• What can we learn from a traditional Pawnbroker turned tech? Jan 17, 2020
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    Pawnbrokers of Rodeo Drive provides loans for high-end clientele using luxury items as collateral, such as diamonds, classic cars, rare books and fine art. The company was founded in Beverly Hills in 1999 by Marc Sonnenthal.

    Originally from the UK, Marc started his jewelry, watch and fine arts career in the famous Hatton Garden jewelry quarter in London. He honed his skills by building various companies in the jewelry and watch sector. He was first introduced to the pawnbroking industry by his father, Michael, who also ran a pawnbroking business for decades.

    Marc led an amazing transformation of Pawnbrokers of Rodeo Drive, from a traditional pawnbroker to a technology-focused company. During the process, as founder and director, he had to upgrade his own skills way beyond his pawnbroking knowledge, learning a great deal about the opportunities created by technology.

    Read on to find out from Marc how he introduced and developed various technologies within his business to complete his incredible journey into the world of chatbots and automation.

    Why did you transform your business?

    Ever since its formation, we've relied on our premier location in Beverly Hills to attract new, high-end customers. Our exclusive ethos as an ethical pawnbroker attracted a variety of local high-end clientele, who preferred the convenience of pawning a luxury asset over a bank loan.

    Over the years, PRD saw our business eroded by intense competition, the changes in customer behaviour due to online retailing, the rise of digital marketing and shifting demographics within the area, with customers moving out of Beverly Hills.

    I realised that automation allowed me to compete with larger, cash-rich competitors, provide better customer service and run the business more efficiently.

    What were your main challenges?

    A year ago, we faced many challenges, such as a decline in SEO traffic, irrelevant search queries, a reduction in market share for our Google Ads campaign and a low conversion rate.

    We had no brand identity, our website was outdated and we lacked social media presence and a strategy for content marketing. We also faced an increase in the cost of Google Ads because of intense competition and a lack of alternative channels.

    What changes did you make?

    I employed Pufferr, a London-based digital growth agency, to achieve my vision of tackling the demographics and customers' behaviour challenges. My aim was to become the ultimate and most innovative online high-end pawnbroking company. I worked closely with Pufferr and this prompted me to learn more and attend technology meetups.

    We re-designed the website, tripled its size and re-defined all funnels. We also reviewed and improved the SEO and Google Ads campaigns comprehensively, after mammoth research, including on-page, off-page and competitor research.

    We used the services of a professional film crew and rented a luxury mansion, drones and a lot of high-end items, such as a Jaguar car, Andy Warhol paintings and fine watches, to shoot two professional presentation videos.

    What about social media?

    We complemented the SEO and Google Ads campaigns with setting up and managing social media accounts, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In terms of PR, we were featured in several magazines and concentrated on content marketing. We now write, on average, three to four well-researched blog posts a month.

    We also ran campaigns on channels untapped by our competition, such as Quora ads, Facebook ads, Waze ads, Twitter ads and Snapchat ads. We ran an Instagram influencers' campaign, a Facebook chatbot marketing campaign and a Programmatic Display campaign. We're currently running a podcast advertising campaign.

    As our social traffic increased, we faced another challenge: we received a large number of messages and lost several leads in the process. In response, we built state-of-the-art Facebook and Twitter chatbots.

    We're excited to have applied for early access to extend our social media presence to the first Blockchain decentralised social media platform, Akasha, developed by the Ethereum co-founder. We believe Blockchain has the potential to disrupt current social media models, where companies such as Facebook leverage user data to their advantage.

    We're one of the first companies to explore this opportunity, with the focus on “attention-based models”. This means users would own their own data and could decide to release it to advertisers, who in turn would pay users directly for their attention, dismissing the need for third-party platforms like Facebook.

    What were your greatest innovations?

    Our operational hours were 10am to 5pm, which restricted our customers’ ability to get in touch in the evening, a trend we identified during our initial analysis of traffic trends. In response, we developed a state-of-the-art website chatbot.

    We also developed machine learning algorithms - including gradient boosting machines, linear and deep learning - to analyse 13 metrics of website engagement and fine-tune the SEO and Paid Search strategies. We commissioned a Virtual Reality app and a Pawnbroking game to further engage audiences.

    We identified voice search as a future disruptive trend and in response, we built a Google Home Action and an Alexa skill. We also re-developed our mobile app to better align it to the brand's identity.

    How effective were the changes?

    Our digital initiatives surpassed by far all targets. Our website traffic improved by 451.08%, SEO traffic improved by 1,254.17% and social media traffic by 817.12%. Our direct website traffic improved by 56.03% and referral traffic by 119.31% In six months, the Google Adwords leads improved by 67.84%, with no increase in spending year-on-year.

    Our turnover increased proportionally and our PRD registers the highest growth rate in the history of the company at 95% year-on-year, so we have almost doubled the business.

    Most importantly, as the campaigns continue to mature, our long-term strategies are paying off. For example, the last three months' trend shows an even higher improvement against the year-on-year improvement, with Google ads conversions up 66%, SEO traffic up 57.85% and social media traffic up 12,245.83%.

    The company's ambition is to continue to evolve within the pawnbroking industry, delivering professional services with discretion for clients old and new.
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