Awards case study: Find out how Auto Trader won the award for best customer engagement initiative

Find out how Auto Trader gained a 37-point increase in Net Promoter Score for its stellar customer engagement initiative.

About the client company

The automotive industry is worth £82bn in turnover. It employs 823,000 people, 75% of them in retail. Auto Trader is the UK’s largest digital automotive marketplace. It has over 90% prompted brand awareness and attracts 50 million cross platform visits monthly. Its purpose is to lead the future of the UK’s digital automotive marketplace, responsibly. Auto Trader aims to improve the process of buying and selling vehicles in the UK. Starting life as a local classified magazine in 1977, Auto Trader successfully completed the transition from a print title and became a fully digital marketplace in 2013. Its rich history gives them nearly 40 years of brand heritage and trust. 

Strategy – broader business issues the company is facing

Auto Trader customers recognise that Auto Trader is the best place to sell vehicles, but as a premium cost to their business, they don’t always connect value to cost. So, for dealerships who don’t maximise their usage, it can feel expensive. Many customers are sole traders, so for many of them; their livelihoods were put at risk by lockdown. With the government’s lack of clarity, coupled with the lack of uncertainty around how long lockdowns would last, it made planning marketing activity extremely difficult. With no clear end in sight, they needed a strategy to help both Auto Trader customers and themselves get back to profit as soon as it was safe to do so. 

Objectives of the campaign

Two key objectives: 

  1. To provide support and a sense of feeling connected to the wider community, act as a trusted voice to reassure and guide customers
  2. To build strong relationships and engagement with its brand to cement its position as the partner of choice

Governed by a four-stage plan:

  1. Protect: Turn panic into focus. Recognise the emotional turmoil its customers were going through. It had to step up Auto Trader’s brand marketing approach. 
  2. Support: Guide, reassure and inform. As panic subsided it focused on supporting customers, building long term connections through Auto Trader’s actions.
  3. Retail Ready: Relight the competitive spark. Inspiring action, nurturing customer mindset away from passive market watching, towards preparation for reopening. 
  4. Recover: Fostering a determination to succeed. As retailers reopened, it aimed to leverage positive brand sentiment to help Auto Trader’s customers and themselves get back to profit, responsibly.

Brand objectives: 

  • Build brand sentiment 
  • Improve customer advocacy 
  • Generate customer loyalty 
  • Increase propensity to increase spend with them

The target audience All 13,000 of Auto Trader’s dealership customers, spanning four customer segments: 

  1. Independent 
  2. Supermarket 
  3. Franchise 
  4. Groups 

Whilst relevant for all segments, independent retailers would benefit most, where Auto Trader targets personas were owners and key decision makers. Auto Trader identified this through a PESTLE analysis during its planning stage, and by segmenting its customer by needs. With showrooms closed and many not having the infrastructure to work remotely, it became difficult to reach these contacts. Many customers were furloughed, making reaching and influencing these people even more of a challenge. 

Media, channels or techniques used

Zero-budget, relying on owned and earned media. 

Weekly webinars 

  • The best way to have human interaction with customers remotely. 
  • Its first was positioned as “How to continue selling: An open discussion on how the industry can adapt amidst COVID-19”. 
  • Normally Auto Trader would get c.300 webinar attendees. This one had 2,000 attendees! 
  • Changed cadence from monthly to weekly. 
  • Actively encouraged audience participation. 
  • 12 webinars held so far with a regular panel of presenters from its leadership team, complemented by external experts to provide market leading advice.

Social channels 

  • Organic social to drive awareness of its webinars and support, share thought leadership and leverage experts
  • Email marketing and SMS messaging
  • Used as mass reach channels to deliver key messages, new product updates, webinar invites and updated customers

Timescales of the campaign

With timelines impossible to predict, Auto Trader structured its activity across four stages and overlaid socioeconomic trends to help us plan the most appropriate tactics for each stage. 

  • March – April (protect) Focused on ensuring all customers were aware of the financial support Auto Trader put in place for their business. 
  • April – May (support) Equipping customers with all necessary advice and content to help them work remotely.
  • May – July (retail ready) A campaign to cut through the noise and help land what its customers would need to do in order to adapt to the new trading environment. Included a 5-step framework, with a timeline that could be accelerated or delayed dependent on external factors. 

Used Google Analytics to monitor tracffic to the hub and blog analytics to monitor unique visits and blog views. Webinar system to track unique viewers watching live and on-demand. Measured satisfaction with its webinars, achieving a satisfaction score 91% positive. 


Everything detailed was delivered in-house with zero-budget.


  • A 37-point increase in Net Promoter Score, rising from –34 to +1. A 34.6% increase from an average of 2.79 (neutral), to 3.76 (positive). 
  • Its ‘Get Retail Ready, Responsibly” campaign hub generated 4,300 unique visits and drove a 50% adoption rate of the new product Auto Trader launched. 
  • It generated 279 requests for a 1:1 consultation, worth a combined £736,000 of revenue to be protected and increased. 
  • Blog generated 11.4k unique visits in under 60 days.
  • Webinars generated 444,760 minutes’ worth of cumulative view time, from 10,498 attendances. 
  • LinkedIn’s following increased by c.1,500 followers (+37%). 
  • Massive volumes of positive customer feedback.

“I have worked at Auto Trader for over 20 years and these are by far the most impressive marketing results I have ever seen at the company. But undoubtedly, the most important result is the huge improvement we’ve seen in customer sentiment towards our brand, with our Net Promoter Score increasing by a massive 37 points vs pre-lockdown. It’s been really heartwarming to read and hear all of the positive customer feedback coming in!”

Niki Kilby, Trade Marketing Director, Auto Trader

B2B Marketing Awards 2020

This submission won the award for 

‘Best customer engagement initiative’

at the B2B Marketing Awards this year.

Find out who made the shortlist here!


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