Home Advisor: Engage And Re-Engage Customers By Being Genuinely Useful

For app marketers with a utility app, campaigns that build connection and demonstrate how their app provides genuinely useful assistance – when users need it most – are pure gold. Our host Peggy Anne Salz welcomes Cassandra Chernin- Senior Manager Digital Marketing, App & Display at HomeAdvisor,  the #1 home improvement marketplace connecting homeowners with home service contractors – to discuss the metrics and results you need to achieve when driving loyalty, not app installs,  is not the end-goal. Cassie, a Mobile Hero as chosen by Liftoff, a mobile app marketing and retargeting platform, also talks candidly about what marketers need to succeed and how they need to rethink their last-touch attribution model.


So, we have another Mobile Hero, and today I welcome to the show, Cassie Chernin, she is Senior Manager, Digital Marketing App Display at HomeAdvisor. 

First of all, this is an ongoing series; it’s one of our most popular – I’m always curious when I have Mobile Heroes on the show – why do you think they chose you to begin with?

That’s an interesting question, it’s something I had been thinking about myself.  I think when it comes down to it, HomeAdvisor, kind of like you mentioned, is a different kind of app, it’s a different experience and so I think I was chosen because we’ve been able to kind of approach the differences of our app in a great way and be able to optimise to what our internal goals are but also maintain use of simple apps, user acquisition best practices.  So, taking our own spin on a bunch of best practices knowing that not everything is going to work that works for us works for Candy Crush.

Yes, I mean it’s a different type of app, that’s what makes it so exciting as I do more and more of these shows, we’re getting more and more away from the whole idea that the install is the be all and end all.  We’ll get to that later in the show, but you are in charge of app and display, and that’s kind of an interesting title because, for me, it says it all because it says that, you know, it’s all the channels, it’s all the touch points – you’ve got app and display, online mobile app and you’re responsible for basically the whole journey, in a way.  Is that unique or challenging to be having to watch both of those areas?

For me it’s not unique, I come from a start-up background – although HomeAdvisor isn’t a start-up, it’s still a very small marketing team, and so we only started at HomeAdvisor doing digital marketing I would say in the last year, early last year, and so I think it is unique for kind of larger companies, but for a start-up and coming from that background, I’m used to having a hand in everything.  I think it gives me unique perspective and we’re able to use learnings from both sides of the business to drive performance.

We’ll get to that in a moment, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, it is about performance but, you know, your app – I just sort of did a broad brush on it but tell me a little bit about the app and the business model because this is, as I saw it, a marketplace and that means different goals, that means different approaches, different targets.  So, what does the app offer, first of all, and then we’ll talk about how it impacts those goals.

Yes, of course.  And so, I work on the consumer acquisition part of HomeAdvisor, so I work on getting people in to use the app in the site to find home pros.  A little background on HomeAdvisor – we’re the nation’s leading on-demand home service marketplace so what we do is we connect homeowners with our robust network of top quality service pros who can help with any home task.  The way I kind of put it says you’re new to an area, you don’t have friends and family that have your go-to service professional or your go-to plumber and your sink breaks.  It would be a lot of work for you to research all these different plumbers and find out who works and who doesn’t work and figure out pricing and understanding if you’re being duped regarding pricing because I don’t think a lot of people who need their sinks fixed know what needs to be fixed, so what we do is kind of eliminate that need for you to do a lot of work to find a service professional because we have, you know, over 160,000 service professionals nationwide that we can connect you with that are background checked, they have gone through our rigorous streaming programme, so we’re kind of able to use the app and the site to connect homeowners quite easily and pretty instantly to a service professional.

It’s kind of interesting because I think I have the privilege of interviewing you after an amazing milestone over there at HomeAdvisor, right?  You’ve been breaking out the champagne all week long, or you’ve just gone public?

Yes, we did have champagne, we merged with Angie’s List on Monday, and I can’t talk too much about what’s going to happen in the next couple of months, but it’s going to be a really exciting time for us.

It’s an interesting model because, and this is just by accident when we were chatting before the show – I was like, “isn’t this like just bringing together when you want to see is this a match for me?” and it’s like, yes, your heritage is very much in that area.  How does that come into play here?  Is it basically a lot of the same stuff because you bring people together who like each other, see if they have interests and here you bring people together to see if they fit together for jobs.

Yes, yes, I think you’re right – the fact that our parent company, IAC, our former parent company, IAC, was responsible for Match and all the apps in the dating area and so, yes, I think there’s learning that we’ve taken from working with Match to understand how to bring people together, work closely with actually another Mobile Hero that’s from Match to understand how he drives app installs and how he’s driving user acquisition in the app.  Because really what it comes down to, for both of our apps, it’s not just about the install, it’s about what people do in the app.

Absolutely, that’s actually hugely challenging because you have to watch, as I understand it, in your job, you’re watching acquisition and retention which incidentally is quite interesting because I’ve just seen a post recently on Medium which says that’s exactly what you need to be doing – all that thinking about just watching acquisition was not really on the mark because if retention isn’t paying out in the end as well, if your CPIs, your cost per install, to get them in and then your LTV, lifetime value, to keep them in, aren’t somehow in sync, then you’re out.  Is that what you’re learning as you optimise to these metrics?

Yes, exactly.  I think when I first started doing user acquisition for an app, it was all about how low can we get that CPI which I think is a learning that comes from the industry being dominated by gaming for a long time.  So, a lot of our partners are always still asking what CPI are you looking for?  And what we’re able to do is the model that we’ve put together that I do believe helps us drive high quality installs is look at not just installs but the in-app experience and what people are doing and then watching them over time.

And I’m just curious how long is that period because, again, unless you have a fixer-upper, I’m not going to be using HomeAdvisor all the time, so you have to watch me over time.  How long is that period for you?

Our lifetime value model is about a year.  We tend to see that a majority of your service requests are going to come in within the first year potentially because you’re in the mood to have a fixer upper because you just moved into a new home or you’re moving out of your home, so we keep it to a year is our preferred method.

Within that year, I mean, we’ll get to more of this in the second half when we deep dive, but I’m just curious within that year, you know, are you looking at specific events within that year that you are tied to?  One obviously is install, I guess the next one is register and then however it works.  What are some of the events that you’re really watching so closely to optimise the app journey and ultimately the quality of app users?

Yes, I think our first metric that we’re always watching is the service request, which is that form you fill out when you say “Hi, I need a plumber, and this is what I need it for” and that’s like our most important metric at all times.  We always want to be driving people to submit that service request.  And a difference with our lifetime value and the way HomeAdvisor works is that someone could install the app and not submit that service request for a number of months, so that’s why we were always watching – how many people are installing within the first month and submitting that service request and then over time, you know, are people coming back and submitting that first one again and then the other thing we look at is are people coming back and submitting multiples.

But what we do end up seeing is that a good percentage of people download the app and probably like it’s more a save for later kind of thing – it’s like, “Hey, this is a really cool idea, I don’t actually really need it now” and that’s kind of why we watch people over time is because we get a good percentage of people who are going to use us when they need us, but they like the idea of having the app as a resource.

I mean, we’ve created an app that can often be a resource for people, so we have a true cost guide which is a histogram look at all of the different projects to help people understand in their area what they should be paying for projects and we look at people interacting with that, we look at the audience – we have a number of metrics that we can kind of look and understand is this user engaged with HomeAdvisor?


Tell me a little bit about your approach because you have a different way of looking at your goal.  It’s not – your goal isn’t cost per install, you’re focused on engagement, and you talk about something that’s called the last touch focus – what is that?

Yes, so I think a lot of marketers would call it antiquated, but we call it our model that we use every day.  So, I run our display obviously, and so we only started doing app marketing about last May, but we had been doing display for a couple of months prior.  Everything we look at, at HomeAdvisor is on a last touch direct response model.  So, all of our other spend other than app is, you know, spend a dollar, drive that click, drive that service request in the same fashion.  There is no fancy attribution modelling that we do currently, there is no new throughs, there are no click windows, it’s just very straightforward regen marketing.

And I think the big kind of hurdle we had when we started doing app marketing was, Hey, there’s a couple more conversions in the funnel before someone submits that service request and so how do we approach that in a very similar way that we do online marketing but also understand that someone has to install and then submit a service request.

That’s interesting because in a sense, you have to wait until I use the app, but your advertising is focused on me having it in the moment that I need it.  So, I’d like to hear more about that because it’s one thing to say OK, install the app but you’re focused on getting someone who’s going to install it and be in that need state; I need someone to help me out with my home improvement project right now.  How do you do that, that’s pretty cool actually?

I won’t say it’s easy in any manner; I don’t say we’re brilliant at it, it’s very difficult, right?  To know when someone actually needs you is kind of like the big question of marketing but what we’ve done is we do a lot of contextual targeting, so people don’t tend to read about plumbing in their everyday time, so when they’re actually reading about plumbing, we want to be there and doing some of that contextual targeting, we do a bunch of audience targeting.  We know that homeowners are more likely to use us because someone who is renting an apartment has a landlord and he’s probably not taking care of all those home issues that we have. 

We know the new movers, which I mentioned, are a huge market for us as well as people moving out of their homes.  So, we’re able to use like audiences and contextual targeting to kind of try and find people in that space.  The other big thing we do is when we can’t do that because not every app partner we work with is like I have third-party data and I have all this information for you and they’re just like Hey, I can’t give you installs on the CPI – we make sure that our creative is really straightforward.

When you install this app, to say in a better way when you install this app we want you to submit a service request please and right away.

That’s pretty smart because that’s the point, there is a lot of great demographic data out there, there are tons of companies that have zipcode and local data, and it’s really about getting that right mix of data together and then using that to create an audience is what I hear here.  But there’s also a human element of it, the creatives, and from what I hear out there in the industry and other interviews, that is becoming very critical to get the tone right.  How do you communicate with your audience in a way that they want to be communicated with, and that’s the language, that’s the tone, that’s creatives.

No-one knows this one and, Cassie, if you did, you’d be retiring because you’ve written the book and then we would interview you at your villa, but seriously, you have to target a need state – how are you doing that with the creatives?  Give me a walkthrough of how you sort of thumbs up and thumbs down, and what works and doesn’t.

I mean, the main thing that we thumbs up and thumbs down on is data.  What it all comes back to is we test constantly, we’re consistently testing a majority of what we test is headlines, so what is the right CPA, what are the right headlines to get someone to understand what HomeAdvisor is very quickly, because, on a mobile phone, they have – I don’t know what the correct figure is but in my mind it’s like 0.1 seconds to understand what we’re doing and decide if they want to go back to reading the website that they’re on or go back to playing the game that they’re on.  And so, we’re A/B testing constantly to understand what the best driver is of in-app conversion.

And that’s the big thing, is like we’re not trying to understand what’s the best drivers of lowering that CPI, what we’re doing is looking at the data for each headline and creative back to that conversion.  We tend to use pretty direct response last touch marketing language, like spies and gets and download and we’ve found that being simpler at that moment tends to work better for us.

And how personal do you have to be or how cool do you have to be at that moment?  I remember a school of thought that said Call to action has been an action, so it makes sense to say download, get, look, whatever… but that tone, I mean, it’s a different type of audience – we come from so much app marketing and games that we think it’s like, Hey, what’s up – try out this or that.  But this is a little bit more serious.  Just curious how you get to that language.  Maybe give me some examples even.

Yes, let me see if I can quote some examples but really what it comes down to is, yes, HomeAdvisor is a little bit more serious, you’re looking for a professional, you’re looking for someone to come into your home and you want to be able to really trust that person and, so we don’t want to be that kind of like lackadaisical kind of copy where it’s like, we’re cool and funky and fresh – because we’re also not any of those things right now. 

We are a service, we provide you with an excellent, awesome experience to find service professionals, but we aren’t going to be sassy.  A lot of what we do is category-specific targeting, so a lot of what we do is straightforward, it’s like finding a local trusted home professional today.  I think the only kind of thing that we’ve seen working is potentially a kind of, in a not aggressive way – many people know that they should stop procrastinating on their home projects.  I think home projects are expensive, in generally, they’re more than you ever want to pay and so making sure that people – like using copy that drives… “Hey stop procrastinating and get your to-do list done today” and adding that urgency of like we can help you, and we can also help you get it done really, really fast.

Are there any particular – it sounds like it would be there were particular seasons also to market or to double down in marketing for your app – you’re thinking about the spring clean, the gardening in the summer, that kind of stuff – is that what works for you?  Do you target not only audiences but also sort of times of the year or certain occasions?

As of this year, we’ve done a ton of testing into seasonal trends drive app downloads because historically seasonal trends drive HomeAdvisor as a whole.  We have a weather – there’s a big snow storm on the east coast, it’s going to drive different tasks, you know.  Fence collapsing versus my pipe is breaking, and so we have seen seasonality as a huge part of our business, and right now we’re just dipping our toe into understanding that, but we do have certain messaging whether it’s around making sure your home is ready for winter with insulation and – I’m not a homeowner, so I could read you a list, but I’m not entirely sure.  But making sure your home is ready for winter, making sure you’re ready to have family over for Thanksgiving, and your home looks great, stuff like that.  We do some of that, but we obviously haven’t done a ton of it right now.

I’d like to hear more about these campaigns because we’re talking about engaging with people and obviously adding value in the middle there.  Before we go to a break, maybe just a quick thought on how you actually feel you add the most value because you are in the middle of that discussion, you’re enabling it, you’ve got the tone down, the language down… what do you do on top to just sort of make it that extra special pitch?

Oh, yes, is that how I add value or like how we add value as a creative.  I think I’m good at writing emails…

That’s good to know.  Well, it could be a little bit about how you do it because you have to be the person behind it, yes, tell me about how you add value?

I think the big thing is knowing really what the goals of the company are and working with other people in the company to facilitate that for the partners.  [inaudible] expanding in the next couple of months and really a lot of what we do is rely on other [inaudible] public drives success and drives [inaudible] communicating that out to our app partners.  I think where we add value is that we don’t tend to leave our app partners alone, so we’re constantly updating them with what [inaudible] and what is [inaudible] the whole picture of what they need to do to drive success.  I think that’s how I add value.


So, devil’s advocate question here.  What do you do when you have someone who is just not engaging with the app?  What’s the rule here, three strikes, you’re out, we give up on you?  How do you deal with that?

Yes, that’s something that’s been on my mind a lot, something that I’m constantly thinking about because we do get a lot of people who are interested in what HomeAdvisor offers but are not ready to use us, or they’ll download, and they won’t engage, and they won’t be part of our community.  And so, I think the biggest thing that we do is we’re actually kind of working on this right now, it’s up and coming, but working on building out how much can we actually pay for those people to come back because we are that last touch marketing and so if someone’s at a little bit of a sticking point where we’re saying, I already acquired them, and now I need to pay for them to come back again.

So, one thing we’re actually coming up in this quarter, a big test of ours is going to be targeting those users who haven’t engaged with our app within the last 180 days, but we’ve driven their install in the last year, to understand maybe they forgot they had the app on their phone, it’s such an industry where there just are apps for everything now, and they just have it filed away in some folder, and they can’t remember it.  And then also just thinking about like how we do that from a technical perspective.

I think that’s something that I took for granted when I started thinking about re-engaging users, but we didn’t have deep linking built out.  And so, kind of working from the product side to figure out how we can make sure that that user also comes back and has a really good experience is something that I’ve been kind of also thinking about.  We don’t want to send them to an ad of maybe a specific category, and then they come to the home page of the app and stuff like that. 

So, what we’re thinking about for Q4 is understanding how paying for that second user affects performance and for the second acquisition paid affects performance and then also just building out the functionality to do that.

It’s interesting that you talk about the functionality, it’s kind of interesting because in a way you can also build a little bit more of a community if maybe you let your home improvement pros, you know, these superstars, also help you sort of recruit and be advocates and sort of like – almost in a way like the bands on Spotify, because I love music so much – if you give them a space, they build their own thing, and you just let them go.  Have you thought about that over at HomeAdvisor?

Actually, no, no we haven’t thought about that.  I think the next couple of things we’re thinking about is allowing home pros and homeowners to interact via messaging within the two different apps.  I think that’s our first – potentially eliminating the need for phone calls and emails and having it all in-app.  So, we’re able to hopefully track what those messages are like and then potentially build out a product that helps people remove the need for all the messaging back and forth.

That sounds like a smart one also as well because it’s always about removing the friction.  Another way to add value is, of course, to also figure out who the loyal users are rather than re-engaging because they’re dormant, keep engaging with them because they are loyal, and they are your – what games companies would call the whales.  How do you see a loyal customer, what’s the sign of a customer that’s one where I want to engage with them because it’s going to pay off for all in the end?

I think we have like a good sump bed not the biggest, I’ve said, but people who submit ten or more service requests a year and those are what we consider our loyal customers.  And what we do with them is right now we actually don’t provide them with too much user experience, but we have tested giving them a different experience on the app where we provide a different landing page for when they open the app so that they have an understanding of products they’ve used in the past and have a section of the app where you can actually favourite your home pros.  So, we built that out, so it can be more robust, so you can have like 15 to 20 pros that you can flip back and forth within our app.

So, what we’ve done is created this, once you have become this like loyal customer and they’re using the HomeAdvisor app every week, we have created these like really great experiences so that there is less friction so that you can find your favourite pro quite easily and you don’t have to go through a service request tab again to find your pro, or you don’t have to save the picture of the contact information on your phone.

So, doing stuff like that, making it just a more frictionless app experience is really what we’re focused on with our loyal users.

I didn’t ask you this because, again, I’m based in Europe, I don’t know actually – are you global?

No, we’re not global.  HomeAdvisor is a US-based company.

OK, I’d love to have it, by the way, but we’ll leave that one aside.  I was going to look for this one later – OK, I don’t have to because there are a few things to do here.  How do you handle the actual sort of payment and the follow-ups and all that type of stuff?  Is that also a part of your app experience?

It is not currently part of our app experience.  Our main app experience is providing that content and then also just having the service request and matching people with our algorithm to pros.  Currently, we don’t do any payment or any of that post-match experience in the app.

That’s something we’re always thinking about.

I hear that I hear you’re thinking about a lot of things and even though you don’t have to, you’re thinking about what to do when you can’t engage when someone’s not engaging – what am I going to do and where’s the cut-off point?  What about the engagement that they tell you at all these conferences it’s really important to sort of like check in and say hey, how was it, in that post-engagement messaging usually in-app, that sort of thing?  How do you approach that?  Is that working for you or do you have a new twist on that as well?

We’re not reinventing the wheel or anything like that; we just do our normal basic NPS to understand how people are interacting with the app.  What’s great is that our NPS is higher for people who are using the app which, you know, some people would say is a little bit biased, but we’re happy with it for now.

I did see the glowing reviews, so it’s all working out definitely for HomeAdvisor for you.  What about yourself, Cassie, what’s next with you?  We hear about your company, there’s this great milestone, and we’ll be looking for more developments in that direction after the merger, but what about yourself as a marketing director and as a Mobile Hero?

Goodness, ending on a hard one.  I can talk about user acquisition all day but talking about myself, that seems difficult.  I think what’s next for me is; I think one thing that I haven’t done in the mobile app space is really talk with the community and understand what other people are doing besides the kind of IAC companies that we’ve talked to.  So, what’s next for me is I’m going to be visiting a ton of conferences and talking to people and trying to get a better view of the whole app world and be in San Francisco next week at the XXX conference, talking there and kind of in 2018 really making that a focus, expand like my world view in user acquisition.

That will be very cool, and it’s great, and if I see or hear from you at a conference, I’ll certainly spread the word.  Which brings me to the last question – how do we stay in touch with you now that you’re going on tour?  Maybe it’s Twitter, LinkedIn, what’s the best way?

I think LinkedIn – I know, like everyone says get back on Twitter, I left Twitter and I was at a conference, and they were like “Tweet us your questions.”  I was like “Darn, I don’t even have that anymore.”  So, yes, LinkedIn is probably the best way to get in touch with me or email, anything like that.

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