We sponsored a race car, and proved why startups should still invest in brand

Up until the Melbourne Grand Prix, the majority of Carbar's marketing had been online. CEO and co-founder Des Hang explains why going outdoors was one of the best branding decisions the start-up has made.

Each year, the Melbourne Grand Prix pulls in millions in advertising from brands around the country. These are usually household names. But this year, we decided to buck the trend.

We threw out the startup marketing rulebook, and invested in the sponsorship of Cooper Murray’s car in the Porsche Carrera cup.

Why is this unusual?

Most startups start this form of marketing a bit later on in their growth, typically following a big burst of funding. And even then, it’s rare. Perhaps the most memorable out-of-home campaign by an earlier stage startup is Koala’s series of billboards taking IKEA down a notch.

It was a gamble, as Carbar is less than three years old, and we’re only just starting to gain recognition in the broader auto market.

We wanted to share the story behind the deal, as we think it’s fascinating, and may change some startup marketing managers’ minds on investing in brand-based advertising ahead of a big bump in funding.

Carbar’s marketing to date

First, here’s a bit of information to bring you up to speed on where we are at with our marketing.

Carbar is Australia’s first car subscription service and an online car retailer. We launched back in 2016, aiming to solve the pain points in the car sales process.

Carbar has always been a consumer facing business, meaning marketing has always played a key part in our growth strategy. However, when you are a bootstrapped business, you can’t exactly go out and blow all of your cash on branding.

So, we started off like most startups, investing in digital marketing, Adwords and encouraged all of our customers to leave us an online review. We tied brand and customer service together, and initially had one team member managing both.

We wanted to spur word of mouth about our business, and hoped that by surfacing our company to the right people at the right time and then exceeding their expectations on service would do just that.

When we launched Australia’s first car subscription offering back in August last year, we added PR to our mix. We felt we now had a story to tell, and that PR would complement our existing marketing approach.

This brings us to our investment in sponsoring Cooper Murray’s car.

The deal

Late last week one of our managers was approached by Cooper Murray’s team. They were looking for a last minute sponsor for the race on the weekend. Their existing sponsor had pulled out last minute, leaving the car brand-less on race day.

The offer created a bit of debate internally. Cooper Murray is one of Australia’s youngest racers. He’s savvy on social media, and he speaks to our target market: 25 to 34-year-old drivers and car enthusiasts. We all agreed that it was a great opportunity, few were unsure whether it would pull the brand forward and whether we could execute on it in time.

By the time we signed, we essentially had to get all the branding and collateral done within 24 hours. This means we had to get the car wrapped with our branding in the same day we signed the deal, and meet with Cooper Murray’s sponsorship manager to discuss our expectations and goals for the weekend.

Luckily, we were able to pull it together. Albeit the day before the race.

The results?

Cooper Murray finished a respectable 19th in the race, and also set a record-breaking fastest lap.

As for the Carbar brand? Due to the national exposure of the race, we saw a record spike in our web traffic, and a 30 percent increase in our social media exposure. Considering the timing and turnaround, we’re thrilled with the results. We were surprised at how well this form of brand marketing helped in boosting our online efforts.

So where to from here? Well, we are still maturing our marketing strategy as the business grows and we secure more funding. But we’re now convinced that a digital-only approach won’t take Carbar to the next level – and that’s perhaps the key takeaway for marketers here.

Digital is easy to justify, as it’s tied directly to return on investment. Brand marketing is more of a gamble. But we’ve seen a positive return here, and are eager to keep exploring this as we continue to develop the Carbar brand.

Des Hang is the CEO and co-founder of Carbar. Carbar is presenting today at Mumbrella’s Auto Summit.


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