What CarsGuide has learned being the challenger in the Australian car classifieds industry

If you plan on taking on the top dog in your industry, you better have a solid game plan – or at least a bold one.

And what’s more attention grabbing than a 19 by 4.5 metre billboard pointing out that you have a better offering than your competitor – positioning it right next their head office’s massive logo – and saying: “Hint, hint”.

CarsGuide might be the small guy in this David and Goliath situation against Carsales but Lauren Williams, CEO of CarsGuide likes a challenge.

The 35-year-old is not only captaining an up-and-coming company in highly male-dominated industry, but she is making waves as she leads the business into new territories.

When the CarsGuide board said that they wanted to over take Carsales, a $2.5 billion listed company and dominant market leader in Australian car classified space, Williams knew what was needed: better customer experience by identifying the pain-points when buying and selling cars.

Last November the company made a radical change to its business model, moving away from the pay per lead model, used by the incumbent Carsales, to a pay per view model, making it free for customers to list their vehicles online.

They also introduced a location-based search.

“With that we also created a whole new brand identity for CarsGuide as the challenger in the category but also the people’s champion, providing an open and transparent model for people to search for cars,” Williams said.

CEO of CarsGuide, Lauren Williams. Photo: supplied.

“When you’re a challenger and you are up against a dominant market leader, they’ve got lots more money, lots of brand awareness, and so one of the things we were trying to address was to show why we’re different.”

Last month the underdog made the bold move of directly calling out Carsales, with a billboard right above the company’s head office in Melbourne for all to see.

“[As] a challenger brand you need to get creative with how you create brand awareness and brand differentiation. So we put a big billboard outside CarsSales head office… and it picked up a fair bit through social media,” said Williams.

“They (the billboard supplier) threatened to take it down because it was considered ambush marketing.

“Ooh! Media said they had spoken to Greg Robuck, the CEO of Carsales, and while they said it’s not to their taste, they were fine with it being there… and they decided to leave it up when they realised the PR backlash it would cause.

Williams said this “cheeky” challenge shows who the brand is and what they are about.

“We’re the people’s champion, we’re for the consumer and ensuring that people understand that we’re the new way to buy and sell cars, and they’re the old way.

“It’s important for us to set our course and show why we’re different, and why we’re better.

And Williams says this is just the beginning.

“We’ve only just begun in terms of this campaign. We are a challenger and we’re going to keep executing the campaigns in that same vein. There’s no way were going to back down, this is our marketing strategy.

“It’s a David and Goliath story for sure – we’re a company with 60 people, they have hundreds of people and are listed on the stock exchange. They’ve got a big head start, their market cap is $2.5 billion depending on the day.”

And it’s paying off.

“Our private listings have increased four fold since the launch, site traffic is growing… and our pages per user have increased” to 13.5 million as of October/November 2014, she said.

“We’ve more than doubled our listings in private. In October and November we were up 15% and 7% respectively, so it has definitely had the desired effect.

“In terms of audience share, we’ve got 11% unique audience and the overlap between us (and Carsales) is 41% – the number of people looking at both CarsGuide and Carsales has increase and at the same time the number of people exclusive to Carsales has dropped in line with people becoming exclusive to us.

“In terms of the team internally, people have been invigorated by the strategy, the new brand, that we’re doing something different. I think they were encouraged by all the initial result that were starting to get somewhere.”

And while CarsGuide’s financials are not ­available to the public, it has been reported that their revenues increased 388% in the last three years.

Her key to the campaign’s success? Don’t give up.

“How you go about that has to fit right with your brand, be true to your brand and you have to have something unique about what you’re trying to show,” Williams says.

“And don’t give up. If something doesn’t work, find a way to make it work.”

She also said getting the right team in place, who were in line with the values of the company and are excited by the challenge, were important.

“And getting the right partners on board from an agency perspective who really understand what we’re trying to achieve.”

Going forward Williams said there will be “more of the same.”

“We’re going to continue to iterate in our customer centric product roadmap, find other differentiators which really speak to the pains that customers have in the process of searching, buying and selling cars and making sure we can deliver a better customer experience.

“There are a number of things in the pipeline. We have more billboards booked. But I can’t tell you what’s going on them. We have four more booked for the rest of the year, the next one is in April. Is it going to be sell your car? Not necessarily.”

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