The dapper CGI meerkat and his friends made an immediate impact and in doing so changed the way that price comparison sites marketed to customers. They brought real brand equity to a sector that had previously sold itself in a highly commoditised and direct response way. A range of products, such as soft toys customers could collect, a best-selling book and media interviews followed.

Fast forward to 2015 and Orlov is – arguably – no longer the only star of the show. As part of a push to further position comparethemarket. com as more than just a trusted customer resource for finding financial products on line, the company brought in Hollywood’s big guns, including action legend Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The campaign, launched in April 2015, was to promote Meerkat Movies, a chance to build and maintain a year-round conversation with customers. TV ads star Arnie with Orlov and his sidekick Sergei, whilst digital activity also includes Orlov interviewing the Terminator star.

Yet a starry screen presence – via TV spots and associated brand advertising – is just one facet of this new comms platform. Both comparethemarket.com and comparethemeerkat.com needed to reflect the new positioning. It meant both the Market and Meerkat websites would have to be rebuilt before the campaign launched. A separate campaign-specific hub would also sit on comparethemarket. com’s homepage.

However, rather than merely reskinning the existing sites, the marketing IT team decided to completely redevelop them from the inside out – something that they knew, given the time constraints involved – would require a Herculean effort.

Says Andrew Hall, comparethemarket.com Project Manager: “We could easily have just redesigned the pages, but we wanted to take the opportunity to make technical advances as well as look more modern.”

On top of the redesign three key objectives were identified: make the pages responsive instead of adaptive to make more of the growing trend for consumers to search (and increasingly buy) via mobile, and cut down development and content build times; to improve page load speed of the site to be as fast as possible for search engine optimisation and conversion rates; improve accessibility to enable as many customers as possible to use the site.
Cue MMT Digital. The agency, which specialises in the architect, design and build of bespoke websites and applications, had already been working with the Peterborough-based company for more than a year. The relationship began when MMT Digital presented at Agile on Tap, a comparethemarket.com-sponsored event for businesses in the Peterborough area. After meeting, the two were impressed by shared common values and a commitment to continuous improvement through measuring and learning using real data.

MMT Digital was first brought in as additional resource to support its in-house team to support online campaigns, such as for 2013’s Baby Oleg, and would now work in an expanded capacity to aid the forthcoming overhaul. Experts in strategy, UX, design, build and content were brought on board. They also presented to and workshopped with the wider company, not just the marketing IT team, instigated by comparethemarket.com’s executives as part of a programme to ensure they constantly strive to improve everywhere and everyone.

Robert Yardy, Head of New Business and Marketing, says: “This is an ongoing relationship where we provide additional resource, working on the online element of high profile marketing campaigns with necessarily tight deadlines. This, though, was not just a marketing refresh, but a technical one.”

A senior solutions architect and senior developer were integrated into the brand’s offices, becoming members of the development team. The agency provided extra capacity as and when needed and – because of shared cultural values and desire to champion agile project management – fitted straight in.

The relationship goes far beyond project delivery – agency staff are also integral members of summer fun days and other extra-curricular activities, something Hall says is key to the success of the partnership. “Having the guys in-house is important, particularly when there are crunch weeks in such a project – with requirements changing daily it wouldn’t have been possible for them to be remote. Simply put, we’re two entities, but one team, and treat everyone from agency staff to individual contractors as such.”

Adds Yardy: “It is incredibly important to work in such a collaborative fashion – we, as client and agency are after all working together towards the same goals.” He says that flexibility and agile working are key to delivering such a project – old-school briefing and delivery and the traditional waterfall approach just don’t work for today’s always-on, beta environment. “When an agency gets briefed, goes away for a few months and then presents something close to completion, what is delivered may not be exactly what the client had in mind. Or, the client’s objectives and requirements have evolved. That’s why we prefer regular contact so we can be flexible for the client throughout the project.”

comparethemarket.com likes to work in a test driven fashion, so MMT Digital wrote lots of unit, integration and JavaScript tests before releasing the pages. The pages were built in Episerver and needed to have desktop and mobile versions with completely different styling on each. MMT Digital developed the functionality within Episerver with custom coding, with many of the blocks bespoke-built.

It means that instead of having to build a new page set each time content is added or updated, content can simply be dragged and dropped in. “From a marketer’s point of view it is ideal because you can quickly and easily add content without necessarily needing technical support,” says Hall. “It is flexible and fit for purpose.”

So, even though the team gave themselves an ambitious target to redesign the back-end, they now have a future-proof site that will save hours of employee time in the weeks, months and years post launch. For a brand that increasingly wants to communicate in a deeper and more constant way with its audience – from new movie releases and information to product launches and value-added information that fast, easy flexibility is vital. In fact, more than 100 pages were created in two days at launch, which previously would have taken around a fortnight to do.

From a user point of view, the more responsive, faster-loading and more accessible website means an altogether better experience for customers, both new and returning.

Already, the advantages are being seen. The full page load of the site has dropped from 3.2 seconds to 1.8 seconds – a small but significant drop where consumers demand instant access.

Accessibility is also much improved and best-in-class within the sector. Many pages have reached the AA accessibility standard with an aim to improve this yet further.

It means, for instance, that more people can interact with the site, even if they prefer to just use a keyboard.
For MMT Digital, which also works with disability charity Scope UK, accessibility is a passion. “There is a perception that making a site more accessible also makes it less aesthetically pleasing. Yet this shouldn’t – and needn’t – be so,” says Yardy. Design must be functional and give access to as many people as possible, otherwise it is not being all that it can.

In fact, the new design has improved drop off rates by an impressive 22 per cent. More customers are able to find what they are looking for, quickly, instead of leaving the site. Big gains have also been recorded in search engine results.

All delivered in record time to ensure the new sites were ready for the launch of the advertising campaign. Indeed, the day before launch the combined brand and agency team worked through the night, fuelled by pizza to ensure Orlov and Arnie’s debut passed without a hitch.

“This,” Ian Greentree, Solutions Architect says, “was everyone’s project, everyone’s product. It was a matter of pride for everyone involved to make it happen.”

It seems like this is one franchise with a 5-star review.

Robert Yardy

Robert Yardy

Contributor


Robert Yardy, Head of New Business and Marketing, MMT Digital