Samantha Allen, client director at Occam, part of St Ives Group which supports the marketing efforts of the likes of Kia, Toyota and Land Rover, looks at the journey consumers take in deciding on their next car purchase and the importance of being able follow them on their journey as they compile brand information.
"When motorists decide it’s time for a change of vehicle, their journey to making a final choice can be stop-start. For automotive marketers - whether based at the brand or dealer end of the market - tracking people’s path through research to final decision can be extremely difficult.
St Ives Group recently questionned 1,000 motorists about to buy a vehicle, in an attempt to examine how exactly people go about this high-ticket purchase.
It emerged that only 27% of respondents already know what they are looking for when they set out to buy a car; they either switch away from their current model or simply go out and pay for a newer version of the same one.
But that leaves nearly three quarters of motorists who either look around at other options despite eventually plumping for the same brand they have already (16%), or check out many marques before making a decision (57%).
Furthermore, the channels these ‘loyal and disloyal researchers’ now have at their disposal thanks to the advent of technology such as online showrooms is eye-watering.
Factor in the survey’s finding that the average purchase journey takes one to four months - half of which is spent committing to buy, the remaining half allocated to deciding exactly what to buy - and brands and dealers could be forgiven for wondering how on earth they can get contact strategies right in a bid to influence the decision-making process.
In my experience, it’s crucial to understand that amid this ‘media playground’ through which consumers interact with manufacturers and dealers, there are few patterns as to how, when and in what order they do their research.
For example, premium consumers will visit a dealership much earlier in the process than someone seeking a mid or low-cost model, according to the research. We also know that test-drives do not always appear particularly early in the buying cycle; although there is evidence to suggest that if a dealer does not have a particular model available for a test-drive, the motorist can drop out of the sales funnel completely.
Instead, it’s vitally important to construct a joined-up marketing programme that recognises and responds to potential customers across all channels.
The wealth of data now available via multiple channels affords car manufacturers and dealerships a huge opportunity to contact those people at the right time in the buying cycle in order to persuade them to choose their vehicle over another marque.
Collection, analysis and smart use of data are imperative if automotive brands and dealers are to have any chance of approaching drivers when they are in the market to buy.
Getting a handle on people’s seemingly random research actions means having a watertight data strategy in place.
A solution is needed to track how customers interact with brands, regardless of when they express interest e.g. at events, or through owned or earned media, YouTube, Facebook). The answer lies in an ‘always-on’ customer engine.
Automotive marketers can have this by focussing on capturing information on new customers at each touchpoint.
It’s a case of tracking that person by piecing it together with other data that is already available, for example an IP address or cookie; or email address from a brochure or test-drive request. In this way, you can build a complete picture of the customer rather than simply trying to follow the steps they are taking towards a purchase.
One thing to note is that dealers and manufacturers have not always co-operated on data sharing.
But I believe this is a crucial part of the process and would encourage manufacturers to have the right contracts in place with dealers.
If they don’t, tracking a particular customer may only result in them having half the picture. But if working in harmony, brands are happier because they have more control over early ‘handraisers’ in the buying cycle, and can nurture enquiries then pass them to the dealers as qualified leads, so dealers are also happy.
Knowing when and where to target motorists who are keen on buying a new car remains a minefield. If the automotive industry uses cutting-edge data techniques, however, it will boost the chances of influencing people’s final choice on their long road to making a decision."