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Why Cars.com is driving away from performance marketing and toward influencers

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A few years ago, at the height of the auto industry’s supply-chain woes, digital media buying and performance marketing were in the driver’s seat. Now, at least one auto dealer is making more space for influencer marketing to boost brand awareness and remain top of mind with car shoppers.

As Cars.com celebrates its 25th year with its first major redesign and brand campaign, the auto dealer is expanding its media mix to include influencer marketing networks, or marketplaces that provide access to pre-vetted influencers. It’s an effort that has picked up in the last six to nine months, alongside increased spend on media channels like social media, streaming video and audio ads, according to Jennifer Vianello, Cars.com CMO.

“We’d had direct-to-influencer relationships,” Vianello said. “But the influencer networks are a great opportunity for us to syndicate our editorial and to bring our editorial top of mind to consumers in new and different channels.”

So far, the dot com company has partnered with networks like Influential and Izea to help push and amplify the brand’s editorial content more widely and bring in new voices, per Vianello. Those partnerships can be anything from written editorial content to short-form videos and other avenues of content creation. 

“Sometimes we want to be talking about our own message and our own expertise, and sometimes we need different voices for those messages,” she said.

From a paid marketing standpoint, Cars.com scaled back its performance marketing spend and reduced its media spend over the course of the year, per the CMO. Although, it’s unclear how much Cars.com is investing in its influencer marketing as Vianello declined to share specific figures. The brand spent more than $103.5 million on media last year, slightly up from the $95 million spent in 2021, according to Vivvix, including paid social data from Pathmatics.

It speaks to the change happening in the influencer marketing space and creator economy as influencers have now become a line item within media budgets. As the industry continues to mature, marketers are seeking longer-term relationships with influencers by way of inking agency-of-record relationships with influencer marketing agencies

“It’s a natural evolution,” said Devin Peyton, senior creative strategist at 19th & Park Inc., a creative marketing and production company. “Because now people are seeing the impact and the power of these people, it’s only natural that they start making them into their brand voices, making commercials with them in it.”

Per Digiday+ Research, both agency clients and brands are investing more in influencer marketing than they were a year ago. In Q1 of 2022, 69% of agency pros said that their clients spent at least a very small portion of their marketing budgets on influencers. By Q3 of 2022, that number jumped to 79% before holding steady at 76% in Q1 of this year.

For Cars.com, it’s too soon to tell if the shift from performance to brand advertising is worth the investment, according to ​​Vianello. However, the brand is keeping tabs on results as the foundation for what’s next in its marketing strategy.

“Our strategy is going to evolve as consumer behavior evolves and we are constantly testing what channels allow us to better tap into that consumer experience,” she said.

https://digiday.com/?p=505996

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