26 50

CMO50 2020 #26-50: Kellie Cordner

  • Name Kellie Cordner
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Carsales
  • Commenced role April 2015
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 63 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Media and entertainment
  • 2017 ranking 26-50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Examination of the composition of many marketing teams will often show a skew towards a younger working population. It’s not until you get into the senior roles you start seeing people in the 40s and 50s, and those roles by design are somewhat scare.

    This can of course cause problems when your target audience resides in a demographic more akin to the parents of your team members.

    Reaching this older demographic has been one of the challenges Kellie Cordner has grappled with in the past year. As the chief marketing officer at carsales, Cordner heads up a young and diverse creative team, and in the past years tasked them with building greater engagement and usage among the over-55 demographic – an attractive group, given their propensity to spend 20 per cent more than any other.

    For the team, that meant stepping outside of comfortable short form media such as snapchat and TikTok.

    “The team was fascinated with the idea of ‘having more time’, and also a distinct lack of content that reflects the ‘up and about’ versus ‘down and out’ stereotypes of the Boomers,” Cordner says. “Soon enough, the team found fertile ground based on the popularity of getting in the car, buying a mini home away from home, and hitting the road.”

    And so carsales waved farewell to the 6 and 15-second formats it was comfortable with and joined with the production company, 25fps, to create a series of six to eight-minute executions in a light-hearted series titled Grey Nomads. The series was shot, edited, and approved in under four weeks, and followed three couples discovering the self-growth, freedom and laughter that develops from living in close proximity.

    Cordner says the series achieved strong viewership with over 7.5 million minutes watched and 130,000 social engagements and stimulated strong demand for a second series.

    But most importantly, it delivered a 7 per cent year-on-year growth in carsales’ over 55 audience.

    Customer-led thinking

    This approach exemplified Cardner and her team’s focus on customers. While many organisations talk about customers as being the most important people they have, rarely can they be found represented on the org chart. For that reason, Cordner sees herself and her team as ‘championing the voice of the customer’ throughout the organisation.

    To ensure that is more than just a slogan, in the past 12 months Cordner has brought the customer service function into marketing, with the goal of influencing all areas of the business and ensuring customer-led thinking is at the forefront of decision-making and guiding key functions such as product development and strategy.

    “For every new idea sparked up across the business, we now have a coordinated approach ensuring our customers are at the centre, validating these ideas and taking them through to execution, ensuring needs are being met and that we are continuing to deliver on our brand promise,” Cordner says. “From conducting initial research, working alongside product owners to design the onsite experience to developing go-to-market strategies, collateral and campaigns, my team are shaping much of the strategic thinking and operations across the business.”


    This approach was put to the test by COVID-19, which saw site activity go into freefall in late March, dropping by 70 per cent. Cordner says this was quickly stabilised by running low-level brand saliency only and holding all performance marketing and delaying all other activities.

    “We ran regular onsite sentiment surveys to understand the impact of COVID-19 on car buyer decision-making and ownership intention,” she explains. “What we found consistently across the five waves of research was that over a third of carsales users were actually non-car owners now looking to buy, and over 20 per cent were looking to buy a second car for the home. These insights became key in terms of guiding the broader industry and our dealer customers in particular.”

    Her team subsequently produced hundreds of pieces of communication, and carsales directed $28 million in support to Australian automotive dealerships to assist with the longevity of their businesses.

    “We were first-movers in all support to our industry and in turn our people were equally proud of how proactive we were,” Cordner says. “We ran weekly industry webinars where we also provided practical advice on how to manage inventory and operations during this time. We increased our cadence of thought-leadership content, sending regular communication to our customers and created a self-service dealer support hub.

    “We were pleasantly surprised to see our highest member NPS result [46.5] to date in June – right in the middle of the pandemic – with many promoters referencing the COVID-19 content as a key reason for recommending carsales.”

    With that level of activity, Cordner’s response when asked about the impact that the COVID-19 crisis had on her team is not surprising.

    “I don’t think my team have ever worked harder, which was partly due to the sheer unknown of the operating conditions for our business, and also a deep-seated yet relatively unspoken thought that the industry was counting on us,” she comments. “The empathy went up a few notches, that’s for sure, and we learnt that ‘done’ and ‘timeliness’ was better than perfect.”

    A key part of her responses was the creation of an in-house research capability. While this proved instrumental for managing during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, Cordner says it has also proven beneficial by providing the entire industry with much needed insight specific to the car sales category.

    “We now have an always on program of repeat and bespoke research where we can turn around surveys of 3000-plus in under 24 hours,” Cordner says. “The ‘finger on the pulse’ has helped guide both our own decisions as a business, but also those of the industry, and it was just about looking at what we had a little differently than ever before.”

    COVID-19 will also have a lasting impact on carsales’ marketing, having reinforced in Cordner’s mind the need to build a storytelling capability within her team.

    “COVID allowed me to really reflect about the strength of brand in good and bad times,  and how it is connection, empathy and resolve that marketers need to tell the story of their brand in the good and bad,” Cordner says. “It’s not all about above-the-line dollars but finding the way to tell your story through all the channels at your disposal.”

    Cordner herself has also had to come to grips with the challenges of managing a remote workforce, and she is conscious that the role she will play in developing that team will have to evolve now to suit the times.

    “I think my future is only as good as what I develop in my team, so finding the way to keep the energy, the momentum, and the feeling of being part of something bigger is what I’m grappling with,” Cordner says. “Building new rituals, connections, and the ‘informal mortar’ that is key to high functioning teams is my focus in the unknown way of working.”

    Data-driven approach

    One of the challenges for a business such as carsales is that buying a car is an infrequent activity, and most customers operate on a five to seven-year cycle. The questions Cordner has posed now are how does carsales have a meaningful connection with customers throughout this cycle, and how does it build profile depth around current car driven to make its conversation hyper-relevant

    “Many of the one-on-one communication programs we have rolled out were co-created by our lifecycle marketers and data science team,” Cordner says. “Our owner program is a category, and we believe world first, in sharing data to empower car owners to know more and make better decisions about when to flip a car, finance choices and take advantage of market movements to sell.

    “We have also started to experiment with AI and machine learning to understand propensity to buy a car, which is helping to sharpen our upsell and cross-sell programs – these early trials are showing significant increases in engagement and in some cases, our conversion rates have doubled.”

    Indeed, Cordner sees marketing playing a pivotal role in nailing the application of new technology and emerging data science.

    “For example, I am now leading the rebuild of our proprietary recommendation engine and onsite personalisation strategy to ensure that the technology is working first and foremost to support the customer experience,” she says.

    Innovative marketing

    Cordner has also embarked on the development of an owner loyalty program to engage customers when they are out of market with a genuinely helpful and on-brand experience. The program is built on two tenets – knowledge and perks.

    “Most Australians recognise that a car is a high involvement value purchase, which over times decreases in value,” Cordner says. “What most don’t know however is, what is the rate of depreciation, when is the demand and supply equation favourable to sell, and what’s my car’s estimated market value today versus next year.

    “We have all this data, not necessarily in that format, but we built a program to present and push this valuable information to signed up members with a car in our virtual garage at regular intervals based on market shifts.”

    In this way Cordner is once again able to bring to life her team’s commitment to championing the voice of the customer.

    “We aren’t seeking a visit, or an upsell, but merely to offer genuine utility and access to information previously available to very few,” Cordner says. “In short, it’s a way to have deliver on our brand pillars of ‘easy’, ‘everyone’, and ‘effective’.”

    And in terms of perks, in late 2019 carsales launched a strategic partnership with Viva Energy which enables it to reward its most loyal customers with ongoing fuel discounts via our app.

    “We have seen great uptake of our program and 40 per cent of the members participating are ‘out-of-market’ car owners, delivering on our goal to extend the relevance of our brand beyond the buy and sell cycle,” Cordner says.

    “These programs are not only key in terms of delivering value back to our members but also important drivers of profile depth – as a result of both initiatives, we have increased member vehicle data by 104 per cent year-on-year.”


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