The Truth

Rumor has it that people are less interested in personal car ownership as alternative transportation methods mature; however, search interest shows a different story as demand for “buying a car” continues to grow steadily, reaching its peak in August of 2018. 6 out of 10 car shoppers enter the market with no particular model in mind, and 59% of time spent car shopping is taken up by online research, according to a recent study by Autotrader. Given the continuing consumer need to inform their auto buying online, brands have a continuing opportunity to drive people to their cars with a robust and innovative content strategy that will streamline the customer experience.

The Connection

The Shifting Ad Spaces

  • Car brands and big Super Bowl ads go hand in hand. And while this trend seems to have no end in sight, some of some of the real opportunities to gain fans and new customers are scattered throughout the customer auto-buying journey.
  • Television remains the key channel for driving awareness, but the ongoing evolution and convergence of traditional and digital media platforms has furthered its purpose.
  • Video is a great platform to feature products, and to reach a larger audience. Given its increasing importance, video serves as a catalyst to steer traffic towards a website, bringing consumers down the conversion funnel more efficiently than in the past.
  • The dealership used to be the only place to research, browse, and buy cars. As the process has become increasingly digital, people tend to use dealers later in the process. The emerging digital tools and platforms allow for a simpler and faster in-dealership experience. These tools have driven a +23% lift in purchases from customers that enter the conversion funnel online, signifying the opportunity for continued growth in the space.

The Long Road to Planning

  • Just like any good road trip, the car buying process can be long, tedious, and often have many stops along the way before reaching the destination. From start to finish – beginning with an internet search and ending with the purchase – car buyers carve out a grand total 14 hours and 48 minutes for the process, according to a recent study conducted by Cox Automotive.
  • The average car-buying process includes a shocking 900 digital interactions, including very important consumer questions like: “Which car is best?” “Am I getting a good deal?” or “Can I afford this?”
  • 71% of touchpoints occur on mobile, with the majority of research starting on Google, followed by YouTube videos.

Which Car to Buy?

  • Brand names tend to dominate car buying search queries. The term “car” for example is often linked to “CarMax”. Not surprisingly, the auto OEM brands that dominate search are the big brands including “Ford”, “Toyota” and “Tesla”.
  • As consumers tend to trust independent content sources more than the manufacturers themselves, comparison and third-party sites like CarMax, Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book tend to get the majority of inbound consumer research journeys. This trend seems to continue to grow, with “CarMax” showing year over year trend growth at 3.4%.  
  • Cars are typically the second most expensive item a family will buy. While some buy for status and others simply to get from here to there, money matters in car buying. Consumers want to know they’re getting the best price, and while third parties tend to help, dealer websites should help consumers feel confident about what they are buying.

The Role of Dealerships in a Digital Age

  • While consumers agree that dealership experiences are generally not their favorite thing to do, they still very much matter in the process. While more of the research has moved online, search trends show that a dealership’s physical address is still one of the most looked for pieces of content.
  • According to the 2016 Beepi Consumer Automotive Index, 87% of Americans dislike some aspect of car shopping at dealerships, with the majority saying they feel pressure to buy right away or to buy additional features they wouldn’t have otherwise.*
  • Like most buying experiences, consumers are getting more comfortable with actually buying online. Used car networks have offered complete online buying and auto OEMs have worked to adapt to at least pre-buying with dealership delivery. While buying a car even 10 years ago without a test drive seemed ludicrous, consumers are increasingly comfortable with managing car buying online.

The Wonder

Knowing consumers are dissatisfied with the traditional car buying process, they’re continuously looking for new and different ways to connect with automotive brands. People are looking beyond just TV, so it’s critical for advertisers to reassess the consumer journey. While buyers are narrowing down their decision, advertisers should serve as a guide by showing up with their message at the right place, at the right time. A more sophisticated attribution model is required for today’s complex user experience – which begs the question, what level of effort is your brand willing to put into serving today’s tech-savvy, research-driven buyer in order to ride off into the sunset?

Author: Zhen Chen, Sr. Analyst & Search Marketing, Digitas