The world has entered the digital age, there is no doubt. More is being spent on internet advertising than ever before. Advertising reaches today’s consumers at every turn, through smartphones, computers, Television and newspapers still play a role, but automobile dealerships cannot afford to rely just on these forms of media. As comfortable as traditional advertising may be we need to meet automobile buyers on their terms if we want to continue to serve them.

ad history chart

Share of ad spending – Advertising Age 12/29/14


To gain insights on how automobile buyers embrace digital and how automobile dealerships can respond, we can take a look at “The Consumer Journey: Auto-Buyers” study. This is a survey of over 6,000 consumers in global markets, including the U.S. Microsoft Advertising partnered with Ipsos Media CT and Iposo OTX to produce the survey.

The survey led to five main conclusions regarding consumer behaviors and attitudes when buying automobiles.

1.  There are five stages to the automobile buying process, and each is related to digital media.

Consumers go through five stages in the automobile buying process. We can target consumers in each stage using both traditional and digital media. Here’s how. Keep in mind that the italicized media influencers are among the most influential ones found in the Microsoft survey.

  • Stage 1: Open to Possibility. According to Microsoft, one-third of U.S. customers use search engines. They triangulate information from authoritative online content, customer reviews and local dealer sites.
  • Stage 2: Decision to Buy or Change. The three major motivations for change include issues with current automobile, the desire for better fuel consumption or performance, and a new addition to the family. On auto manufacturer websites and ads in magazines and newspapers, we can remind consumers of these benefits of a new automobile.
  • Stage 3: Evaluating. As we look at buying behavior, we are seeing more influence related to lifestyle versus status. Consumers are thinking about their automobile being the “right fit for their lifestyle.” Auto manufacturer websites can explain which automobiles are, for example, roomy family automobiles, or agile and fuel efficient city automobiles. There is a role for automobile dealers here to appeal to local buyers by targeting messages related to lifestyle. When you buy a list of in-market buyers, know what are you really getting?
  • Stage 4: Shopping. Most of the auto shopping journey involves filtering information and assessing options and this is taking place online. There is an important role here for comparison and aggregator websites. Consumers are waiting until the last moment to go into the dealership, but we can entice consumers with location-aware social network messages, direct mail and other advertising so they come to our dealership when they are ready to buy.
  • Stage 5: Experiencing. Having knowledgeable salespeople on hand can facilitate the purchase process. After the purchase, we can send a follow up message to strengthen consumer relationships and increase service revenue. We could write a whole whitepaper about personalized email marketing and will.


2.  Consumers want to test-drive automobiles and are more likely to purchase from trusted dealers.

Millennials are known for their desire to purchase from dealers that they build relationships using targeted social media. The average automobile buyer test drives 2 to 3 automobiles before purchasing. That means they are about ready to buy when they come to the dealership. We just need to get them on the lot. In-market lists, personalized email marketing content and specific landing pages will create sales.

 3.  Create effective brand messaging by meeting consumers’ needs at each stage.

This has always been true in a market at any time, but the stakes are higher here. Consumers expect to be courted, and we have more digital tools available to make sure we meet their needs. Market research can help us understand the consumer. Blasting messages no longer works – messages need to be personalized to individual consumers.

So what does all of this mean? It means it is time to step up your game. Understand the emotional or functional needs of consumers at each in the journey and send the right message through the right media at the right time and you will close more sales.

Client Command is proud to be on the cutting edge of digital marketing for dealerships. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we differentiate ourselves from our competition.