Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Meet the Revolutionaries: Ben Carter, Global CMO of carwow

New Digital Age (NDA), in association with LiveRamp, is spotlighting the men and women championing a data-led revolution in the marketing industry. ‘Meet the Revolutionaries’ focuses on the efforts of the industry executives helping to push digital marketing into a new era of data collaboration. 

Here, Ben Carter, Global CMO of carwow, explains why, in the age of AI, understanding human beings has never been more important for marketers.

Describe your current role.

carwow is on a mission to become the number one destination to change your car. My job is to lead the marketing and the growth engine of the business as well as driving our customer centricity programme. We operate in the UK, Germany and Spain. Our UK proposition is currently the most rounded, enabling you to find a new, used or leased car or to sell your car directly or via a partner website. We’re focused on building understanding and awareness of our proposition and driving more customers to the business through as many marketing channels as possible. 

Previously, I’ve worked for some of the UK’s biggest digital businesses in senior marketing and general management roles, usually in scale-up or post-IPO businesses where you were building the brand and trading at the same time. Earlier in my career, I was a business journalist and also wrote the book Digital Marketing for Dummies’. 

Can you give an example of a time when you personally have helped to drive innovation? 

A good example was at Just Eat, where we worked very closely with Facebook to develop a food ordering chatbot, where we could showcase restaurants in the local area and enabled customers to order directly through Facebook Messenger. That was a very tangible example, but fundamentally, in marketing, new channels open up all the time, so you’re continually innovating. There’s an old cliche that the change we’re experiencing will never be as slow as it is today and that’s true of marketing. 

The automotive industry has traditionally been slow to digitise, so there’s still a huge opportunity for carwow to assist in both the research and transaction phases of buying a car.  We also have a very significant content business, including the world’s biggest motoring YouTube channel. Innovation is a core part of what we do. 

What are the most common challenges to innovation? 

In any organisation, there’s never a shortage of ideas about changes that could be made. It’s about prioritising those ideas against the resources that you have available to you. Increasingly over the last 10 – 15 years I’ve seen more organisations try and carve out time for their teams to innovate because, ultimately, if you don’t innovate, if you don’t disrupt, then you risk becoming irrelevant. I think continuous innovation is a really important team retention tool as well. 

Some people, as individuals, are worried about failure.  I agree with the adage “don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast”. The whole point of working in digital businesses is you can control things and make changes as you go. I love the fact that you can make a change on a Friday night and come in on Monday morning and see how it’s worked or how it hasn’t, and then iterate from there. 

All digital businesses should have a culture of autonomy and innovation. Relationships and credibility are key. That said, great ideas can come from anywhere in an organsiation, so I think modern leaders are people who empower their teams, and encourage them to share their ideas with confidence.

What tips can you offer others hoping to drive innovation? 

Carve out room to make it happen. No idea is a bad idea. Encourage creativity. In an age of hybrid working, driving creativity is quite hard, so create moments where teams can collaborate.  Cross-functional teams come up with great ideas as well, so don’t force your teams to work in silos. 

Above all, listen and observe what your customers are doing. Businesses sometimes get too fixated on the technology rather than what the consumer is doing with it. If you take the smart speaker, the killer app that ultimately led to everyone getting one in their home was the ability to listen to their favourite radio stations. It wasn’t takeaway ordering. It wasn’t grocery shopping on Amazon. Sometimes businesses can forget where their customers are. 

How do you think digital marketing might evolve over the next few years?

The worry at the moment is that robots are going to take over our jobs in the next few years. I’m hopeful that AI can be and should be a force for good.  AI can ultimately help us to be better marketers, in terms of productivity, creative optimization,  targeting, and better understanding our channel mix and our campaign performance. 

Hiring talent is still a real problem. You get a lot of marketers who put something live and then just leave it live. Job done and move on. But, for me, the amazing thing about marketing is you get to measure your success and iterate based on that. Marketing is absolutely a combination of art and science, but I think sometimes we let the science cloud the art. In the age of AI, we need to remember that marketing is still, at heart, about understanding humans.