Q&A: Rakesh Patel, Digital Sales Director at Auto Trader

by Jessica Ramesh

Rakesh Patel, Digital Sales Director at Auto Trader, will be among the keynote speakers at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference in London on 17 July 2014, where he’ll be discusing Auto Trader’s evolution into a fully digital business.

Hello Rakesh. Please give us a quick introduction to what you’ll be discussing at the conference.

Auto Trader has been transformed to a fully digital business, producing its last print catalogue in June 2013. The move online of the 37-year-old print catalogue business started with the launch of its first website in 1997. The print magazine was one of the largest paid print publication in the history of the UK with a record circulation of 368,000 copies. The revolution of digital adoption among consumers soon led to a dominance of web traffic and in 2009 the first dedicated mobile website was launched, followed by an iPhone app in March 2010, Android app and iPad app in June 2011. Today mobile devices count for close to two thirds of all traffic.

The change to a digital company has been a long and painful struggle which challenged both our company culture and business model. In the end, I am happy to conclude that we have built a stronger culture, a stronger market position and a more profitable business.

The vast majority of Auto Trader’s business is generated through classified advertising. But the fastest growing part of Auto Trader is today the display business unit. We have dramatically improved our offering, and have become a relevant advertising partner among car manufacturers in the United Kingdom.

Why does this matter to marketers right now?

Bringing back control of our display offering has been at the heart of our current success. From articulation of our core strength to harnessing the power of our data assets, a multi-faceted approach has been critical.

Part of that has been refocusing on our audience. Forty-eight per cent of all new car buyers visit Auto Trader before purchase. That is more than twice as many as the second placed site, What Car? at 16 per cent, with 14 per cent going to eBay motors.

Most car brands understand the importance of Auto Trader in their marketing mix, but we still meet manufacturers who don’t know that only 48 per cent of car buyers go to a car-maker site in the first 30 days of their online research.

Reaching audiences in a manner which best helps our advertisers achieve their business goals is fundamental to our approach.

We’re impatient! Can we have one key take-away from your presentation?

Never lose sight of the end goal. Easy to say and hard to stay true to plan. However, it’s important to have a measured approach with achievable milestones along the way.

What’s the single biggest issue facing marketers in your sector at the moment?

A continuous barrage of noise on digital topics that need addressing immediately yet require careful planning, strategy and execution. These topics being programmatic, viewability, data, EU legislation, content strategy, native…. all on top of the day job.

If we provided you with a magic wand that enabled you to make one change to the digital marketing landscape, what would it be? 

Giving everyone time to make the decisions that are most important to their businesses!

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

The excitement that comes with transforming a business and seeing it take off. The feeling within Display at AutoTrader is almost like a start-up, but with the backing of a large organisation. There have been many challenges to overcome. However, the growth and alignment to the core are terribly encouraging and infectious.