Brand content in the automotive industry. How Caterham took its engagement to the next level.

Caterham has a rich brand history dating back to the 50’s. Then, Colin Chapman revealed the now iconic, Seven. Today, Caterham builds upon his original design, creating some of the most involving, lightweight cars on the road.

Adam Betteridge is the man tasked with spreading the message of how fun its products are to petrolheads across the globe. John from Even recently caught up with him, to speak about how he balances the automotive brand’s content for its diverse audience.

So, Adam, Caterham has an incredibly broad fanbase. How do you even begin to balance content production for this audience?

We’ve actually found that what our audience wants has started to shift. Before, we’d taken a traditional, advertising-led approach. I think this made us feel like we were broadcasting, rather than engaging with our audience. Our challenge with the diverse audience Caterham has, is having conversations with them across platforms. When it comes to new media, our customers tend to favour more traditional channels over emerging ones, like TikTok.

We tried going down the influencer route. However, we found it wasn’t ideal when it came to generating the type of content that engages our audience. Our customers and people interested in the brand are really passionate about it, so it’s important we’re able to reflect that back. I think that was something we struggled with when shifting the responsibility of content creation and storytelling to influencers.

Ultimately, we’ve adopted a test and learn approach over time. We’ve shifted our focus to creating as much of our own video content as we can. Now, we try to work more closely with creators that are as passionate about the product as we are. The shift away from heavily promotional-led messaging, to content that is more technical and in-depth in nature has also really helped. Over time, we’ve found that investing in high quality content has generated strong returns. 

You mention the shift in messaging you’ve adopted at Caterham. How have you seen your audience respond to these content strategy changes?

We understood that we had to introduce an element of flexibility when publishing content. We found that we had slipped into a routine of pushing a certain number of updates out daily. The issue we found with that approach was that it created inertia that isn’t motivating for the team, and isn’t engaging for the customer. In some cases, we’d heard that customers were getting sick of seeing our posts online and were unfollowing our social accounts. Naturally, hearing that, we knew we had to tone it down a bit.

The mistake I think we made was creating content that the team thought looked cool, but that wasn’t conveying our personality enough. The Seven is such a visceral drivers car, one that offers an incredible experience for drivers. I think once we realised that we are in the experience business, not the car sales business, that helped us inform what our content needed to do.

Essentially, that is to convey a sense of excitement and fun. Driving one of our cars puts a smile on your face, so we needed the content we were pushing out to do that to a degree too!

Are there any particular channels that you see automotive brand content performing better on?

I’ve been really fascinated by the rise of Instagram and TikTok. Specifically, how their popularity informs content formats, and how brands use them to communicate their personality. We’ve found that the various platforms we are present on enable us to reflect different sides of our personality.

One of the challenges we are really aware of is inspiring a new generation of Seven owners, and getting them excited about the prospect of owning one of our vehicles. To that end, we’ve seen channels like Instagram surge in popularity, and help us reach an audience that skews toward younger demographics.

Despite testing new approaches through these emergent channels, we are aware that our core audience tends to engage with us on Facebook. So, largely, we stick with a tried and tested approach on that platform that seems to resonate well with our existing customers.

Have you noticed any shifts in popularity between your different channels?

Yes, actually. We have been surprised to see that LinkedIn grows faster than any of our other channels. It is a weird one, as we were using it as a platform to sell some of our used inventory. We knew it wasn’t a traditional sales channel, but after sticking with it for a while we started to notice our numbers growing rapidly over time.

As well as the channels themselves shifting, we’ve also seen a few demographic shifts take place. When I started at Caterham, I think the male/female split was 99%/1%. Now we have started to see that shift, albeit only slightly. Small steps!

I alluded to it before, but as we have established our presence on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, we are starting to engage with a younger demographic. Before, it was probably the 55-65 demographic that was most interested in us. Now, through posting different kinds of content and sharing more of our motorsport events we have started to notice a skew towards 35-45 year olds. These new customer groups tend to be more interested in our road and race products.

How do you keep automotive brand content fresh with a heritage product like the Seven?

Yeah, it’s a good question. One challenge is thinking differently and trying out new approaches. One thing in particular that we’ve begun to do differently is engaging with more creatives. Before we’d perhaps look to a single agency to help produce our content, whereas now, we’re much more likely to loan products out to different photographers and videographers from outside of the automotive industry. Doing so has helped us create content from fresh perspectives.

I really advocate for doing that actually. What I’d say is, don’t be afraid to loan your product out to new people. As I’ve said, we’re an experience business. We need to get people excited about those experiences in a way that is more personable and easy to understand.

The Seven is a really customisable product, often serving as an extension of their owners personality. So this is something we’re trying to reflect by getting lots of different creatives involved in generating content that is unique to them and their style. For us, we tend to say, here’s the car, you make the story.

That’s really interesting. The automotive industry is known for creating really engaging and emotive content, are there any other brands that inspire what you do at Caterham?

I actually think that a lot of automotive brands are really stuck in their ways, and produce content to rigid formulas. It’s not often that I see some content from automotive brands now that really sticks with me. It’s often quite bland. Sure, they might be recognisable, but they aren’t necessarily memorable.

For me, the petrolhead is a bit forgotten in a lot of automotive content currently. Everything tends to feel so practical. Finance-led messaging seems to be really dominant at the moment for a lot of brands. If you’re asking me, then I think we need to bring some of the emotion back into automotive content.

There must be one, surely? What’s the last ad you saw that made you feel like it had some of that petrolhead emotion?

Well if you’re going to pin me down, then I remember a good one from Skoda for its Fabia VRS. I think the tag line was “made of meaner stuff”, that one was pretty memorable!

What about outside of the automotive industry, which brands do you think are really crushing it?

Innocent. Straight away, they really strike me as a brand that knows how to convey its personality. I think their copywriting is always spot on, and the campaigns they come out with are always really funny. They do a really great job of consistently communicating in a way that makes you feel a certain way about them. That’s really impressive to me.

Ok, so money no object, what would you want to create for Caterham?

Honestly, if budget was no option, then I’d just want to find a way to get as many people behind the wheel as possible. After all, we are an experience business, so people need to have that experience in order to really get what the product is about. If we could somehow spin that into a huge user generated content campaign, I think that would be awesome. 

Oh, and drifting one on an Aircraft Carrier! We have been talking about that one for a while.

Whoa, ok, you must be able to make that happen somehow?! Final question, what would you say is the biggest challenge you face when creating content?

Learning how to allow ourselves to be flexible. Rigid approaches don’t work for us. Freeing ourselves from that was a real challenge and one that we have seen great results coming now that we have found a way to let go a bit.

Interested in learning more?

Adam is the assistant global brand manager at Caterham Cars, manufacturer of the iconic Seven. You can connect with him here, and learn more about Caterham and its products via its website. For more information on our work with the Caterham Cars brand, take a look at our latest case study.