Podcast Transcript – Ben Carter from Carwow

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Ben – 00:00:01: The quality of customer we’re acquiring. And clearly, LTV is another factor to think about. So yes, it’s about getting traffic onto the site. Yes, it’s about converting that traffic into customers. But it’s also about getting those customers to use more than one of our products and therefore growing their LTV So all of those dimensions are factored into how, I spend decisions. We set a budget at the beginning of the year. We do a quarterly re-forecast, but we actually do a monthly sort of real detailed check-in to really look at how that month has gone, to work with finance on what we’re going to spend the next month, if that’s over, above budget, why it’s above budget, and then get the agreement to do that or not, depending on the overall situation of the business from a P&L perspective.

Nick – 00:00:46: Welcome to the Time For A Reset Podcast, where we interview senior marketers on the big issues of the day and how they’re dealing with those challenges in an ever-changing landscape. We deep dive into the latest trends, strategies, and tactics that will help you stay ahead of the curve and stand out in a crowded marketplace. This episode is hosted by me, Nick King, Global Practices Lead at CvE Let’s get into it. Ben Carter is an experienced brand marketer who has been an essential figure in helping transform and grow a number of UK and global digital-first consumer-based companies, including Betfair, Just Eat and Dunelm. Currently, Ben is sitting on the Carwow executive team as the global chief consumer and marketing officer. He started out his career in journalism and has gone on to research himself as a strong commercial leader. Not only that, Ben is also heavily involved in non-profit organisations such as The Lily Foundation and Women in Football Official. Welcome, Ben.

Ben – 00:01:37: Hi, Nick. Great to see you.

Nick – 00:01:40: So, Ben, we always start in the same place. What is it in marketing that you want to hit reset on?

Ben – 00:01:45: Thanks, Nick. Yeah, I would love to reset on cross-channel measurement and obviously, including TV with that because the fact there isn’t a unified way of understanding performance across broadcast and even across the digital ecosystems, for example, Meta or Google or Apple is absolutely a major inhibitor to marketing investment, and particularly for me, working for a scale-up, obviously, every pound literally counts and not being able to have that across the year is really challenging.

Nick – 00:02:14: Yeah. I mean, so how does that actually manifest itself day-to-day in terms of your marketing decisions and how you’re dealing with your various teams across the board?

Ben – 00:02:23: I think, look, businesses are getting much, much better at being data-driven. But t he way we try and think about measurement is that we obviously have a more traditional attribution, so a linear attribution, sort of a 28-day last click. The problem with a 28-day last click is it doesn’t necessarily factor in the impact of middle, top, and funnel channels, and obviously does not consider the impact of linear broadcast or other above-the-line channels as well. So to try and address those, we also write how-did-you-hear-about-us surveys, where we ask our customers, obviously, how they heard about us. And we also do incremental up-list studies across as many channels as possible to, again, better understand that sort of full funnel effect. Where we want to get to, but obviously the scale-up is challenging. In previous worlds, I’ve had sort of fully-fledged econometrics models. Where we want to get to is have more of a mixed-model, so we can start to really get that 360 view. But obviously, with any econometrics or media-mixed model, they’re only as good as the data you put in. Particularly more recently, when you’ve had macro events like COVID, which for the car industry meant a complete and utter shortage of new cars for nearly 18 months post-COVID. It’s really, really hard then to be able to base any sort of marketing investment decisions off macro events like that. So that’s how we think about measurement. We think of it as a triangle. We don’t have all the answers, but it certainly gives us a very good sense of how our marketing is performing, which obviously when you’re in a scale-up, the focus is not only just on growing, but growing sustainably and ultimately becoming profitable. And we are very close to doing that, which is really exciting. 

Nick – 00:04:01: That’s great. With all these measurement challenges, sort of the changes that Google are making, Apple have obviously had their sort of ATT for a while. Do you see that as a challenge for you, or do you just welcome it because you’re looking for a more mature process?

Ben – 00:04:16: I think two answers to that really are from a customer perspective, I welcome it because it means that my data is being in theory, better looked after. And that I know that actually, third party targeting, ultimately, as we know it today is going to become a thing of the past. In the not too distant future, Google obviously have finally, after many years talking about it, have removed cookies from Chrome to 1% of their traffic. So it’s a small start, but it’s a start. So I think from a customer point of view, I want to be targeted by businesses who I’ve got a relationship with and I’ve given my data to. So I think that gives me surety. From a brand perspective, I think there’s, again, two ways of looking at it. I think, well, if a customer gives you their data, then it’s about how you treat that data and you obviously need to look after that data. But there’s also an opportunity to build a relationship, build a much more deeper relationship with that customer. But then obviously, in terms of prospecting new customers and being able to, understand the impact of three, four funnel marketing, it becomes, a lot more challenging. But as marketeers, we like challenges. Obviously, from a marketing perspective, there are now more channels than ever to reach customers with. And so with that, it’s very, very difficult when you don’t have a more unified view of measurement across those channels.

Nick – 00:05:30: Yeah. How is that within Carwow? Because I think different businesses can vary so much. In some places, the CFO says, there’s your money, you go and spend it. Other places, you have to justify it. Do you have to spend a lot of your time explaining all of these changes or is there much more of a sense of there’s your budget, go and make our brand and our opportunities pop?

Ben – 00:05:51: It’s a bit of both, I’d say. So first of all, as the CCMO, one of my main jobs is to really build a very strong relationship both with myself and our FD, but also with the marketing team and the finance team. Really important that they’re talking all the time. In terms of our biggest paid channel, I won’t surprise you to know it’s Google. We did on a value-based bidding approach. So what that means is that we effectively set a ROAS target and we bid where the revenue is and where we can drive that short-term return. And so really important that obviously we can change those targets, which will mean that we will be able to spend more. But really important that we are in lockstep with the finance team so that we’ve got a budget, that is you said, but also we know what the run rate is looking like. Sometimes as a marketer, particularly with the growth channels, when you can deliver a one-to-one return, the temptation is just to put on the gas. But obviously with that, you can also approach diminishing returns. So there’s a constant dialogue and also obviously looking at the quality of customer we’re acquiring. And clearly, LTV is another factor to think about. So yes, it’s about getting traffic onto the site. Yes, it’s about converting that traffic into customers. But it’s also about getting those customers to use more than one of our products and therefore growing their LTV So all of those dimensions are factored into how, I spend decisions. We set a budget at the beginning of the year. We do a quarterly re-forecast, but we actually do a monthly real detailed check-in to really look at how that month has gone, to work with finance on what we’re going to spend the next month, if that’s over or above budget, why it’s above budget, and then get the agreement to do that or not, depending on the overall situation of the business from a P&L perspective.

Nick – 00:07:33: Yes, you talk quite a bit about Google. If I can just bounce to the other extreme, Carwow clearly do a lot of TV. In a scale up, there’s obviously such a focus on short-term provable performance. How do you think about TV as part of your marketing mix and work that into the plans for the year?

Ben – 00:07:52: Yeah, so a bit like the triangle of measurement I talked about before. So from a TV perspective, what we will do is, again, we’ll use the how did you hear about us. We also use some of the TV tracking tools as well to try and go there. And we use our own data as well. And we’re able to then effectively derive a cost per lead or a cost per listing, as it’s called in our business, from that TV activity. We use TV very much on a performance basis at the moment. We haven’t done sort of what I would call more brand TV in the last few years. We’re definitely going to move towards that. But the key difference between us and some of our competitors is that we have a YouTube channel with 9 million subscribers. So we have our own ready-made brand channel there. And that’s why nearly 70% of our traffic in the UK comes from low-cost sources, i.e. Organically or from YouTube. Because the awareness of Carwow and the awareness of our YouTube channel is high. And, 20% of people who have gone on to effectively generate revenue for us heard about us from YouTube. So it’s a really important brand channel for us. And crucially, the other reason why it’s a really great channel for us is the content that we’re making today is still relevant in two years’ time. Whereas if you’re making a TV spot, that TV spot becomes disposable after a couple of years.

Nick – 00:09:10: Yeah, YouTube and TV are so close in many ways. How are you starting to think about some of these social channels? You know, TikTok being the obvious one. That actually isn’t so new now. But how are you thinking about some of those channels that are much shorter form content, but obviously see growing in terms of the audiences that I’d imagine that you want to target?

Ben – 00:09:30: Yeah, sure. So if you think of what Carwow is, we’re a car change platform. But when we were set up, we were set up effectively as a car review platform. Then our founder then introduced a lead generation side to that, where we would connect customers to dealers when you’re looking for your new car. And then two years ago, we bought a business enabling us to let you sell your car. So we’re a platform where you can come on, you can find your next car and sell your current car. The reason that’s relevant is because we use our content, which is completely impartial, and we have a presenter who I’m sure many people have heard of called Mat Watson, who basically reviews cars. So with that breadth of following on YouTube, unsurprisingly, we’re also very active on the likes of TikTok, as well as Instagram as well from an organic content perspective. And actually, the views we’re now seeing on those channels are not only growing exponentially faster than YouTube, but also just growing our overall universe of engagement, which is great. From a paid marketing perspective, we are advertising within the meta world, not TikTok or Snapchat yet. A few reasons, the commercials on TikTok is still pretty prohibitive, and it’s quite difficult to track and to fully measure the impact of it. And then Snapchat at the moment is just too young an audience for us. But certainly in time, we will be broadening out our marketing mix. And clearly, because we have that content pedigree and this array of short form content that we’re creating, we’re shooting three or four videos a day. So it’s an absolute machine in terms of output. So to be able to also piggyback off that to do customer acquisition will be really important.

Nick – 00:11:05: Awesome. You’ve relatively recently joined Carwow. I mean, you’ve already given a sense of some of the changes that have gone on within the business, but you’ve worked for brands like Betfair and Dunelm. What was it that really interested you about both this space, but also the brand of Carwow?

Ben – 00:11:23: Well, I’ve been here 16 months, so it’s not that recent. And also in a scale up. But no, I think fundamentally, actually, the business I’d like to talk about is Just Eat. I was at Just Eat for five years, and I was there when ordering food on an app was a bit of a novelty. And now, obviously, it’s a de facto thing to do. And I was the UK marketing director, and myself and the team played a very big role in growing that business and driving that change. And I see a lot of those ingredients, no pun intended, at Carwow. So we’ve got an amazing content machine. We’ve got a fantastic brand. And we’ve got a proven way of acquiring customers. But when you look at the market that we’re operating in, i.e. The car market, we’re very slow to digitize. But actually, it’s going through massive change at the moment. Because clearly, as you all know, there’s a government mandate that by 2035, all new cars have to be EVs. Secondly, what a lot of people don’t know is whilst those targets were shifted to 2035 recently, actually, from 2030, car manufacturers, 25% of the cars they sell have to be EVs. So there’s a massive, massive drive to EVs. Because of that shift in powertrain, there’s a lot of new brands coming to the market from China, which will completely disrupt the market. Then you’ve got also the emergence of the likes of Tesla and Polestar who have bought a new route to market to the UK. So they are what we call DTC brands, direct-to-consumer brands. So now you’ve got the more traditional car manufacturers looking at, actually, we want to start being able to sell direct-to-customers because it’s so much easier. And if you think anyone who’s tried to change a car, sell a car, or buy a car, quite a hassle-full experience. So to be the business that connects OEMs and dealers with customers with the content wrapped around it in a simple, hassle-free way is incredibly exciting. And that’s why I see a lot of similarities to Just Eat here in terms of the journey we’re going on. The other piece that’s really interesting is at Carwow, we also have a retail media business. So we run advertising for car manufacturers, again, wanting to reach people who are in the market to find the new car. I think when you combine all of those elements together, as a capital-like marketplace with a really, really great brand name and content that you can’t replicate, as a marketeer, that’s a real dream scenario to be able to build and grow that business. And when I was approached to speak to Carwow, it was an absolute no-brainer.

Nick – 00:13:53: Yeah, now I can absolutely see why you came over. You touched on it a moment ago that, you know, quite often buying and selling cars is a hassle. What are the sort of some of the stereotypes that you’re having to overcome? And really, how are you approaching that in terms of what the business can offer?

Ben – 00:14:09: I’m the chief customer and marketing officer at Carwow. I’m not a petrolhead. So I don’t know lots about cars. Whilst our concept team, they’re experts and very, very skilled, our office is not full of petrol heads. But we are all there to simplify things for customers and also to give our partners, our dealers, and our manufacturers access to those customers’ money. It’s not about stereotypes. It’s more just about, it’s just difficult. Because if you think of the selling side of things, historically, what were your choices? Well, your choices were to go to a garage and do a part exchange where you’re buying your next car, where you don’t necessarily feel that you’re getting great value for that, but you’re so hooked on your next car that you just do it. So you leave with a bit of buyer’s remorse. Or you’ve then got the model that, obviously, the likes of We Buy Any Car have bought in, where you get a valuation online, and then you go and try and sell your car, and you probably get a different price. So again, you feel a bit let down. And then you’ve got the model that we’re now operating in, which is about, actually, being able to sell your car direct through an app t, to have someone come and collect that car. The price you accept is the price you get given. You get the money straight away. And then on the finding a car side, when you bring in all the content, the impartiality, because again, it’s the second biggest purchase you’ll make in your life after a house. So it’s something that you want to feel clued up on. Everyone’s got a friend in the pub or in their local neighborhood that they go to for expertise, and we want to be that friend. And our content enables us to be that friend, because we can be completely impartial. And that’s what’s really unique. And that’s why we don’t feel there’s many businesses which can play that role, that connecting role, with that impartiality to, as you put it, break down those sort of hassleful stereotypes.

Nick – 00:15:53: Yeah. And those stereotypes, I think, probably differ across Europe. How do you think about building the brand in the different countries that you’re operating in, particularly coming from being a UK brand?

Ben – 00:16:05: Yeah, so we operate in the UK, Germany and Spain. And the UK is where we both size the proposition I’ve just talked about, the sell and buy side. We only have the buy side in Germany and Spain at the moment, but we would love to take the sell side out there. The German market is very similar to the UK. There’s about 8 million car changes a year there like there is in the UK. Clearly, from a manufacturer perspective, it’s a heartland market, but also in terms of consumers tend to sort of edge towards the more premium mate and price point. Similar to the UK, a lot of the cars bought are on finance as well. So a lot of the dynamics are very similar. But in terms of the ingredients of building the brand in Germany, it’s been very much the same, which is we have a Matt Watson equivalent in Germany called Daniel. So we have a YouTube channel in Germany. And ultimately, again, it’s about using that content. So help people access the market, then using the platform to connect to dealers. And then Spain is similar, albeit much smaller. But from a marketing perspective, I always, and I sort of learned this from my days at Just Eat actually, was I think because of how you market globally, I always think of freedom within a framework. So there’s nothing worse than you sitting in Germany as the marketeer and I give you an ad I’ve shot in the UK and it’s got Acacia Drive with a red post box and a paperboy riding down the road. And it’s just, you can just tell it’s England. I want you to put this on German TV and no. So the way we do it is we agree what the brand looks like globally and then how we nuance it locally. And I think it’s really important that freedom. So if you’d think of the MasterCard Priceless campaign, it looked fame around the world, but it’s got local nuance and that’s what we try and do. So yes, we take the playbook of what works in the UK, but we absolutely don’t tell our German colleagues how to market, how to speak. It’s really interesting. So as I said before, we want to be the car changing destination and car changing does not translate in German because I’m not fluent in German, but I know enough German to know that it’s a very literal language. And when I said to our German CEO that our new vision was to be the car changing destination. So I love it. It’s there, but we’re never going to say car changing in Germany because it just doesn’t work. And so we’ve had to work on sort of local nuance language to land the same point.

Nick – 00:18:18: Yeah. And I’d imagine  that’s where it’s so vital to have local knowledge, local experience. So, rather than just having a central team in the UK to bring it all together and just push it out.

Ben – 00:18:30: Yeah, definitely. And I’ve been fortunate to work in a number of roles where I’ve had global teams. And I think, again, there’s things you can do centrally, but there’s also things you need to do locally. And it’s that combination that’s really powerful.

Nick – 00:18:41: The automotive industry is obviously having a lot of pressure. And you talked about some of those government targets. How do you sort of bring in the vision of the company? I think sometimes the car industry, despite the fact that it’s doing so much from an EV point of view, is still seen as a challenge to certain environmental targets. How do you bring the messaging in and really talk about some of those environmental challenges, knowing that some of the elements aren’t pro-environment, but actually the long-term ambition is to completely change how consumers engage with cars and really give an opportunity to make a difference?

Ben – 00:19:19: Yeah, sure. So from a Carwow perspective, we have our own ESG policy. We’ve got our own targets where we want to get to. But I think, of course, macro environment is so important and climate change is a massive factor that and all the emissions contribution that ultimately led to what’s happened with climate. But I think what’s really important is that our role as a marketplace is to connect customers to the car that best suits their lifestyles. So what we’re seeing with EVs is you’ve got lots of customers at the moment, they still don’t fully understand at what point should they switch. There’s obviously lots of conversations around things like range anxiety, are there enough charges in Britain, is the charging infrastructure right, can the national grid cope, etc, etc. So what we’re not going to do is to ram EVs down every consumer’s throat, but we absolutely will give them all the information they need to work out is an EV right for them now, or actually is now the time to go hybrid as a step towards EV. So from an internal perspective, ESG is very important to us. And as I said, we have our own policy and our own targets that we are working towards. And then from a consumer perspective, I think it’s just about making consumers aware of all of the choices that are now available to them. 

Nick – 00:20:33: Awesome. Bring it back sort of round to some of the marketing world. There’s a lot of discussion around AI and some of those transformative processes. How are you seeing AI influence not only your marketing space, but also the whole Carwow business?

Ben – 00:20:50: Yeah, I think you can see AI two ways. You can either see it as a massive threat, be paranoid of it, or you can see actually it’s a bit like electricity or a bit like broadband. It’s going to change fundamentally the way we work, but ultimately it can be a very good force for good in terms of whether it’s from a productivity perspective or an innovation perspective. And that’s the way we’re approaching it. So from a productivity perspective, we’re using it in terms of using it to do localized reviews in our content. We also used it to do a lot of keyword discovery from an organic marketing perspective. And then we’re also starting to plug it into some of our paid marketing channels in terms of creative production, not master creative, still having master creative, but then being able to very quickly create many, many iterations of that master creative. So that’s the productivity side. I think on the innovation side, without sort of giving any company secrets away, there’s a number of ways we are going to be using it because clearly, we are a content-driven business. And there’s obviously some very interesting ways of using that content and bringing that content to life for customers. And talked about having a friend in the pub who you go and ask for advice when you’re buying a car. Well, actually having that equivalent in an AI world would be very, very useful. We also use AI as well, and I talked earlier about how we approach our search, our paid search activity, and that’s all using Google’s, they call it modern search. They also call it AI as well. But ultimately, that’s using their AI platform. So lots of different ways. And I think any marketeers, which are sort of sitting there with their heads buried in their hands and are paranoid, then they need to realize this is the future. But equally, it’s not a dark future. Clearly, it could be a dark future. That’s outside of my world. But from a marketing perspective, it brings lots of opportunities.

Nick – 00:22:38: Yeah, no, I totally, totally agree. So bringing it back to yourself, you’ve obviously had a fantastic career and many more years to go. What really is the important attributes of the CMO of the future? We’ve talked about everything from AI and measurements, but where are you thinking you need to be? And what are you looking for the peers stepping into the same position as you over the coming years?

Ben – 00:23:01: I thought you were talking me into an early retirement then, Nick. Definitely not. Definitely not. It’s a really good question. And I talk a lot about sort of one-dimensional and three-dimensional marketeers. And what I mean by that, and this isn’t necessarily the CMO of the future, but I think it’s a skill set you need to display, to be a CMO of the future. If you take a campaign, a one-dimensional marketeer puts the campaign live and off they go and moves on to the next thing. Three-dimensional marketeers are people who, they put that campaign live, but they think about how do they amplify that campaign through other channels? How do they join up with other channels to bring it to life? What’s the next message within that campaign? What’s the story arc of that campaign? How do you make the consumer feel involved with that campaign? And then ultimately using the data as well that you’re seeing, how do you iterate and optimize that campaign based on what you’re  seeing. Might seem really, really obvious, but there’s very few marketeers who think that way, because the way that marketeers have sort of evolved, I would say more recently is that they’re very channel-focused. So you have, my job is to run Facebook, not me, that’s them. And that’s all they think about. And they don’t think about the impact of that Facebook activity on another channel. And they don’t think, oh, actually, we could use Facebook to capture customer email addresses to prospect them. Or we could use Facebook. They just think about, my job is to get a really great ROI return from Facebook by doing these things. And so I think three-dimensional marketing is really, really important. And I think the reason it’s really important as a CMO is because as a CMO, you are the focal point of every touchpoint in the business. Because marketing, particularly in a marketplace business, does touch pretty much every area of the business. So you’ve got to be able to think three-dimensionally. You’ve got to use data to inform what you’re doing. You’ve got to also be able to use your gut sometimes to sense check that you’re doing the right thing. But you’ve also got to keep thinking about, well, where do we go from here? And how do we build on here? And when trading is great, it’s really easy. But actually, it’s more fun when trading is difficult because that’s when you really start to understand the levers that you can pull and the impacts you can have. And the reason I love marketing and love being a marketeer is there’s very few roles where… I can make a decision now on a Friday afternoon and I can come in tomorrow morning or on Monday morning and see the impact it made. Good or bad, and then do something about that. And that’s incredibly empowering. And that’s why I think from a CMO perspective, it’s that combination of creative thinking, fleet of foot, strategic mind, three-dimensional thinking, and being data-driven.

Nick – 00:25:40: Brilliant. Ben Carter, that was really, really interesting. Thank you so much for your time.

Ben – 00:25:44: No, lovely, Nick. Really great to catch up. Thank you.

Nick – 00:25:48: And that is a wrap for this episode of Time For A Reset: The Marketing Podcast with Global Leaders, brought to you by CvE. I’ve been your host, Nick King, and I hope the insights from this episode will help you reset and refine how you implement successful change for strategic transformation for your brand. See you next week as I chat with another senior marketing leader. And please follow us or subscribe and don’t miss any future episodes. Catch you soon.

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