the month can be executed rather easily and quickly. Moving this a level further, Russmedia initialized an own workplace study – representing one of the biggest surveys in the region – which honors 25 employers of any size on a yearly basis. Participation is free and any company (client or not) in the region can be nominated. The feedback from the market is extremely positive and the event even allows us to generate additional revenue for the job portal.

Product development – (re-) invent products and sell solutions: In a limited market, it is not easy to grow revenues from the core business itself. That’s why it is very important to launch additional products. There is an almost unlimited range of ideas to come up with. Classics like promoted or pre-listed ads go without mentioning. What works very well in the real estate portal ländleimmo.at for example pure image products, like premium profiles for agents, which allow agencies to present themselves in an extended way.
Further, keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Better act as a reseller of Google or Facebook ads, than wait till your clients buy directly there.
If a product is not successful, don’t be afraid to take it off the market again. Try to fit your client’s needs better with the next one.

Don’t believe everything you think: There’s a lot of common sense advice, one tends to forget in the day-to-day routine of doing business. The one I try to remember the most is “Don’t believe everything you think”, cause it is applicable to almost any situation. Have you ever assumed a feature on your platform is good or bad, but never asked a person who was really using it? Have you invented products nobody really wanted to buy? Have you done major changes on your platform and wondered later why conversions went down? Maybe you did not talk to users, or you did, but did not really listen. I was lucky enough to find my absolute super-user in one of the platforms and I can guarantee that this is the most useful source of information I could ever find. So watch out and find yours as well.

PS. For more insights into successful classified businesses, save the date of October 19th-21st. ICMA will be in Bern, Switzerland for another conference full of great inputs and networking.