Auto Trader will try to reinvent car marketing with new strategy

How the recently reinvented media business plans to rev up sales for car manufacturers and dealers.

Auto Trader is shifting gears in its efforts to serve car manufacturers and dealers in a way akin to how the likes of Google and Facebook service their advertisers with a raft of creative and data tools.

The bulk of the company’s revenues may still flow from classified ads from dealers but online advertising from car manufacturers, underpinned by programmatic and native, is where it sees its future. Instead of keeping its robust data play consigned to its classifieds business, Auto Trader now wants broader and deeper data on the display side to underpin new, more profitable relationships with carmakers and dealers.

“It’s about moving beyond the last click model,” said Auto Trader’s commercial director of digitalRakesh Patel. What he means is that Auto Trader wants to arrive at a point where it can create bespoke audience groups for programmatic campaigns - either on Auto Trader or off it – so that it can guarantee an advertiser that their target buyers will be interested in a specific model at any given time due to a tighter blend of first, second and third party data.

It’s indicative of a “four and a half year” programmatic plan Patel said would gain momentum in 2015 as Auto Trader gets better at surfacing the “right data” for consumers around a more robust ad tech stack. Earlier efforts to free up the data for advertisers and agencies resulted in over 20,000 campaigns in the year to 29 March with a 50 per cent increase in yield. Additionally, display revenue within its agency business rose 59 per cent year-on-year in the period.

“We need to work in a partner eco-system to really meet the creativity and data needs of the market,” Patel added.

This collaborative approach is steering the current changes to Auto Trader’s ad tech stack with it set to plug into a separate as yet unnamed external data management platform (DMPs) in the coming months. Where other companies see DMPs as the only real feasible slice of the programmatic pie they can take internally, the sheer complexity of having three separate data needs across sales, marketing and insights teams meant it was easier to have an external partner.

Data is only of value if it is interpreted creatively, which is why Auto Trader has been hard at work trying to prove to advertisers and agencies it has the right ad formats. From the imminent arrival of the first cross-platform native ads on its site to an upcoming plan to get advertisers to pay to use Auto Trader’s own Facebook channel to target car fans as oppose to just car buyers, the media business wants these ads to be better at showing its role in the road to conversion.

“This is why Facebook, Google and Twitter own this space and why we think there’s a digital opportunity for us,” said Patel. “If you know what your consumers are doing, how they’re operating and you know what’s important to them before they make a request then that’s where we can really provide an additive service.”

The predictive piece is one the business has made headway in over on the classified side. Dealers are using a predictive algorithmic-based solution Auto Trader has developed to elevate sales and marketing campaigns based on how people are searching for cars on across the digital service. Moving forward, the media business hopes to adapt this service in some capacity to the online side of the business so that advertisers have a clearer look at the road to purchase across its services and products.

The swathe of changes amount to Auto Trader racing to play a larger role in the media plans of carmakers. Over 17 visits and 75 searches occur on Auto Trader platforms every second, it has claimed with nearly two thirds of site visits (65 per cent) now conducted using mobile devices and over 30 per cent now through its apps. It gives Auto Trader a unique perspective into how the UK is searching for cars, one it hopes to put a premium on as more car brands reassess how they target potential buyers.

“We’re getting closer to actually demonstrating that ‘x’ number of people who saw an ad on Auto Trader actually went off and bought a car,” revealed Patel. The business has done a test for “one big manufacturer” with “a lot of curated video” that he said has taken it closer to “marketing nirvana”.

“For us that’s a gamechanger in the sense that creative solutions have always used an [impressions model],” Patel continued. “There’s nothing wrong with that but now we’re getting to a point where we can develop whatever creative a car manufacturer may want and get it to the right audience at the right time as well as show the whole to path to purchase, footfall to dealerships and how many cars were actually sold in total. We’re not fully there yet but we’re getting there.”

Auto Trader can lay claim to being one of the most successful businesses in the last decade to manage a timely transition from print to digital. Once a weekly magazine driven by classified ads, the publication of its final print issue in the summer of 2013 paved the way for its transformation into a digital business that purports to host more than 85 per cent of the virtual views of vehicles by potential buyers every second of every day.

“We see our role as bringing car manufacturers and dealers together,” said Patel. “On one side you have the manufacturer driving consideration and on the other the dealer driving the transaction. We ultimately want to play a part in all of that, though it’s going to take time and it will take some very brave manufacturers and customers to work this us on that."

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