by David Kirkpatrick
Launching a new company is not a simple process. Launching a new company in the face of one major, long-standing competitor is even more of a challenge.
Netcars.com is a Manchester, UK-based used car classified website that features the inventory of auto dealers from across the United Kingdom. In late October 2010, the company obtained funding, and began the marketing process in earnest in February 2011.
The marketing process actually took form in two stages -- the first to create awareness about the company with used car dealers to actually populate the website with inventory, and the second to expose the new brand to the car buying public.
The first challenge for Netcars.com was entering a marketplace with one major, classified advertising established competitor who had dominated the field for twenty-plus years and already had the trust of UK auto dealers.
To differentiate itself, Netcars.com created a new pricing model. Where the competition charged dealers to run ads for each car listed, Netcars allowed dealers to list all of their cars at no charge and only got paid when there was a clickthrough to the dealers’ websites.
This consumer marketing case study covers how Netcars.com got past the issue of dealer trust in its new brand, and the steps taken to introduce the company to consumers and maximize conversions and clicks -- critical to the company’s business model.
STAGE ONE: OUTREACH TO USED CAR DEALERS
Knowing that used car dealers in the UK had a high level of trust in the already established classified website, outreach began with these dealers to educate them on the different pricing model.
Step #1. Hire a public relations agency to reach out to trade publications
Louis Rix, Marketing Director, Netcars.com, said the biggest challenge when launching the company was to get the brand established in the trade to create awareness among used car dealers and to build up trust. He added this remains an ongoing process for Netcars.com.
To begin the outreach effort, the marketing team decided hiring a PR firm would be the best move. After what was described as a "vigorous pitching process," the company decided to hire a local Manchester-based agency instead of one of the large London-based PR firms.
The idea was to be able to maintain a close relationship with the firm, and to also ensure the message going out to the trade publications read by used car dealers was consistent.
The first outreach through the agency was having the Netcars.com team physically visit trade publications, meet them and develop personal relationships. Rix felt that a personal relationship would help when sending press releases
and ensuring the trade press correctly portrayed the company.
The actual releases went out on a frequent basis during this stage of the marketing process, and they mostly involved Netcars.com's unique billing model and how the company differed from its main competition.
Rix stated the releases avoided directly attacking that competition, and focused on what made Netcars.com different and why dealers should give the new company a chance.
Step #2. Advertise in trade and industry publications
Netcars.com began advertising with both CAP Black Book and Glass’s Motoring Guide publications -- similar to Kelly Blue Book in the United States. Rix described each pricing guide as a "bible" for car dealers.
The company also began print and online advertising with the trade publications from the initial PR outreach. Particularly, one successful ad group actually went on the "poly wrap
" trade magazine cover that had to be removed to actually read the print copy.
Rix added that the online banner ads
pleased him more because their performance was so trackable and they were more cost effective. He did state that if the dealer didn’t provide accurate information on their first exposure to the company, it was entirely possible they also saw a print ad that led to a dealer sign-up for Netcars.com’s service.
Step #3. Utilize email marketing once the database is built up
"There’s not an automated database that you can go out and buy with everyone’s name and email address," said Rix.
To create the Netcars.com database, the team hired an employee whose job it is to personally call every used car dealer to confirm names and email addresses. That employee manually validated the database to ensure it was cleansed and accurate. The idea was to create a fully opted in database of decision makers.
Rix said there are about 12,000 dealers in the UK, and right now, the database has around 3,500 entries. He added that he expects to have a fully vetted and cleansed database within the next year and half.
STAGE TWO: BEGIN OUTREACH TO CONSUMERS
Although the stage one dealer outreach began in 2010, the bulk of the effort happened in February 2011. With enough dealers on board to have inventory on the site, the company began marketing to consumers in March 2011.
Step #4. Make a splash with the initial launch
To really stand out for the consumer launch, along with its PR firm, Netcars.com decided to make a real splash and hosted a celebrity car convoy in London.
The convoy consisted of:
- Kit from "Knight Rider"
- The General Lee from "The Dukes of Hazzard"
- Del Boy's Reliant Robin from "Only Fools and Horses"
- A Batmobile from one of the original "Batman" movies
- The Ectomobile from "Ghostbusters"
The cars drove around Trafalgar Square in a convoy, and Netcars.com received automotive journalists and traditional press coverage of the event.
Step #5. Optimize the website for conversion
Because Netcars.com’s business model is based on conversion in the form of clicks to the dealer websites, the team brought in a company that specialized in optimization and improving conversion.
The process lasted six months to go through the entire website and as Rix put it, "make the user journey as friendly and as easy as possible."
The vendor tested elements such as:
- How the cars were displayed -- gallery or list view
- How many cars to display
- What size should the images be
- What color for the site’s buttons
The team focused on cosmetic changes and elements such as size and fields for the online forms.
This step was important according to Rix because of the business model. He said Netcars.com gets a high volume of traffic -- hundreds of thousands of visits per month. Because of this, increasing an average visitor’s activity from 2.4 clicks up to 2.7 has a "massive impact" on revenue, since each click is a conversion that results in revenue for Netcars.com. He added the company generates around 12,000 clicks per day on the used cars.
Step #6. Create a robust PPC strategy
As the site was being optimized for conversion, the team began driving traffic through an extensive pay-per-click campaign.
Rix said the company’s investors wanted an in-house expert whose role was to handle the pay-per-click advertising effort, so they hired someone to execute bid management, keyword updating and PPC budgeting.
The effort includes more than 150,000 keywords over 100 campaigns split into 1,000 ad groups with an average of 150 keywords in each ad group for Google and Bing. A high percentage of those keywords are long-tail terms used to drive conversion, with more generic keywords in the mix for traffic volume and brand awareness.
Examples of generic keywords include:
- Used cars
- Used cars for sale
- Second hand cars
More targeted keywords get more specific, such as:
- Used Audi
- Used Audi A3
- Used Audi A3 for sale
And the long-tail keywords cover makes and models by location and car model details, such as, “used Audi A3 1.6 tdi” or “Audi A3 London.”
The idea behind the longer tail keywords was to capture Internet searchers further down the buying cycle and that have a very specific car in mind, and those ads helped to drive quality leads to the used car dealers.
Before launching the effort, an SEO agency did one week of keyword research that also helped inform the website architecture while the site was being optimized for conversion.
Another important role for the PPC manager is daily work on the negative keyword list to uncover non-converting traffic and website visitors who are clicking on ads but are not interested in buying a car. Rix said the company doesn’t want site visitors who are looking for car insurance or auto parts, for example.
Step #7 Utilize affiliates to drive additional traffic
Rix said deals with online affiliates and partners was a "massive" part of the company’s business.
The reason being is the business model is just getting clicks. Deals with affiliates provide the partners with Netcars.com used car inventory, and Netcars.com simply acts as the middleman getting visitors from the affiliate site to the dealer site.
The company pays the affiliate for each click, and collects a larger amount from the dealer to deliver that click so the partnerships are essentially a win-win-win for all three parties.
"It’s great for the affiliate because he has more inventory for his site and he’s earning revenue for each click that’s being generated. It’s great for our dealers because they’re generating more traffic to their brand," explained Rix. "And, it’s great for us because we’re acting as the middleman. We’re just brokering the traffic as such and profiting off the back of it."
Rix added that he handpicked each affiliate or partner to ensure the traffic driven is high quality.
By the metrics, Netcars.com had a very successful first year. These figures are from December 2011:
- More than 69,000 cars listed on the website, a more than 50% increase in less than 20 weeks
- Dealers sign-up increased 215% -- 480 in May, 1,034 in December
- Netcars.com’s clicks are converting 2,000 cars sold per week compared to 1,000 cars earlier in the year, a 100% increase that demonstrates how the company’s sales packs help secure contracts
Rix also added that banner advertising was four times more effective than print advertising in terms of cost and effectiveness.
"One thing we’ve learned as a business is we are getting to a stage where we want to have 100,000 cars on our website, but we need to go on television to drive our consumer awareness so that people are going into dealers and saying, ‘I found that car on Netcars.com,’" said Rix.If you found this case study helpful, sign up for our free bi-weekly Consumer Marketing newsletter.
Useful links related to this article
- Press release
- Poly wrap print ad
- Online ad
(Now called Car Finance 247
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