How BlaBlaCar successfully took its bus business into the Benelux (Sponsored)

Growing your business is easier said than done, especially when trying to expand into a new market. But fear not! There are plenty of opportunities and solutions out there, here we reveal key tips to overcome growth challenges, based on Fish and Burger’s collaboration with BlaBlaCar.

BlaBlaCar has successfully expanded in Belgium and the Netherlands. So, here we take a look at the company’s goals, as well as the process and challenges experienced expanding into these new markets. 

Born in France, BlaBlaCar is now a unicorn company and in the process of expanding its global footprint. Currently, the scale-up has over 100 million members across 22 countries. In April 2021, the mobility firm secured €109 million – a massive boost supporting its ambitions to become a multimodal platform covering bus travel, carpooling, and, in the future, train travel. With the help of Digital Growth Agency Fish and Burger, BlaBlaCar was looking to expand and market its bus operations into new countries.

These markets present a significant opportunity. The Benelux is known to be an area with increased environmental awareness and there has been a shift in this region from the use of individual cars to cleaner methods of transport such as carpooling, buses or trains. 

The Challenges

Expanding into new markets presents a variety of challenges. From a marketing and strategy perspective, these can include: 

  1. Low brand awareness among consumers
  2. A limited (or non-existent) customer base that can be leveraged
  3. Lack of understanding of local culture and language
  4. Lack of specialists that can help execute local strategy and marketing campaigns

So, where to start?

There are several options. Companies can start from scratch by writing a strategy, building a team and closing deals with local media outlets to promote their brand. Alternatively, they can partner up with a local organization that already possess the local know-how, an established network and other resources that will enable them to kickstart growth rapidly. BlaBlaCar chose the latter option. 

Paul-Adrien Cumenal, Marketing Team Lead at BlaBlaCar describes his experience of working with Fish and Burger: “We began working with Fish and Burger to help us develop a Marketing & Distribution plan which will fuel our business growth in the Benelux. Their flexible mindset & access to specific local specialists is what made the difference.”

The Goals

Having gained the local knowledge and manpower, organizations need to define their goals to make sure all activity is contributing to what they are aiming for. Having clear oversight over goals is fundamental to success. In scaling into the Benelux, BlaBlaCar had the following aims: 

  1. Increase bus ticket sales significantly 
  2. Improve brand awareness of BlaBlaCar
  3. Ensure positive ROI while achieving growth goals

Once the goals have been set, companies need to validate the metrics for success through the use of data. Data gained from both audience and market research forms a crucial basis for an organization’s strategy. 

The Process

Working with a local organization to expand into new markets requires being clear on some topics. It means that the two companies can work together fully integrated and aligned with the wider objectives and aims. 

The topics most important to clarify are:

  • Their growth ambition
  • Their current situation
  • Their previous learnings
  • Their target audience and ideal customers
  • The right messaging

Working with BlaBlaCar, Fish and Burger carried out different types of research. This was crucial to bring both organizations firmly onto the same page. This included: 

  • Market analysis of the long-distance travel market
  • Audience analysis
  • Go-To-Market analysis for the long-distance travel market

The results of this research, together with the data insights, fuelled the Commercial Strategy and Marketing plan. Armed with this knowledge, Fish and Burger and BlaBlaCar were able to map out the execution of the campaign, and the audiences and locations to focus it on.

During the research, and combining it with discussions and communications between Fish and Burger and BlaBlaCar, the best channels and media outlets were identified, allowing the campaign to reach the right audience and distribute the message the most effectively. With this knowledge providing a firm base, a flexible team of specialists was able to execute the campaign. 

Working with an external agency can sometimes present challenges. Organizations need to be very clear on their expectations, their methods, their core values and the way they wish to communicate their brand message. Traditional agencies can struggle to remain true to the organization’s demands across all those facets. 

The Results 

After 3 months, the strategy was evaluated. The results were as follows:

  1. Overperforming on the ticket sales target
  2. Launching a large out-of-home campaign to reach the target audience in large cities in the Netherlands and Belgium
  3. Reaching 5 million potential clients through all channels in 3 months, contributing to a large increase in brand awareness.
  4. Retaining positive ROI. 

The Learnings

Working with BlaBlaCar, as well as with other startups and scaleups, Fish and Burger has uncovered seven lessons with regard to expanding into new markets. 

Firstly, it’s crucial to define the organization’s growth ambitions and its current situation. What learnings exist from previous campaigns, and what’s the message to be communicated?

Secondly, rely on data. Study the market you’re entering, as well as its consumers and their needs. Every consumer and every market is different. 

Third, it’s important to remain flexible and scalable. This enables swift adjustment with as little risk as possible when faced with unexpected circumstances (such as a lockdown!).

Fourth, keep room for experimentation. Testing and learning on-the-go enables organizations to make timely adjustments as they progress towards their goals.

And finally, guarantee expert quality by working with the best specialists in the market, who possess the appropriate local knowledge. 

If you have any questions or would like to talk about your own organization’s growth ambitions, please feel free to email [email protected], visit www.fishandburger.com or meet us at the EU Startups Summit at STAND NUMBER 30.